Unmoderated announce lists and “swarm unintelligence”

One really odd phenomenon on the Internet is announcement mailing lists that are unmoderated. Especially if the receivers of that announcements never have learned that mail list servers have extra e-mail addresses for unsubscribe commands. Here is a true story:

An unnamed software vendor announced a new product release through his announcement mailing-list a number recipients had enabled an automatic vacation message going to the Reply-To address of that announcement – which happened to be the whole list itself. So someone on the list thought it might be better for him to unsubscribe. He simply hit “Reply” and typed “unsubscribe” ahead of the fully quoted message that was then again sent out to hundreds of people (instead of unsubscribing him from the list). Few other people were annoyed by this and decided to — what else — do exactly the same. Then numerous replies traveled the net with outrageous utterances like “Stop this bombardment!!!” – generating another load of unsubscribe messages from helpless people. A handful list members sent mails to the list explaining that there is a problem and that everyone who wants to unsubscribe should visit a particular page that explains how to get off the list. But instead of following this advice someone got so upset that he decided from now on to answer every mail coming from this list with a separate unsubscribe message to the whole list (and luckily he did not do so with his own messages he got in return). Someone thanked the whole list saying that this unsubscribe thing is amazing and that he never got so much e-mail in his inbox. Another sent a helpful reminder that it might be worth not replying to the replies.

I was not upset at all.

On the one hand I was not upset, because I feel people don’t have the slightest idea how much spam mail people get whose mail addresses have been out there for many years (my Inbox currently lists 1829 unread messages and my Junk mail folder counts 7581 unread mails – and it contains messages from just the last week). I really felt jealous about those who were able to get upset by this.

On the other hand I was amused watching those people throwing mud around screaming “Don’t throw mud around!”. Didn’t it appear to them that after receiving the first “unsubscribe” message that it has been delivered to the whole list and that probably trying this also would do the same? Obviously not. Very interesting.






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