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Monday, January 16, 2012

Start an electronic food fight to spot the dumb ones

Yesterday, I posted a tale about what can happen when people abuse e-mail systems. I mentioned that sometimes you can get into these "reply-all" fests where people continue to spam each other, and it doesn't take long to go nuclear.

I witnessed one of these spectacles about a year ago. Someone had created a mailing list which used some kind of LDAP extraction to auto-join people to it. This wasn't unusual. Lists like this existed all over the company for different groups: people who report to this VP, people in this building, people in this city, and so on.

This particular list was "everyone in the company". Even that wasn't too unusual. There were a couple of those, and they were restricted-access to keep them from turning into the spam fests described above. They were used appropriately and everything was okay.

That is... until this list came along. Someone had configured it to inherit the entire list of employees, but they had forgotten to limit posting access. At first, nothing happened. It just showed up on the list of mailing lists you are subscribed to, and due to alpha-sorting rules, it just sort of hid near the bottom for most people. Nobody noticed it.

One day, someone noticed. I suspect this person was performing a masterful troll, since she was not the kind of person who goes and does clueless things. She sent exactly one word to the list.

"unsubscribe"

That's all it took. People started responding saying the same thing. Others wanted to know what this mailing list was all about. Others replied to say "stop replying!", and still others tried to reason it out and explain what was going on for anyone who was still reading.

I just sat back and laughed. Here, you had a company full of what was supposed to be the smartest employees on the planet who basically were the Internet as far as most people were concerned, and a bunch of them had just started a reply-all food fight.

This went on for quite some time before someone finally pulled the plug on that mailing list. Then it stopped cold.

The person who sent that initial "unsubscribe" mail will never admit this, but I suspect she did it to prove a point. I just wish I had been clever enough to think of it myself.

Basically, if you think you are surrounded by monkeys, what do you do?

That's right, you pull out a banana and throw it into the air. If a bunch of monkeys suddenly come out of the woodwork, you were right!

Oo oo oo aa aa aa.