Nielsen’s Reply-to-All Experiment

In January of this year, amidst much fanfare, Nielsen, a global concern whose businesses range from television and other media measurement to business publications, announced that the company would eliminate Reply-to-All functionality in their company’s e-mail client.  When I first read of this, I had to check my calendar to make sure it was not on or about April 1 and then make sure I was not reading The Onion.  Needless to say, I was somewhat skeptical.   But Gary Holmes, the company’s chief press officer, confirmed that this was in fact the new policy and for confirmation a memo from the company’s CIO, Andrew Cawood, is available on line .

The overuse of the Reply-to-All function in e-mail is, without question, a huge source of e-mail overload within almost every organization.  But there are still many instances where its use is not only warranted but helpful, including e-mail messages where only a few people are copied and a reply to all is warranted.

Instead of eliminating the button, Nathan Zeldes, president of IORG and former director of information overload reduction strategies at Intel, had a far more prosaic suggestion: move the position of Reply-to-All on the toolbar away from Reply, making people less likely to click it.  My advice is along similar lines: I would have recommended that Nielsen modify the e-mail client to notify the sender if he were about to send to more than five people and ask if he wished to continue.

Ironically, it appears that Nielsen did not actually disable Reply-to-All functionality but merely removed the button.  According to on line reports, many employees now use the more cumbersome keystroke “shortcut” or simply added the Reply-to-All button back by customizing the toolbar.  Much of the online discussion was at Techcrunch, where an article on the topic also appeared.  Posts there by individuals indicating they were Nielsen employees indicated that they were largely ignoring the policy through workarounds.

As to how the change is working for them, Nielsen declined to comment.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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