Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Fun With BCC

Luis Villa falls into the old "reply to all on a BCCed email" trap...

I think it's safe to tell a little story about the best case I was involved with. When I was finishing up my PhD in 2000, Jim Larus at Microsoft Research asked me to come up for a visit so they could encourage me to apply for a job there. I declined, carefully and politely explaining that I'd already decided I did not want to work at Microsoft (because of the issues around the company as a whole; MSR was fantastic and I liked the people there). I BCC'ed my PhD advisors on this reply because they needed to be aware of the situation. One of my advisors replied "Stick it to 'em!" ... to all, of course. Hilarity all around.

BCC is a dangerous and obsolete tool IMHO. It's safer to just forward your message to the secret recipients.


Aaron Leventhal
Good points.
Could the email client help here?
It could automatically adjust the headers for BCC recipients, so that reply-all doesn't get sent to anyone but the sender.
It could disallow/doublecheck for reply-all on BCC-received messages.
And, it could make it easier to forward a sent message (e.g. Cmd+Shift+L forward last sent message).
This is a great story. I wonder if we should just make BCCs behave like this (that is, the recipient only sees a message wherein the other recipients have been removed, as if the content were forwarded to them)?
Well, I don't find it obsolete, but surely dangerous in a way. Considering Thunderbird now warns about possibly forgotten attachments, might as well warn about this now. If it's going to make it into Tb's core or not, I support Luis' wish for such an add-on.
Rob, you still haven't fixed your web page. It still makes the user think their browser is broken. Luis has a good page, perhaps you could follow his lead.
Oh yeah, and also, when you press preview, the input boxes aren't repopulated. But that's not what I'm talking about.
BCC still seems helpful to me.
Consider the case where a person starts a thread to someone who then replies, but copies a new contact who is better suited to continue the conversation. The person who started the thread can now move the recipients on the thread who are no longer necessary so they don't receive spam.
But, the beauty of this tactic is that those initial recipients can still see that last message to ensure that the hand off was made and see where the conversation is heading before sign-off. If they choose, they can re-enter the conversation by replying and asking not to be bcc-ed.
This blog post has more writing about this use case:
Karl Tomlinson
I wish more people would use BCC instead of CC when sending announcements to a large number of unrelated people.
Robert O'Callahan
Yes, that is one good use of BCC --- when everyone but the sender is BCCed.
Jeff Walden
If you ever have to send a campus-wide email at MIT, particularly near finals time, you'd better use BCC to add all the dorm lists, because otherwise you're playing Russian roulette with a campus full of people just itching to find an excuse to troll and start a massive flame war. :-D