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April 17, 2007

BCC – When and Why

One of the worst things you can do with the BCC line on your email is to use it as a surreptitious way to show someone what you’re saying to someone else. If you do this habitually, it will not be long before some BCC’d recipient does a REPLY ALL and shows you up as a sneaking conniver – at least that’s what you’ll feel like.

The right way to be sneaky is to FORWARD a copy of the email to your secret reader and note it as a BCC.  Then, if the reader responds, the response will come only to you.  BTW, before you do a REPLY ALL, you may want to make sure that you were either on the TO or CC line yourself.

The best thing you can do with BCC is to use it to shelter the names and email addresses on any letter that you are sending to a large group of people.  They will appreciate this greatly both for the trivial replies that it spares them from and because it reduces the chance of their email addresses being harvested for spam.

I particularly don’t appreciate it when my address shows up with a list of 100 other people who are being sent a joke.  If one of the recipients likes the joke and forwards it to his or her list of friends, they will not only get  a list of the email addresses in the latest send; the email addresses in previous generations will be exposed by the forwarding. Unintentional though it may be, this becomes flypaper for email addresses that may well end up in the hands of spammers.

BCC recipients are NOT reached by a REPLY ALL. So, if you use BCC for a list, you spare the list the random thoughts of whomever is thoughtless enough to REPLY ALL to a group of people he or she doesn’t know.

When I was in charge of the development of Exchange at Microsoft, we were testing it on campus – “eating our own dogfood”. Some administrator sent an email to everyone in several large buildings about something administrative. Several someones didn’t like the tone so they did REPLY ALLs. Then other people didn’t like getting all the email drivel so they REPLY ALL’d as well to tell everyone else that it was inappropriate to use REPLY ALL. It was good test of server capacity; the email storm crashed it and I was embarrassed (but we fixed it).

Note: some email clients require at least one entry in the TO or CC field; you can always put yourself there.

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