By now, chances are that reply-all responses have held your email inbox hostage at one point or another. The chains often start innocently enough—a company-wide note that congratulates a department or employee, a baby announcement—before descending into an onslaught of piggybacked praise, Steve from marketing’s awful humor, and backlash to what’s happening. This, of course, overshadows both the original message and actual important emails you’re receiving. Make it stop! you quickly find yourself pleading to the tech gods.
Microsoft wants to try. The Redmond-based company has released “Reply All Storm Protection” as part of its latest Office 365 rollout. In Exchange Online, a new feature will block replies for four hours once an email thread with over 5,000 recipients has endured a barrage of 10 reply-alls within 60 minutes. That’s a pretty extreme situation, but Microsoft plans to expand the feature’s relevance to a wider range of disgruntled companies and users, though a company spokesperson wouldn’t divulge any specifics yet. “Over time, as we gather usage telemetry and customer feedback, we expect to tweak, fine-tune, and enhance the Reply All Storm Protection feature to make it even more valuable to a broader range of Office 365 customers,” Microsoft notes.
The blocker can’t be turned off, so you may want to opt for a different email provider if your company revels in not getting work done or, more seriously, deems this communication necessary for employee safety in a crisis situation.
But most won’t hesitate to rid themselves of the bizarre mix of technological incompetence and hubris swirling in reply-all storms. Microsoft shared a possible origin story for the phenomenon when announcing its plans to unveil the feature last year. In 1997 a Microsoft employee replied to a distribution list named “BedlamDL3,” asking to be removed from the email thread. Bedlam, indeed, ensued. The worker didn’t realize that 13,000 employees, about a quarter of the company’s workforce at the time, were on the chain. Some mimicked the employee's request. “Other 'heroes' chimed in (using Reply All) to say how bad it was to Reply All to the thread and to please stop, and so on, ad nauseum,” Microsoft recounts. “Within an hour 15 million messages were generated, 195 GB of data, and it brought Microsoft's Exchange servers to a slow crawl. It took two days to clean it all up.”
But reply-all episodes, unfortunately, were here to stay.