State Department discourages 'reply-all' messaging

In a move that will surely bring a knowing chuckle to e-mail administrators everywhere, the State Department has strongly discouraged the use of the “Reply-All” function of their e-mail clients, the Associated Press reports.

According to the news service, the agency's OpenNet e-mail system recently buckled under the weight of a number of increasingly heated e-mail exchanges among thousands of State Department employees.

Last week, Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy sent out a cable to agency personnel warning that they may subjected to disciplinary action if they use the Reply-All indiscriminately.

Most e-mail readers have two options for responding to an e-mail. One is to respond only to the originator of the e-mail. The other, often called “Reply-All,” is to send a response to all the known recipients of the original e-mail, which can be used for group conversations.

If the original dispatch is sent to a large number of people, and if many of these recipients also respond to original list of recipients, the volume of e-mail can multiply so quickly as to overwhelm e-mail servers. Moreover, each recipient gets flooded with all the messages from fellow recipients.

In the State Department's case, a series of blank e-mails sent by mistake resulted in a tsunami of responses from employees, who e-mailed either asking to be removed from the distribution list or to angrily grouse that other people stop asking the entire list to be removed. Still others tried to recall their initial replies, which bogged down the servers even more.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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Reader Comments

Tue, Jan 13, 2009


Tue, Jan 13, 2009 Mike Sperry

After listening to all the customer stories I have heard over the years, I guarantee it will happen again. There are tools to prevent this - Permessa for instance, or our own Reply To All Monitor ( It seems a bit harsh to enforce disciplinary action for an error that technology can correct.

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