The Tao of BCC

I’ve gotten three emails in the last week with a set of questions about my favorite foods, favorite movie, my dream vacation spot, what kind of ice cream I would desire to become if I were to suddenly become ice cream, etc. The sender had answered the questions, and I was obliged to answer the same questions, and return my answers to the originator. If you’re thinking this isn’t a new thing, you’re right.

Let me tell you what also isn’t new. The people who send these emails seem to lack a fundamental understanding of the options email presents. They not only send it to 30 or 60 people (one acquaintance proudly proclaimed he was sending it to his entire address book) but they put every single person in the “To” field. They just slam ’em in there like cattle in a train car. It stinks in there, people!

For those of you who are wondering why this is a problem, please humor me and I’ll teach you something about email, and possibly a little Netiquette along the way. This lesson is called “blind carbon copy.” It’s probably better known in its abbreviated form: BCC.

Why BCC? It’s simple. Let’s say that you have 60 people in your address book, and you’re favoring them all with your questionnaire. OK, fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, I guess. (Please cut off the part at the end where a magical curse from some kind of unnamed email god is promised for those who don’t return the questionnaire. You know you’re above that. While you’re at it, remove any animated pictures which may adversely affect those with epilepsy. Thanks.) The problem happens when 10 of those 60 people (or worse, 30 or 40) are really excited to get this questionnaire, and decide to answer the questions too! But you didn’t use “BCC”. You used “To”. So now, these 10 – 40 excited people I’ve never met have my email address. And they’re so excited to respond that they decide “My answers are great! Everyone wants them!” and they click “Reply All”.

Don’t ever click “Reply All”, people. Outside the corporate world, it’s the Red Button on the military console. Far more powerful than you think it is. Just don’t.

So now all 60 people have email after email after email flooding into their inboxes. These are emails from people they’ve never met. They’re all introducing themselves and answering the admittedly inane questions. If you know the person giving the answers, it can be fun. If you don’t, it’s maddening and stupid. True, you can just delete the first one. And the second. And the third…

Then two or three of the first 10 – 30 excited people decide to have a personal off-topic conversation (or better yet, an argument) via email while using Reply All. These people are truly dumb. I’m happy they were able to learn to type. These emails may be the pinnacle of their life’s achievement. Be sure to pat them on the back and congratulate them when you see them next.

So while the originator of the thread certainly didn’t intend for this catastrophe when sending the first email, he’s inadvertently allowed it to happen by not being conscientious about BCC. And this whole mess was so easily avoidable. It’s sad, really.

So remember, friends don’t let friends misuse the “To” field.

5 Comments

  1. Posted November 7, 2005 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    SERIOUSLY!!!! Thank you JL! for trying to spread the word about the greatness that is BCC. If a person writing a mass message really needs everyone to know who the message is being sent to include it at the very bottom of the message but use real names and not email addresses. I bet most of your readers already use BCC though.

  2. Jon P
    Posted November 7, 2005 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I am one of your readers who, before reading this, did not use BCC (but I rarely send mass email). So, thanks!

    Incidently, when I worked in state government, some legislators who were new to the whole email thing really got in trouble with the ‘reply all’ button. It would go something like this:

    Email from Majority Leader (to all legislators): “Please note that we will recess at 5:00 this evening and resume debate on the ‘Clean Water for Baby Seals Act’ two hours later at 7:00.”

    ‘Reply all’ response: “Is two hours enough time to get to both the Big Oil and Big Tobacco fundraisers? Hey, what’s everyone wearing? I’m thinking maybe fur…”

  3. Posted November 8, 2005 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful, Josh, Beautiful.

  4. Famille
    Posted November 8, 2005 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Wow! Don’t hold anything back Josh…..no really, let it all out. Say what you feel.
    That was awesome. Good information, valid points, and absolutely hilarious!

  5. Neal
    Posted November 8, 2005 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Heh, well said. I snicker at the other professors that accidentally hit the “reply all” button.