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Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Reply to All" Email Storm Hits US State Department

Ask any seasoned email administrator of a large organization and you'll hear a particular tail of woe about a "reply to all" email storm that clogged their message servers and spread like wildfire from one errant "sparking" message. It's the perfect storm of poor technology, poor human behavior, and lack of training.

The United States Department of State had their own "email storm," resulting in this edict:

"A cable sent last week to all employees at the State Department's Washington headquarters and overseas missions warns of unspecified "disciplinary actions" for using the "reply to all" function on e-mail with large distribution lists."
Not a bad beginning to retraining employee behavior to think twice (or three times) before making a single click "reply to all" and pouring more gasoline on the smoldering email firestorm. While the email storm is a mild inconvenience to the employee, it's hugely disruptive for the IT staff. Hours are wasted clearing queues and nursing the system back to health.

Email, more than any other electronic communication medium, allows free and open communication between colleagues, but this incredible power needs be to wielded carefully because it's so abused now. Poorly written message bodies & subject lines and writing flames that would never be said in person are just a couple of the many downsides to this powerful capability.

We're moving into the "post email world" as 2009 starts. More and more people are demanding better email technology, and as the technology is overhauled to work more efficiently, the users need to take more responsibility by using email effectively. The vendors and the users both need to have some "skin in the game." Services like Twitter and Facebook messaging are getting more popular because email feels "so broken" right now.

In Sonian Labs we're innovating on some really interesting concepts about email productivity. As a hosted email archiving vendor we are in an unique position to have a positive effect on the future of email. Stay tuned!

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