Only senior executives can send email to the All Employees distribution list, but mistakes still happen


Some time ago, a senior executive sent email to the All Employees distribution list at Microsoft announcing that a particular product was now available for dogfood. The message included a brief introduction to the product and instructions on how to install it.

A few hours later, a second message appeared in reply to the announcement. The second message came from a different senior executive, and it went

I got your note and tried it out. Looks good so far.

Oopsie. The second senior executive intended to reply just to the first senior executive, but hit the Reply All button by mistake. This would normally have been caught by the You do not have permission to send mail to All Employees rule, but since the mistake was made by a senior executive, that rule did not apply, and the message went out to the entire company.

People got a good chuckle out of this. At least he didn't say anything embarrassing.

Bonus chatter: I'd have thought that these extra-large distribution lists would be marked Nobody can send to this distribution list, and then when somebody needed to send a message to the entire company, the email admins would create a one-day-only rule which allowed a specific individual to send one message.

Comments (26)
  1. Joshua says:

    We have these aliases and they have some controls; however the aliases have underlying email addresses for remoting; guess what happens when you type in the remoting email address instead of the alias name.

  2. Eric Pi says:

    Would be neat if you could add a "BCC Only" rule for these extra-large distribution lists.  (Still limited to the appropriate personnel.)  This would seem to solve many of the reply all issues.

  3. Simon says:

    Well, at least they are dogfooding Outlook as well, so they can always retract the message.

  4. Joshua says:

    @Simon: Do not assume retract works, even when using Outlook + Exchange. When sending to an always-on blackberry it won't.

  5. Exchange supports a "no replying or forwarding" flag, doesn't it? I recall seeing a plugin that exposes this in Outlook.

  6. Jonathan says:

    @Karellen: I couldn't help but to think of dilbert.com/…/2014-05-19

    @carbon twelve: Exchange IRM supports "can't reply-all". However, any IRM-marked mail incurs a price: Several-second delay while Outlook communicates with the IRM server to validate your rights, plus difficulties in OWA clients. I never understood why a simple mistake-preventing feature would need such a heavy-handed implementation, with server-side validation.

  7. Brian_EE says:

    Everyone that commented so far seems to have assumed that this happened in a Microsoft Exchange environment. But Raymond doesn't define what "some time ago…" means, so maybe this happened back in the old days of Microsoft Mail on Win 95 and NT 4.0. Your comments then would be moot.

  8. Karellen says:

    "I'd have thought that […] when somebody needed to send a message to the entire company, the email admins would create a one-day-only rule which allowed a specific individual to send one message."

    Yeah, because senior executives just *love* to jump through hoops like that, and never simply demand the ability to do whatever their whims desire – safety, security, procedures be damned. Because they're *executives*, and wouldn't ever make a mistake, or fall for phishing spam/viruses, or anything like that. No, don't try and explain reasons to me, I don't have time for that. Just stop trying to subvert my well-earned power, you pathetic little IT monkey, do as I say, and make it possible for me to send emails to the All Employees list. Or else.

    Yeah. Be careful what you wish for…

  9. Daniel Neely says:

    Even if you lock the all_company addresses down inventive idiots will still find ways.  About once a year I get an email from a senior/long serving cow-orker or one of his/her friends where they apparently opened the outlook company wide address book and selected several hundred to a >thousand people (everyone in the building, location, or company) and jammed them all into the To field to inform me that someone I've never worked with (and often have no clue who is) is retiring and inviting us to have cake over lunch or join them for drinks after hours.  I've never actually gone for a free slice of cake (I have my pride afterall); but the venues being picked for the after hours sessions are generally small enough it's clear that the email abuser knows that all but a few dozen of the people who receive it will just mash the delete key while muttering rude words under their breathe.

  10. Paul Coddington says:

    There was a certain product rival to Outlook/Exchange popular in the Australian Public Service, which among many bugs ignored and excused by representatives of the product provider, was the tendency to Reply To All when the Reply button was clicked. It caught people out all the time, yet blame was attributed to the employee not the software.

  11. Engywuck says:

    more surprising to me was the fact that apparently even senior executives are dogfooding the software of other executives' branch. Aren't minions for this task?

  12. @Engywuck says:

    You got to have the new hawtness! Like some execs from MS that where boasting that they where using Win8 before the launch and it was awesome on their tablet! They can't have been doing much with it, since at the time of the developer preview, it was mildly speaking not in the most usable state.

  13. This story is seven years old. See:

    office.microsoft.com/…/office-hours-the-top-7-employee-bungles-using-office-HA010225559.aspx

    [If you're referring to the Bedlam DL3 incident, that took place in 1997. This incident occurred some time later. Note that the executive circumvented the safeguards put into place as a result of Bedlam DL3. -Raymond]
  14. Kai Schätzl says:

    The normal course would be to set up a moderated list. You need a password or your mail gets quarantined until an admin releases it. Or you set the reply-to to the sender and not the list which would even be easier for management. So, it's either the fault of the mailing list managers or the software used to reply, likely the former.

  15. Kai Schätzl says:

    @ Eric Pi, you misunderstood mailing list/distribution list. That's not a list of recipients in cc or bcc, it's a software that got a list and sends mail to everyone on the list, no distribution of recipients occurs.

  16. Ross Presser says:

    If it's truly an announcement only list, silently filter away anything that arrives with a /Re:/ subject.

  17. Jerome Viveiros says:

    @Daniel Neely: Pride vs. Free Cake! Time to get your priorities straight! I always show up for free food. In fact, I'd show up "on behalf" of everybody in my office, and be sure to collect a slice of cake for everybody. If it gently nudges the manager not to send those emails in future, that's a bonus.

  18. kog999 says:

    "Oopsie. The second senior executive intended to reply just to the first senior executive, but hit the Reply All button by mistake"

    Are you sure. this sounds a lot like something a senior executive would do. Reply all on purpose letting the whole company know that he is on top of things and ready to help. Without actually adding anything of value.

  19. morlamweb says:

    @Daniel Neely, @Jerome Viveiros: Around my office, sending out a mass email with a "free cake/pizza/sodas/cookies/etc" is a surefire way to boost attendance at your meeting or party.  Over the years  I've managed to hone a skill whereby I show up shortly after the meeting and can gobble up the leftover goodies.  That food would otherwise be trashed by our catering service at the end of the day.

    @kog999: to me this looks more like a common reply-to-all vs. reply-to-sender mistake vs. whatever nefarious scheme you're talking about.  Senior execs make mistakes like that, too, albeit from within a nicer office and with a bigger paycheck.

  20. 640k says:

    We live in an age when mail server software should be smart enough to not distributed such junk. Fix it already.

  21. senior executive #1 says:

    Hi this is senior executive #1, please participate in the dogfooding of exchange's new filter which prevents mails sent by mistakes.

  22. Kai Schätzl says:

    @ Ross. Microsoft has made sure that this is kinda complicated. Many of their email products use location for "Re:", e.g. in German they use "Aw:" (which is completely insane).

  23. Cesar says:

    @Kai Schätzl: doesn't matter. What matters is the Reply-To: header, which is automatically added by every email client when you click the Reply button or its variants (Reply All/Reply to List). Email clients use that header (and the related References: header) to group the emails in a thread.

    So, what @Ross really wants is: if it's an "announcement-only" list, reject (please no silent dropping, it's hard to distinguish from a delay) any email with an In-Reply-To: header. Should not be hard to program in the MTA.

  24. Cesar says:

    Oops, typo, I meant In-Reply-To not Reply-To (which is something completely different).

  25. Anyone at work can use our group DLs.  I'm actually kind of impressed I've only seen one issue with people replying to it in the four years I've been there.  It did go down the ironic path of people replying to DL to tell people to stop replying to DL though.

  26. Dialecticus says:

    What if the mailing list ignores any reply-to-all order if the reply does not include a ticket number in the subject that is provided in the message body? OR what if mailing list gives a slightly wrong mailing address for reply-to-all field that has to be manually corrected for reply-to-all order to have an effect?

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