RE: Peek-a-boo I CC You

In his recent post Peek-a-boo I CC You John Maeda mentioned that he had “[resolved] to never use bcc”. While I completely agree with the sentiment that the CC feature in email clients is an historical artifact that should be discontinued (both in use and implementation), I respectfully disagree with his opinion of BCC. First, let me define the meanings of the common email addressing fields as I understand them:

  • TO This message is especially meant for your eyes.
  • CC This message is not really meant for you, but you might find it informative, interesting, or just want to file it for future reference. WARNING: MAY BE IRRELEVANT
  • BCC I have protected your identity from other recipients by placing your name in the BCC field. You will not know if anyone other than yourself has been BCC’d.

First, an additional comment on the CC field. In my opinion, both TO and CC fulfill the same general role: send this email and allow each recipient to see others to whom it was sent. The CC field also carries the additional meaning of “this is not really meant for you, but you might find it interesting, etc.” This additional meaning sends an unintended message to the CC’d recipient(s): you are not important enough to be placed in the TO field. Often the sender is simply being lazy, leaving it up to the CC’d recipient(s) to glean the obviously useful information and discard the rest. On the surface this appears to save time, and therefore it seems to be justifiable. However, the CC cost is deferred not avoided. It forces each CC’d recipient to filter through possibly irrelevant email only to glean limited information (maybe not even what the original sender intended them to glean). It would be more efficient for the original sender to send a short summary directly TO those “less important people” than to force them to glean their own summary by placing them in the CC field.

Now, to my real point: the importance of BCC. The BCC field actually provides a distinct, useful feature: send this email without compromising the entire list of recipients. This is a very important feature, and if it were used everywhere it should be used there would be at least a few less opportunities for spammers to get their hands on huge lists of valid email addresses. BCC is useful when sending bulk email. I know, that triggers a red flag, but bear with me. You might be thinking that the BCC line was invented for spammers. But sending spam is an issue of politeness, not something that could be prevented by removing the BCC feature. Bulk email can be very powerful when used correctly. For example I use the BCC field when I send a newsletter to a group of supporters every two or three months. BCC is perfect for this type of legitimate correspondence.

From the original post:

The danger of bcc is getting people caught into the poisonous reply-to-all on the receiving end of a bcc. I quickly delete any bcc‘ed email I receive, and also write to the sender that I am not in the practice of bcc-ing anyone.

That sounds more like a reason to avoid CC than BCC. I don’t understand how BCC causes a problem with reply-to-all. [WARNING jargon abuse ahead] When you reply-to-all an email in which you were BCC’d, you will only reply to those who were explicitly TO’d or CC’d. Normally (when used correctly) BCC’d email is only sent TO a single address, and in that case reply-to-all is the same as plain reply.

The common implementation of BCC could be enhanced by allowing addresses in the BCC field without requiring at least one address in the TO field. Then again, that’s trivial to work around by placing the FROM address in the TO field. It would be even better to have a single TO field (no CC or BCC) and a checkbox labeled “Disclose recipeints” (checked by default). That checkbox, when unchecked, would change the meaning of the TO field to be like our current BCC field. That would cover at least 80% of the email-recipient use cases while eliminating 66% of the address fields!

30 Responses to “RE: Peek-a-boo I CC You”

- Jacob

You make an interesting point about the reply-to-all bcc conundrum. The problem is that in many cases someone with a bcc may not realize that no one else knows they received the original email. This leads the other recipients to wonder if a) their email is getted forwarded, or b) if the original sender is someone that they can trust.

I would opt for a closed door meeting enhancement with bcc – for example, when adding people to bcc there should be For-Your-Eyes-Only and Read-Only checkboxes that prevents others from forwarding or replying to the email.

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