Sunday, April 18, 2010

After 20 yrs of email my first "reply all" SNAFU; reply all apology etiquette?

Oh well. I had a good run. I have been really careful over the years with avoiding the "reply all by accident" mistake that has created so much comedy and pain to others. I am not sure how I have avoided it so well - in part I am careful - but in part clearly just lucky. And I have witnessed some pretty pretty funny reply all mistakes as I am sure have most people out there. The funniest was one by well known evolutionary biologist who made a bit of a faux pas in replying to a message sent to the evoldir mailing list in the early 1990s. After witnessing what happened in particular with that one, I did become more careful with replying.

So then yesterday, while at Stanford for an Evolutionary Genomics Symposium, I was tweeting and friendfeeding the talks (will post notes in a little while) and I was doing this all on my iPhone. I like the iPhone, but typing notes on it, and looking up Urls of papers, and copying and pasting things to Friendfeed or twitter, is not that easy. But I was trying to keep up. And I logged in to my gmail to look up the schedule, and saw an email message from Jim Bristow the Deputy Director of the Joint Genome Institute that I had meant to respond to earlier.

In his email Jim requested, quite reasonably, that people that have projects that are done in collaboration with (or entirely by) the Joint Genome Institute, add a little statement to their Acknowledgements in their publications, regarding the funding for the JGI.

We had had a paper come out Friday supported by DOE and done in part at the JGI, and I looked at the paper on the PLoS One site and we had the right acknowledgement in our paper, thanks to a suggestion from David Gilbert who handles Public Affairs at the JGI.

So I wrote a little email response to Bristow's email. My email was brief:
I think we did it right here
Just a link to the paper and a suck up statement telling Jim that I think we did the Acknowledgement the way he wanted it.

All sounds pretty boring right? That was until I clicked send, which sent the email, somehow, to all the people on the DOE mailing list - basically all people that have ever worked with JGI. And if you reread my message, it sounds like I am bragging "did it right" about how great our paper was.

I have already gotten three responses, all thinking I meant that our paper was "right".

So here is my question for everyone. What do I do now? Do I send another message to all saying "Oops - I did not mean to send that to everyone and that I was not bragging about our paper? Or do I lie low and let it blow over?


  1. I'd respond individually to those who email you and lie low otherwise, unless you get 20+ responses, in which case I'd send out another to the list saying "sorry, didn't mean to send it to the whole list".

  2. I would opt for the "lie low and let it blow over"? option myself.

  3. yeah - lie low is my preference too

  4. Still - I feel like such a total schmuck - not b/c I posted to all - but b/c of the way this could be read

  5. Yeah, I got that email -- but I didn't realize it was a mistake. As you are the editor of PLoS Biology I thought you were giving out the equivalent of a papal decree as to how this should be acknowledged in PLoS manuscripts...

  6. what i really want to know JB is how many people are on that list?

  7. I agree with Graham Seel, It's much better to lie low. Worst possible case is this:

    1. Someone receives your original e-mail, doesn't understand why they received it, and deleted it from their inbox.
    2. They get another e-mail from you, apologizing for the mistake. They delete this one too, sighing at their seconds wasted on these e-mails.
    3. Some goofball sends a third reply-all e-mail, thanking you for your apology.

    Just let it die quietly. This happens to everyone some times.

  8. Lie low...

    From my experience with these huge lists, most users delete the email without even reading it, just based on the subject line.

    On the other hand, if you apologize, people will certainly want to know what is happening.


  9. It is somewhat ironic, but are you aware that there is a really rubbish ad at the bottom of your post if you view it in RSS, as I do? The ad somewhat undermines the message of your post.

  10. Oh just grand Maxine - did not know there were any ads in RSS --- will try and figure out how to turn that off.

  11. I think I have turned that off now Maxine - I never notices the "Adsense for feeds" item in Blogspot. I use Adsense ads every once in a while but must have turned it on for feeds w/o knowing ...

  12. fwiw, i got that email and didn't think you were boasting -- and if you have to have a reply all error, that's pretty innocuous

  13. I have some interest in JGI matters, and so I read both the email from Jim and from you. Both seemed quite reasonable... Mainly I took yours as a comment on the policy being reasonable (which it is of course). I doubt that anyone was offended.


  14. thanks Nancy/Mike -- good to know it does not sound as bad as I thought

  15. E-mail can be a tough medium at times, especially for large groups of people who don't know you very well. "Reply to All" mistakes for large groups are the worst which is why any really large e-mail list should not allow reply to all. When I moderate such lists, I usually send them out BCC exclusively so that these faux pas are prevented.

    I am co-organizing the BayBIFX forum using which is a lovely site for most things but inexplicably forces some E-Mail Blasts to be ""Reply to All" instead of "Reply to Sender". Your post has reminded me to follow up on this issue before we have our own problems.

    Regarding your original mistake: I would think of it this way... 99% of the people probably just hit delete when they saw the message. If you send out a correction, 99% of the recipients will just have to hit delete again. Your mistake would have to be pretty big to justify inconveniencing 99% of the people on the list.

    This doesn't seem like that big of a deal.

  16. "what i really want to know JB is how many people are on that list?"

    Probably quite a few ;-)
    I've seen worse, and believe me, it can get way more embarrassing in government. Besides, it led me to a paper I hadn't seen and now plan on reading!

  17. George Garrity4/22/2010 11:57 AM

    I got the message, too. I wasn't sure why, but I didn't think too much about it. Had you written it in all caps, it would have been a different story.

    All-in-all, this is not likely to be one of the memorable ones.

  18. Yes, George, clearly I thought way too much about this when it happened - in the grand scheme of things, this was a tiny tiny bump. Not sure why I felt stronger before - maybe b/c two people in particular harassed me about it within a few minutes ...

  19. You have enough comments but I must admit I just smiled and attributed to a normal case of FS i.e.
    Freudian Slip
    or Finger Slippage
    or Flamboyant Scientist syndrome
    or Faulty Sentence interpretation

    None of these are serious crimes and are soon forgotten.

  20. What about lie low and hope it will blow over?



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