As many as 11,543 Microsoft employees got swept up in a reply-all e-mail apocalypse

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and incoming GitHub CEO Nat FriedmanIncoming GitHub CEO Nat Friedman (left) and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (right)Microsoft

  • Microsoft employees spent much of Thursday ensnared in a massive reply-all e-mail thread, according to social media posts from employees.
  • It started because an employee made a change to Microsoft's GitHub account - which prompted the system to send a message to some 11,543 Microsoft employees registered to the account. 
  • The episode is especially delightful for long-time Microsoft employees: This is evocative of 1997's legendary Bedlam DL3 incident, where a similar reply-all apocalypse actually took down Microsoft's internal e-mail servers for days.

It happens to the best of us.

On Thursday, Microsoft found itself swept up in a reply-all e-mail apocalypse, with thousands of hapless employees caught in the unwanted thread and receiving frequent updates ranging from the irksome to the absurd. In a video trying to help his colleagues break free, one Microsoft employee claimed that the email had ensnared as many as 11,543 Microsofties.

Microsoft declined to comment.

It all started when an employee changed a setting on the corporate GitHub account, according to reports from Microsoft employees on social media. GitHub is the mega-popular code-sharing site for programmers, of which Microsoft was a major power user even before it acquired it last year for $7.5 billion.

The changed setting caused GitHub to send out an automatic message, with everyone involved in the account copied  - which, judging from reports on social media, included everyone who works on Microsoft's GitHub account. Given that Microsoft is the top corporate contributor to open source projects on GitHub, it's no surprise that it potentially reached over 11,000 people. 

According to Twitter posts, it didn't take long before it turned into a full-fledged fiasco: Some people committed the cardinal sin of this situation, and replied to everyone in the e-mail thread asking to be removed. Others cracked jokes to their captive audience, begged their colleagues to stop replying, or tried to offer useful advice to those stuck in the thread.

What's more, a quirk in the system meant that even employees who managed to unsubscribe kept getting resubscribed, according to reports. 

It was, apparently, chaos. 

Ironically, the original message itself appears to have been a notification from GitHub with a tip on how to get fewer notifications from GitHub. 

The Bedlam connection

The whole incident appears to have been extra-funny to long-time Microsofties, as it evokes a legendary episode in the company's history.

Way back in 1997, Microsoft was still working the kinks out of Exchange, its now-ubiquitous corporate e-mail server. For the purposes of testing, Microsoft created a mailing list with some 25,000 employees on it, called Bedlam DL3, with the name chosen for reasons that are lost to time.

An employee noticed that they were in the Bedlam DL3 group, and sent a message to the list asking to be removed. 

That message went to all 25,000 others in the mailing group. It sparked plenty of responses - again, some people tried to help, while others cracked jokes. But the most common reply was a simple "Me too!" from people who wanted off the Bedlam DL3 list and off the thread. 

Factoring in all of those messages, not to mention the read receipts that many employees had enabled, and it actually brought Microsoft's e-mail server to a standstill for two days while the IT department figured out how to fix it.

To this day, Bedlam DL3 is still a running joke among Microsoft employees - indeed, during Microsoft's newest reply-all apocalypse, several employees are said to have added their own "Me too!" to the thread. In fact, some are already calling it "Bedlam V2," or even "Gitlam."

Oh, and on a final note: The best advice for how to make sure a similar situation doesn't happen to you is to simply not reply to everybody when you're copied on a mass e-mail or other kind of message. You'll do everyone a favor. 

Just...seriously, don't.

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