Data Underload #8 – Unsolicited

A few months back, the Caltrans Performance Measurement System (PeMS) opened up a brand spanking new forum where people could discuss how they used the group’s traffic data. They created an email list to tell everyone about the new forum. The problem is that PeMS used a single address to email everyone. So when someone “replied all,” he would in turn email every single person on the list.

What followed was a long thread of emails that (entertaining) morning. This is that email thread. It got ugly quick (and kind of inappropriate towards the end). Let this be a lesson to you site administrators.


  • Pingback: Reply All | dayaal

  • Kirby Files February 8, 2010 at 9:36 am

    It almost sounds like they used a Reply-to header which was the same as the list alias. So even just using Reply would still spam all the users.

    It’s certainly possible that such a high proportion of people could be so clueless as to not know how to avoid ReplyAll, but from the level of redundancy and frustration, I suspect a systemic misconfiguration.

  • Something similar has happened to Microsoft as well

  • Amusing, but the form of the graph and the density of the lines makes it difficult to trace a particular comment to when it occurred.

  • Hilarious! I’m curious, was that last email really the last email to get sent?

  • Almost the same thing happened to McSweeney’s mailing list a few years ago. A well-meaning customer service agent sent a schedule update about a delayed book and cc’ed everyone who’d preordered it instead of bcc’ing them. The way the above exchange plays out is eerily similar to what I got in my mailbox over those couple of days.

  • This is funny, but it doesn’t make sense:
    Why do any of these people care that they are getting extra emails?
    It doesn’t cost anything to receive an email.
    When you have gmail, and why does anyone still not have gmail, in any thread whether I get one email or 4,000 it shows up in my mailbox like one message.
    Getting annoyed at getting extra emails is stupid. It doesn’t actually hurt you. If you still have squirrelmail, it’s your fault for failing to upgrade to a better program.

    • Lest we forget, people and companies pay for bandwidth. There is also costs associated with lost productivity. Whether people are just sorting/deleting the email string or creating a rule to auto trash the string, it takes time away from their actual job.

      In a more extreme case, the email volume can crash a server and/or delay/prevent delivery of legitimate emails.

      • yeah that is the justification for wanting to deal with spam, but spam and extra emails from a mailing list you don’t care about (as in this example) are not similar.
        also – lost productivity? you are joking.

    • (1) If this is a business, users may all be forced to the same e-mail system. For example, my company forces users to use Outlook Web Access. In OWA, each e-mail is a new item; it doesn’t do the nice things like Gmail. And if you have job where stay logged in to your OWA all day (which you have to do if you want to use the company calendar), each time you get an e-mail the computer beeps at you and flashes, which gets irritating when they are coming in about 1 per 2 minutes. (2) Not to be a jerk, but many of our older employees are not great with e-mail. So the very fact that they see other people saying “Remove me from the list” makes them think they too have to send a “Remove me from the list.” They wouldn’t have removed themselves, but they saw so many other people doing it.

  • Anger and a lost hope in the future of mankind – that sums up so much of the traffic on the internet, not just that initiated by these kinds of blunders…

  • The habits at work here are known and could be remedied with UI improvements. For example:

    Not all users read email from “most recent” back to “first received.” It’s very likely that many of the initial “unsubscribe me” were sent by users who lacked awareness of later identical messages from other users.

    Similarly, many if not most users will read only a few emails in a single thread before estimating the contents of the remainder, which will remain unread. Most likely those making requests that users not reply all (an impossibility in this case) assumed most of their unread emails from this thread were of the unsubscribe me variety.

    Finally, users can’t be blamed for a script or process that looks like a duck but roars like a lion. Namely: a process that turns a simple reply into a reply all is an aberration — like a sheet of ice on a darkened road — and few would know just how to react to it until it’s removed.

    May a half dozen Google Waves flourish, it’s time.

  • I was working for ICT Group ( a few years back when something similar happened on a much larger scale; mass-mail to the internal address database followed with a bunch of reply-alls. ICT has clients all over the world, some 10,000 email addresses were tied up in this distribution, and most of the idiot end users were doing the same – reply all. Lovely.

  • This is funny, and apparently people no longer understand what a listserv alias does. They just think in terms of “reply all” or not “reply all.”

    When email was used exclusively by people who understood what listserv software was for it was useful, but with everyone using email, listserv should be discontinued.

  • What a flashback to the ’80’s.
    Back then it was as simple as hitting ‘R’ instead of ‘r’. It looks the same today, but what’s the excuse now?

  • Remove remove remove remove…. remove… ULTRA! ULTRA! ULTRA! 72 hit combo!

    That is all.