Reply all

The lovely Matt Ballantine drew my attention today to the latest email meltdown at Reuters.

Put simply somebody somehow started a cascade among ‘000s of individuals by doing that thing we all do (and later regret): pressing the reply-all button. Others repeated the trick, some pleading to all not to reply all and of course, the phenomenon started trending on sites like twitter and MSN.

inevitably some top jokes emerged…

So what are we to learn:

  1. Matt makes the point that it might reveal something important about “provocation” and generally being annoying in our attempts to drive engagement online. I’m not sure this is right: not just because this is what bad online comms do already and most of those don’t get the kind of spread this example shows. In fact most cases don’t spread at all – whatever their characteristics. I worry about the ease with which we look to characteristics of the thing that’s spreading/spread rather than the network and the activity of the people who live within in. We want it to be the thing because that would support common-sense and our notions of virality (with its assumptions about contagiousness of the thing). It’s not that the thing is not at all involved – Brainjuicer and Conquest’s work on emotional response to advertising point to the importance of getting people to feel something, if you want them to do something
  2. That said, I think the bigger story is something about the frictionless environment we have created online (including dear old/boring old email). It’s just as easy to click Reply All as Reply. And in this case, we’ve got a well-conditioned and culturally reinforced response to an email that’s hard to resist: as someone much smarter than me observed, what every email wants is another one (from the recipient). And a mechanic that lends it self to widespread propagation (you only need 1 in a large group to reply all to the reply all thing to keep it going). These factors together – plus the comedy they created in this case are probably what we really need to take from #reutersgate

Please share with your friends…