Be careful what you name your product group


They thought they were so clever when they named the Desktop Applications Division. "And the abbreviation is 'DAD', isn't that cute? Complements the Microsoft Office Manager toolbar (MOM)."

And then the troubles started.

Shortly after the new product group was formed, everybody in the product group started getting email talking about strange non-business things. How's the garden doing? Did you get my letter? When will the twins be coming home from college?

The reason is that the email address for sending mail to the entire division was—naturally—"DAD". But it so happens that many people have a nickname for their father in their address book, named—of course—"dad". People thought they were sending email to their dad, when in fact it was going to DAD.

The email address for sending mail to the entire division was quickly changed to something like "deskapps" or "dappdiv".

Comments (20)
  1. Andrew Feldstein says:

    For years I nicknamed my home email address at work as "self"–until someone with that as her last name joined my company.

    Now I use "selfstein."

  2. Somebody says:

    Is it

    a) that Microsoft personnel does not use ‘mom’ as a nickname?

    or

    b) that Microsoft does not always learn from past experience?

  3. or

    c) There wasn’t a division called "MOM". MOM was a product, not a division.

  4. Universalis says:

    IBM for many years had a division called DPD.

    Even in France…

  5. anon says:

    Windows Media Division (working on DRM products)

  6. Travis Owens says:

    I had a boss who’s name was "Dan Umbstead" as using the common 1st letter of first name + last name email scheme I could send him a message simply by typing "dumb" in the To field.

  7. Mark Bower says:

    MOM = Microsoft Operations Manager (or so i thought)

  8. Check the date on that press release I linked to.

  9. Joel Spolsky says:

    I remember the first email to "dad". It was actually extremely profane, and written by someone in the mailroom who had apparently typed "mom and dad" in the "TO:" box as a joke. As this was back in the days before spam, people were not used to getting email that wasn’t intended for them, so it was a lot more shocking than the average vulgar, misdirected email is today!

    Nobody stopped talking about that one until Mike Maples announced the Shit It Awards in company-wide email.

  10. DavidE says:

    I once worked on a product with the acronym "SAG". That sounds innocuous enough until you realize that to many people, this sounds just like "SHE". Oh, sure, you can make them sound different if you try, but most people speak quickly enough that it can be confusing.

  11. ‘MOM’ is also the Microsoft Operations Manager =)

  12. Wesha says:

    … the application MAY NOT change it behavior without the user’s permission.

    How’d you think, would users remember what DAD stands for if they manually and personally added it to the addressbooks? Hell yeah.

    But they did not. It was added automatically at the centralized location. Havoc ensues.

    Yay central ‘government’.

  13. For about three weeks I had a DL in the company called ‘alias.’ Now, the ‘alias’ alias started getting a lot of spam, and so I promptly blocked any external emails to it. Didn’t matter. Everyone on it (seven of us) were getting tons of mail from PSS, MS IT, and so forth. We finally killed the alias and started a new one with a slightly more unpredictable name.

  14. Tim says:

    I think the bigger issue is email clients that treat expansions of what you actually typed as being more important than the nicknames you added to your address book (that directly match what you typed). Presumably you added the nickname to your list so that you could, you know, just type the nickname, and the email would go to that person?

    Most email clients I’ve used mess this up, and it’s maddening.

  15. William Hughes says:

    One of the reasons why it’s probably a really good idea to prefix group mailing lists/distribution lists with a special character to indicate it’s not a normal address.

    eg: "# Product Development Team".

    It gives people a visual cue that there’s something not quite normal about that email address.

  16. Dean Harding says:

    I think the bigger issue is email clients that treat expansions of what you actually typed as

    > being more important than the nicknames you added to your address book

    I believe you can change the order of expansion in Outlook so that your local address book is search before the global one. But I guess most people don’t bother since there isn’t usually going to be any collisions.

  17. John C. Kirk says:

    <i>… the application MAY NOT change it behavior without the user’s permission.</i>

    Oh come on. By that logic, a system administrator shouldn’t be able to add new email addresses to the central list when anyone joins the company without getting everyone’s permission, which is ridiculous. (Even if there’s no conflict, it would now match a name that would previously have been rejected, which is a change in behaviour.)

    And…

    <i>I believe you can change the order of expansion in Outlook so that your local address book is search before the global one.</i>

    Yes, that’s exactly right. If you’re using Outlook 2003, then go to the Address Book, then click "Tools | Options…" The list at the bottom says "When sending mail, check names using these address lists in the following order:", and on my machine it has "Contacts" then "Global Address List". There’s similar functionality in older versions, although you get to it a different way (e.g. "Tools | Services" in the main screen).

    So, I think that in this situation it made sense for that group of people (who happened to work for Microsoft) to choose a different address, but I really don’t think you can hold it up as an example of the Evil Empire at work. Sheesh.

  18. Wesha says:

    Oh come on. By that logic, a system administrator shouldn’t be able to add new email addresses to the central list when anyone joins the company without getting everyone’s permission, which is ridiculous.

    No. Don’t skew the logic. A system administrator should be able to do that. But the user should specificly express interest in having his addresses autocompleted from central list.

  19. Stephen Jones says:

    —-"One of the reasons why it’s probably a really good idea to prefix group mailing lists/distribution lists with a special character to indicate it’s not a normal address.

    eg: "# Product Development Team".

    It gives people a visual cue that there’s something not quite normal about that email address."——–

    Actually, Outlook does distinguish visually by putting distribution groups in bold.

  20. AndrueC says:

    Way back a few years we had a list of error messages for error codes (as you do) but one of the codes was for internal use only as a flag. Since there was no way for that code to ever generate an error message I changed it to an obscure phrase from the Terry Pratchett novel ‘Eric’. The error message for code 6 became "Mr. Beekle is a Poo".

    One day we got a puzzled support call from a client..

    Such is life :)

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