Dispatches From The Geeks

News and Announcements from the MCS Systems Group

Sending mail to a large group of people.

Some of you may have seen the news this week of a “reply-all storm” that took out the State Department’s e-mail system. It’s a real problem that can hit any organization, and there are easy ways to avoid it. Here are some really simple tips to make sure you’re not the one who brings down an e-mail server.First of all, when sending out an e-mail to a large group of people, never put their e-mail addresses in the To: or Cc: lines. If you put everyone’s address on one of those headers, everyone who gets that mail will also see all those addresses. That’s the first step in setting up a reply-all storm! Not only that, but you’ve also exposed e-mail addresses to everyone, whether the recipients wanted their addresses exposed to the world or not.For internal mail, this may not be such a big deal, but when mailing externally, there are implications that you may want to consider. Some people don’t want their e-mail address spread around. Some people only publicly expose certain addresses, and use others for comunication with people they know won’t spam them. But if you expose those addresses, their work is undone. When a coporate entity does this, it makes the news. Ask Seagate, AT&T, or Nissan.But putting aside privacy concerns, you run the risk of setting off a reply storm that can bring entire networks to their knees. So, how do you prevent this? If it’s a one-off mailing to this particular group of people, go ahead and use individual addresses, but put them in the Bcc: field, and stick your own address in the To: field. Nobody else on the mailing will see anyone else’s address, and a Reply-all will only go to you. This is not foolproof, as some spam prevention software may think this mail is spam, however any spam program worth its salt will be far more likely to tag a mail with 100 people on the To: line than one mail addressed to yourself.If it’s going to be the type of thing where you’ll be mailing more than once, and especially if you actually want the recipients to converse, go ahead and set up a mailing list for it! In MCS it’s as simple as filling out a web form at http://mcs.anl.gov/faq. Once you’ve got it set up, people’s e-mail addresses are protected, for one. Even better, if there is a flurry of activity, the mailing list server is designed to take it. (Well, usually it is. I make no guarantees for Microsoft Exchange servers.)Lastly, if you find yourself on a mailing list that you want off of, don’t send mail to that list complaining about it. More often than not, you’ll start a reply storm that isn’t productive (see the Microsoft story above). Look for instructions in the e-mail on how to remove yourself. Worst case, you can reply to the person who sent you the mail singly.Hope you find this useful!

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Written by Craig Stacey

January 12, 2009 at 11:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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