Stefan van der Walt wrote:
I don't think mailing lists should change the reply-to:
The principles in that article are sound, but the conclusions simply don't match my experience. I'm on a half a dozen or so lists. Some re-set the reply-to header, and some don't. I am very familiar with "reply" vs. "reply all" -- I use them selectively every day, for all my email.
I very frequently do NOT do what I intended with this list and others that don't set the reply-to header. I NEVER make a mistake or have a hard time with the lists that do. That's just me, but I'll address a couple points in that article:
It Adds Nothing: "...another that replies to the author plus all of the list recipients..."
Here's what the author is missing: "Reply All" replies to all, not just the group. That means I have just sent a message to the list and to the original author -- that author gets two copies of my message, which is only a minor annoyance. However, when someone responds to my response, now two people are on the "all" list. Then another response, and pretty soon I'm getting 5 copies of the same message -- now it's gone beyond just annoying. Add cross-posing, and it really gets ugly.
NOTE: With this particular note, reply-all only replied to the list -- what's different about how you send your mail?
Principle of Least Surprise
When I get a message from a list, I think of it being from the list, not from any particular author, so I am surprised when my reply goes only to that author. I have been bit by this many, many times.
Principle of Least Damage
Consider the damage when things go awry. If you do not munge the Reply-To header and a list subscriber accidentally sends a response via private email instead of to the list, he or she has to follow up with a message that says, "Ooops! I meant to send that to the list. Could you please forward a copy for me." That's a hassle, and it happens from time to time.
It happens a LOT, and it's not always obvious. The purpose of lists is to foster group communication and public archiving -- it should be optimized for that, not for private communication.
What happens, however, when a person mistakenly broadcasts a private message to the entire list? I
I very, very, rarely send truly private responses to list messages. It's not rare for me to send messages that are of little interest to the list, and I do send those privately, but there is no harm done if these get broadcast unintentionally.
Guess what feature more and more people are asking for? A third reply command -- one that ignores any existing Reply-To header!
Actually, what I would want, for lists that don't munge the reply-to, is a third option: one that sends the message only to the list, and not to "all" -- I think that's the same thing, actually, reply to only the sender, not the reply-to.
One day I accidentally sent a private, personal reply out over one of my own damn lists.
I don't know how many times I've seen "reply-all" accidentally used for a message that should have been just "reply". People do this at work every day, and while most of them are harmless annoyances, occasionally someone does send a truly personal message out that way -- oops! My personal solution is to get in the habit of using only "reply". That way I have to think about it when I want to send something out to everyone, not when I don't want to. If I was using "reply-all" with my list traffic, I'd be getting into a bad habit.
This all comes down to the key paradox of usability -- "intuitive" means that something works like one expects -- but different people expect different things, I clearly expect different things than the author of that article. However, here's my attempt to use logical reasoning:
Munging the reply-to header on a list makes it easier for what most people need to do most of the time: reply to the list, and only the list.
The ONLY significant consequence to munging the header is that someone MIGHT be more likely to accidentally sent out a truly personal note to the list. However, I argue that:
1) anyone should be very, very careful every time they send a truly personal email anyway -- email is a pretty risky medium for such messages.
2) Getting in the habit of hitting reply-all will make it just as likely to make the mistake of sending a personal note to the list, and more likely that you'll make that mistake with other, non-list email.
Wow, that turned out to be a long way to say:
+1 on re-setting the reply-to headers.
Christopher Barker, Ph.D.
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