Do You Zombie Reply to All?

I’ve mused in the past about whether spam is really a problem or not. I find it a minor annoyance that I can easily ignore, like ads, but I can see how it would be both annoying in some situations and in others, a major problem.

Spam in my work inbox is limited mostly to mail sent to distribution lists to which I subscribe. Again, a minor annoyance for me, since I can usually tell by the subject if I need to read or not.

So, today, my inbox was choked with about 30 messages all in the same thread. It was one of those ironic spam threads where at least 75% of the replies were unsubs or stern reminders not to reply to all, some of them in all caps, sent of course, to the whole list.

Let’s pause for a protip. In Intertubes speak, when you use all caps, it’s assumed you are yelling. As obvious as this may sound, I think most people use all caps for emphasis, like bolding, or maybe they like to yell. I don’t think most of these people would actually shout if the exchange were in person.

Next, the obvious protip: Replying to all to admonish others for replying to all, results in an infinite loop of spam and irony. And it’s really funny.

This thread actually went on so long, it caved in on itself. One message called out the “don’t reply to all” repliers to all as potentially failing an IQ test. Then, a few others ran with the IQ piece and made it into a pretty funny diversion. I’m still waiting for the final-final reply from someone on the list.

Anyway, aside from enjoyment, this thread did get me wondering how many people zombie reply to all. By this I mean, replying to all, without looking at the full to and cc list.

I’m guilty of sending too much mail, but I try to take people out of the loop when necessary and add them if necessary.

This is a CYA problem. Email is official business. It can be used as evidence to assess guilt or innocence. So, people, myself included, are conditioned to make sure all bases are covered (and are belong to us).

Therefore, we reply to all without even looking and frequently include new people in the thread, just in case.

With real business content, this causes inbox swelling, a necessary evil and probably not avoidable. We all get way too much email, which makes a lot of people cranky.

So, when someone zombie replies to some spam sent to a distribution list, people tend to go ballistic.

This creates spam wars. It usually goes like this:

  • Someone spams a list.
  • People reply to all with unsub verbiage.
  • Someone replies to all with the proper process on how to unsub.
  • People reply to all with all caps messages about not replying to all.
  • The sender replies to all with an apology or explanation, bonus points for claiming not to spam.
  • I laugh.
  • Rinse and repeat a few times.
  • Optionally, someone makes a funny about the irony of the whole thing.
  • I laugh some more.

People get really touchy about unwanted email, and I don’t get it. But, I still try to avoid spamming because I’m that kind of guy.

The cause of today’s spam was a seemingly innocent list created to share some content. The poor person who created it got pummeled with unsubscribes and do not wants. Then s/he made the mistake of promising not to spam the list. People are rough.

Note to self, suggest Connect V2 groups to poor distribution list creator.

Anyway, no real point here, just food for thought. In case you’ve been following, all this post needs is a Rick Roll for the meme trifecta.




  1. Sounds like gmail would've made your life much easier…the beauty of threading.

  2. Hey Jake
    I was on that thread and was waiting for the flames(fun) to continue … dang.

    I cant believe how worked up folks get and then want to tell everyone how worked up they are about how everyone is replying all and getting them all worked up … an amusing diversion.

  3. In this case, yes, but in others, GMail is a bit jarring, e.g. it threads all my LinkedIn bacn, which I don't find all that useful. It's sometimes confusing when you just so happen to have the same subject for two different, unrelated emails.

    These are corner cases though. I've been using GMail since 2004, happily.

  4. I know. I'm actually disappointed it came to an end. The IQ tangent was getting good. Ah irony, it wouldn't be so fun if everyone got it.

  5. I don't get why people get all worked up about it either. After about 10 (I was on the list too), I did a quick filter add in Thunderbird and haven't seen any since. I realize that not everyone knows how or is willing to do that, but it seems pretty simple to me.

    BTW, I have been on at least 3-4 of those type of email strings this year. The prior one's went on MUCH longer than this one.

  6. But was it as funny? Your filtering skills kept you out of the humor loop. You should duck back in to see the last few. Great stuff.

    Point is valid, I guess some people a) ignored, b) filtered, c) got pissed and replied rather than doing a or b, d) made a joke, e) all of the above 🙂

  7. My favorite one of these involved a very large attachment in which those who replied all somehow sent it again. So not only did I get to see the humor/flame-o-grams I also got to go over quota a few times. Yeah!

  8. I dislike it when people zombie reply to all but enjoy the rants that follow. I always wonder why some email admin person doesn't do something to stop the spam. (Not being an email admin I wonder if there is such an ability…)

    However, I'm not totally innocent in these cases. Three or four years ago after at least 50 “please unsubscribe” and flame replies to the initial gaffe that was sent to 500+ employees, I replied to all with the response “You are all now off my Christmas card list!” =) Some people I didn't even know replied to me asking me to reconsider.

  9. Great story. I don't think there's a way to stop a thread from an admin level, and if there were, someone would have a boring job. As with spam, I think my tolerance level is just higher than most, which I don't get because ignoring costs very little effort compared to getting angry enough to fire off a reply.

  10. Oh yeah, that's a special variant I forgot to mention. Don't get me started on the tiny inbox size limit.

  11. I worked at a company that had limits on my inbox–not tiny limits, but I keep a lot of mail for CYA purposes. They asked me to purge messages. I asked them to purge customers and/or employees to help me reduce the amount of mail…or remove the limit. I didn't have any more problems after that (but don't work there any more).

  12. Did they purge you? I think discovery laws covering email require backups to tape or some other permanent archive now. Destroying emails is a no-no.

  13. No purging, they simply raised my limit. My other comments related to
    the cost of someone spending time reviewing and enforcing limits versus
    the cost of storage…that storage was relatively cheap compared to
    human time. I'm quite sure that no one considered the implications
    (legal or otherwise) of removing emails.

  14. I agree. Storage is cheap, and people shouldn't be encouraged to delete emails, even if that's not really what happens.

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