Sun, 19 Feb 2006

Dogbert The Economist

Read and ponder this cartoon:

Dogbert is thinking like an economist here. You notice that he keeps squashing Dilbert's fantasies of how the world should work with an explanation of how the world does work. He's doing this by looking for the unseen. He's doing this by continually probing Dilbert's proposed solutions by asking him to state the problem that he's trying to solve.

Far too often in my consulting practice, people will come to me asking me to help with a solution. Sometimes I recognize that their solution would solve the wrong problem.

Replies to mailing lists

For example, people will ask me "How do I get ezmlm to insert a Reply-To: pointing back to the mailing list?" The discomfort that they're trying to address is that people tend to Reply to an email to continue the conversation. This doesn't work for a mailing list because the To: address is that address that continues the conversation. Hitting Reply simply sends email to the one person who authored that email. Hitting Reply-All is not a solution because it sends an extra copy to the author of the email. Unless someone trims the address list, eventually every author's name gets included in addition to the list itself.

The real problem here is that email clients need a third Reply command: Reply-List. This command will send email only to the address in the To: header.


People will also ask "How do I get the MTA (Mail Transfer Agent) to append a disclaimer to every email?" That's not just a wrong solution, it's a wrong problem. It's a wrong solution because the disclaimer should be appended by the MUA (Mail User Agent or email program) or if that's simply impossible, by the MSA (Mail Submission Agent or your ISP's email server). For more details, see Carl Hutzler's email best-practices document.

But more than that, putting disclaimers on unsigned email is like washing toilet paper. Everyone who has gotten email from "", raise your hands. No, no, everybody put your hands down. Everyone who has NOT gotten such email raise your hands. Ahhh, just as I thought: nobody has their hand up. Paypal keeps getting phished because they refuse to sign their email using DomainKeys. Same thing for everyone else. If you think your email could be used in a court of law, think again. No competently-informed judge will accept email as a reliable document. A disclaimer is meaningless.

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