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/ November 27, 2012
Replyallcalypse 2012: NYU Local Explains Why Your Inbox Was Blowing Up Last Night [UPDATED]

39,979 students received a message from the Bursar’s Office. All 39,979 were on NYU’s “src-contacts” mailing list.

39,979 students were about to meet Max Wiseltier.

“I was trying to forward the message to my mom, to get her input on the paperless tax forms,” Max Wiseltier, sophomore, explained later, “but all of NYU was cc’ed accidentally.”

When Max went to forward the innocuously titled “Opting Out of the Paper Version of Your 1098T” to his mother, he had no idea that he was one fatal “reply all” away from NYU fame.

His accidental email and hasty apology triggered a rare, University-wide revelation: We simultaneously realized that any message, complaint, whim, link, video, or GIF could be sent to nearly 40,000 people in an instant.

We had been given a great and terrible power. For a moment we contemplated responsibility, then gleefully tossed it aside in favor of posting pictures of cats. The ensuing hours were referred to as “The Reply-Allpocalypse,” “The Day NYU Broke,” and “Will Everyone Please Just Shut Up.”

But how could this happen? Are we allowed to blame Max Wiseltier for all this? In brief: “poorly constructed listserves”; “no”.

NYU Local’s tech editor, Ben Zweig, explains: “NYU uses something called E-Mail Direct for most mass emails. That system is meant for one-way emailing.” E-Mail Direct does not allow for reply-alls, therefore you cannot respond to most mass emails. Several NYU departments still rely on the older, discussion-based ListManager program, however. ListManager also sends mass emails, but allows discussions (in the form of reply-alls), unless the settings are adjusted, disabling group discussions and only permitting emails from admins.”

The Student Resource Center is still using the ListManager default settings.

“I feel like I may have exposed a serious flaw in the way they handle their listservs,” says Max. He is minoring in Computer Science (“a little ironic given my flop”), and has a legitimate point. Until corrected, emails sent from the “src-contacts” mailing list are open for discussion. And reply-alls. And pictures of Nic Cage.

Still, Max remains optimistic. “I think the best thing to come out of these emails is a rekindled sense of community at NYU (even if it’s based on being stupid).” And in between gripes about constant emails, this idea of a connected community seemed to resonate with many.

“I want all of us to be happy forever,” one student wrote.

Suddenly granted an audience, another student voiced the immortal query, “Would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses, or 1 horse sized duck?”

And third student, “Pretty cool that this emails the entire student body. Because I’m graduating next month, I thought I’d use this opportunity to Say thanks for the memories, and good luck with everything!”

I am half-asleep when my phone buzzes. It’s my NYU email account, hours later and still alive with reply-alls. It reads: “All of you. Be quiet. Now.”

“I’ll stop if he stops,” the thread answers itself moments after. I feel as though I’m twelve again, at some massive sleepover, waiting for the last whisperers to end their conversations and close their eyes.

Good night, 39,979 students. Good night, NYU. Good night, Max Wiseltier. It was nice meeting you.

UPDATE: We’ve received a comment from David Vogelsang of the NYU Student Resource Center, who says he is behind the listserv mix-up. The accounts on the list have now been deleted. “And yes, you are absolutely correct that I should have used Email Direct instead of Lyris,” Vogelsang wrote. This does, it seems, mark the end of Replyallcalypse:

Hi everyone — I’m the culprit behind the Lyris blunder. I was assisting the Bursar with an email message and in populating one of the SRC Listserves did not realize the list I was using was one that allowed for responses and thus the “replyallcalypse”.

This morning I deleted everyone on the list. ITS had disabled around midnight, but there were so many that responded, emails were still in the que. Thanks to ITS, the que was cleared and the listserve deleted. We are monitoring for any residual emails.

And yes, you are absolutely correct that I should have used Email Direct instead of Lyris.

I take full responsibility for this blunder and offer my sincere apologies for the frustrating situation that was created.

David Vogelsang
NYU Student Resource Center

[Image via Brett Chamberlin]