I was listening to the September 11 edition of Women of Web 2.0 this morning when a comment by Vicki Davis stopped me in my tracks. She was talking about how difficult it is to teach students to be critical of information they find on the web. If it’s in Google, it must be true. While making her point, she sited this example:
When email first came out, some of us clicked “reply all” and sent messages that we didn’t want to send to all kinds of people. That was ten years ago. But now, hitting reply all and sending an ugly message — you can be fired for that. At the beginning, everybody said “ha, ha, ha” you didn’t know. Well now, it’s standard digital citizenship knowledge that you should know the difference between “reply all” and “reply.” I think that if it becomes standard generally acceptable knowledge that it should be taught, just like how to cross the street and how to drive.
I have to admit, I try not to send emails to large groups of people because this problem is so widespread in my district. As often as not, I’ll send an email to myself and blind copy everyone in, so they can’t reply to all. In the interest of public service, I’ll provide a little remediation:
When you REPLY to an email message, it sends a message back to the person who sent the original. If I send an email out to the high school staff, and you receive it, you can REPLY. The message you send will go back to me.
REPLY ALL is used when it is necessary to respond to everyone who received the original message. In the example I just sited, if you use REPLY ALL, your message will go to the entire high school staff.
When replying, ask youself this question: is it necessary that EVERYONE on the original list knows what I have to say? If it’s not, just reply to the sender.
While I’m at it, I might as well talk about my other email pet peeve. Lately, this has been an increasing problem in my school district. When you compose an email, you’re asked to enter several things. First, you have to enter the addresses of the people you want to send the message to. Most people don’t have a problem with that. You can then enter CC: recipients. Those are the people to whom you are providing a courtesy copy of the message. Some people are confused by CC:, but most people seem to understand that when you’re writing a message that refers to someone, but is not specifically to that person, you should CC: them.
The third thing you need to enter is a subject for the message. This is where, for some reason, a lot of people have been
lazy confused lately. Leaving the subject blank tells the recipient that you’re too busy to let them know what your message is about. They’ll just have to open it and see. It’s the digital equivalent of leaving a voicemail message saying “please call me as soon as possible” without leaving any information about what it is that you want. It’s unnecessarily inconsiderate. To make matters worse, most email programs warn you when you’re about to send a message without a subject. It’ll say “hey, you know you’re sending this message without a subject? That’s really not nice.” And you have to say “I know it’s not nice, but I don’t care. Send it anyway.” How rude.
For those still confused, I’ll summarize: don’t send me email without subjects, and don’t reply to all unless everybody has to know what you have to say.