… and now I have new friends all over the world. Who knew screwing up could be such a delightful way to waste a day?
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
In this real life adventure, where social business collides with (ineffective and questionably accurate) marketing, it's best to start at the beginning.
Otherwise, you may feel like Nick Rego, a tech and game editor in Dubai, who came late to our impromptu party yesterday. "It's 8 am here and I just woke up ... What did I miss?" he asked.
So Here's the Thing
Companies spend a lot of time, money and effort trying to get employees to communicate and collaborate.
They invest in technologies. Arrange team-building exercises. Develop processes to encourage discussion.
For those of us who were always assigned extra homework for talking too much in school, constant communication should be a wonderful thing. But it isn't.
Few things are worse than forced conversation.
But real conversation is a whole other thing — and yesterday I stumbled on the secret to generating it.
Just make that most basic of all email blunders and hit "copy" instead of "blind copy" when you paste in the names of everyone on your mailing list.
That'll bring people together faster than a pitcher of beer — or word that it's sample day at Costco.
It helps if your list contains the names of reporters, editors, publishers, bloggers and other assorted curmudgeons and misfits. But any list will do.
A Baby and a Broken Foot
There I was, minding my own business, when I get one more email press release.
But how can you resist clicking on one with the subject line "Pregnant School Teacher Invents Cell Phone Gadget," especially when neither cell phones or baby bumps have any relevance to your coverage areas?
I opened the email but barely glanced at the attached press release, which concerned a pregnant teacher who tripped on the cord of her iPhone while it was charging. Or something like that.
What caught my attention was the fact that some PR guy in Glendale, Ariz. had CC'd the email to media types from California to Dubai.
God I hate that. So I hit reply all and offered the guy a few words of advice: Blind Copy your mailing list.
Then the Internet broke.
OK, I'm exaggerating.
But that single sentence triggered a flood of email that persisted for hours, prompting people to playfully acknowledge, "I'm trying to write here, not to giggle like a mad person..."
Back in 2004, a developer at Microsoft was working on a new tool to manage internal communications. As a part of this tool, the developer created several distribution lists — each containing about 13,000 names. Then he sent an email — to everyone on one of those distribution lists.
The first person to get the message replied all, "Why am I on this mailing list? Please remove me from it."
That triggered a chorus of "Me too" from hundreds more.
"The original mail went to 13,000 users. Assuming that 1,000 of those 13,000 users replied, that means that there are 1,000 replies being sent to those 13,000 users. And it turns out that a number of these people had their email client set to request read receipts and delivery receipts."
How many messages were sent? Way more than even Microsoft's servers could handle in one hour.
Yesterday was "me too" all over again, except this time with memes and gifs and invitations to get together in cities worldwide for drinks.
Oh, and yes, cats. Of course there were cats.
Abbas Jaffar Ali, founder of Tbreak and publisher of IGN Middle East and AskMen Middle East, told the captives of the mailing glitch they were now "signed up for Cat Facts!" and would receive fun daily facts about CATS! >o<
"To cancel Daily Cat Facts, Reply All and say 'cancel,'" he wrote.
I told him daily cat facts would be far more entertaining than the usual influx of press releases.
Only one woman who clearly couldn't stand the clatter of joy and happiness around her, lost her mind. But no one STFU despite her strident orders to do so.
@juhasaarinen The whole thing is hilarious. It's like a Facebook group chat that's impossible to leave.— Indy (@indygri) August 26, 2015
This was collaboration at its finest.
"This is the best thing that’s happened to me all week! I know it’s only Tuesday, but still," wrote Fortune's Mathew Ingram.
There's a Press Release?
Everyone makes mistakes. I make more than my share to boost the average for everyone else. So I wasn't going to get into the details of the Press Release that Started the Avalanche — until I did a little checking.
Brock Kuchynka, who sent the product pitch for "the next big thing in cell phones" — a plastic tray to hold your phone next to your bed — omitted some pertinent details.
Oh, sure, he noted the product was invented by a teacher named Miranda "when she was waddling around seven months pregnant," fell, broke her foot and ended on bedrest. (Need I remind everyone that you should never, ever suggest a woman carrying a child "waddles?")
But he didn't mention Miranda was his wife — or acknowledge that he actually invented the product, as he did in this podcast.
To quote Buzzfeed senior editor Katie Notopoulos, "Wow, Brock. I thought we meant something to you."
But Notopoulos was still grateful Brock brought us all together.
"Remember just an hour ago, when none of us had each's others emails? We were strangers!
But now... now... I consider you all my best friends. Remember the first person who replied? That was awesome.
And then there was that other reply with a gif? That was awesome.
So many great memories... See, it's shared experiences like that that we will always carry with us in our hearts.
Love you all. You're family to me."
Kuchynka said he was "very sorry for starting this mess" — then suggested "since there is curiosity about the gadget" we all might as well check it out.
Cody Toombs, a software engineer and writer, shot that idea down pretty quickly, noting, "'Since there is curiosity about the gadget?' There really isn't ..."
Score one for collaboration, zero for effective marketing.