A suggestion that employees decorate their work areas to support the Spurs pro basketball team touched off such a furious and crowded e-mail debate at the San Antonio Express-News that the technology director was forced to pull the plug on the system to prevent a crash.
In a frenzied 45-minute period June 10, the newspaper computer system suffocated from self-inflicted spamming as the original suggestion e- mailed to all 1,100 Express-News employees prompted a barrage of responses pro and con, nearly all of them sent by the "reply to all" function and requesting a "receipt" acknowledging the e-mail had been opened.
As the newspaper's e-mail system slowed to a crawl, some irritated employees in effect poured gasoline on the network fire by sending off e-mails complaining the debate was a waste of time while others cheered on one side or the other with reply-to-all slogans such as "You go, sister!"
The paper's help desk was inundated with calls. At the Express-News, one router handles not only internal e-mail but also the paper's electronic data interchange (EDI) that takes orders from advertisers. An undetermined number of insert orders got buried in Spurs e-mail debate, which took place in the late-afternoon prime time for advertisers.
Also lost in the tangle of e-mail that afternoon: Warnings from system managers about the so-called Zip.exec "worm" computer virus that was destroying files at businesses across the nation.
"You had everybody replying to everybody, and everybody getting a receipt to notify everybody. It caused the e-mail router to really slow down," says Nina Brooks, the paper's director of technology and pre- press. Brooks was away from her computer at the time but learned of the problem when "all my pagers went off.
"I made the decision that I was going to take [the e-mail system] down because if we didn't it was going to crash," Brooks says. "The e-mail didn't crash, but we had come to an absolute standstill."
The problem affected neither the newspaper's Web site, www.express- news.com, nor the Internet service it offers commercially, ENConnect, Brooks says.
For Brooks, the near-crash is not so much about technology as philosophy. "I guess it comes down to: What is e-mail for?" she says. "I look at e-mail as a critical production tool for management. …