Newspaper article The Canadian Press

From Apologies to Email Storms: Internet History Is Filled with Reply-All Folly

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

From Apologies to Email Storms: Internet History Is Filled with Reply-All Folly

Article excerpt

A brief history of reply-all folly


TORONTO - John Levine literally wrote the book on email, so he wasn't particularly surprised to read about Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's reported reply-all gaffe.

Some 40 years since the first electronic mail message was sent, users are still grappling with how to use the service properly and keep from making sloppy mistakes.

"We're still figuring out what are the social norms, what's acceptable, what's the right way to use it, what's not the right way to use it," said Levine, who authored the first "Internet for Dummies" manual in 1993 and "Email for Dummies" in 1997, and has worked with Industry Canada as a consultant.

"My most relevant message is: I have never regretted not sending a rude, snarky email. Somehow, no matter how careful you are, even if you're sending something to exactly the right person, the malicious-email fairy will wave her wand in front of your eyes for just enough seconds for you to push the wrong button and off it goes.

"We've all done this."

For his part, Kenney reportedly replied to an email about a possible meeting with Alberta's deputy premier, Thomas Lukaszuk, by calling him "a complete and utter a--hole." But instead of sending it to just one person, the email seems to inadvertently have gone out to a large circle of users and was passed around enough that it eventually became public.

For many, a reply-all mishap can be a valuable lesson about the perils of writing something you can't take back.

"Frequently I'm writing a message and I realize I need to stop and think. If somebody doesn't have all the context in my head, what will they think this message means? And frequently it's not what I meant," Levine said.

But even those who have made the mistake before aren't completely out of the woods, he adds.

"Partly, it's an issue of lousy user interface in mail programs. And partly it's a basic problem that sometimes it makes sense to reply to the individual and sometimes it makes sense to reply to everybody," he said. …

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