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Over your e-mail limit again? Prevent 'Reply All' clutter

I’m sure we’ve all seen it before. The boss might send out an agency- or division-wide e-mail praising the work done on a project, which is followed by a storm of “Great job!” and “Way to go!” messages cluttering up everybody’s inboxes.

Or, say someone asks a question of a group, and everyone winds up getting answers that only the sender needs. The culprit: The Reply All button.

Usually this just results in excess e-mail, but occasionally it can involve sensitive or even offensive material being dispersed. Jobs can be lost that way – just ask Gustavo Reveles, who was fired in 2008 after 15-plus years at the U.S. Border Patrol for replying-to-all with words he shouldn’t have used.

The folks at Microsoft Research are doing something about this. They have released “NoReplyAll,”  an add-in for Outlook that can prevent people from hitting Reply All when responding to an e-mail. Once you install it, extra buttons will show up at the end of the ribbon when composing an e-mail. These let you disable Reply All, Reply and/or Forward for recipients of the e-mail you are writing. And the recipients don’t need to have the add-in installed for it to work.

What makes this possible are the hidden flags that have apparently always been in Exchange e-mail messages. If the recipient is using the Outlook desktop client connected to the same Exchange server, then those flags are strictly enforced. If the recipient is not on that Exchange server but is still using Outlook, those flags are still followed, though they can be overridden. However, since the point is to prevent accidental dispersal, this should do fine.

One way this won’t work is if the recipient is reading e-mail through some other client or a Web client – those programs won’t know what to do with the hidden flags, so will just ignore them. And of course, it only works if the sender decides to disable replies.

What this probably means is: We’ll still find ways to embarrass ourselves, but we’ll have one fewer excuse to fall back on when we have to explain ourselves. I’m still going to go with “the sun was in my eyes.” It never fails.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Nov 27, 2012 at 9:39 AM


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