Please don't @all

on Ben’s Blog

At work, we use Webex for team chat. There are a variety of rooms. There's one with hundreds of people called UX at Cisco—a public forum for UX practitioners across the company.

An individual jumps in there with a question and uses @all. This is like "mentioning" everyone in the channel, usually causing a notification. Inevitably, someone sends a kind message, directing that person: "Please don't use @all in a large space." You've seen this happen, right? It's like the chat version of replying all to a distribution list.

I find this situation and the dynamics at play here fascinating.

Why is using @all in a large space objectionable? How large is large? It's a social convention—how does someone new learn this convention? Why is the onus on the sender, rather than the receivers? If folks don't want to be notified, can't they tune their notifications appropriately? Or should the software handle it? If it's common practice to not do this, why isn't it enforced technically? Why allow the option?

Currently the software does present the sender with a confirmation dialog, indicating that this action will mention everyone in the space—are you sure you want to do this? I don't think that's very effective.

Oftentimes, the person who used it gets scolded. That smells a little like blaming the user. I think it's the fault of the designers for not helping the user inflict undesired notifications on hundreds of people. If the system gave the user a better understanding of the effect their action would have, they would probably not do it.

💡 Ideas: Give the action some weight. Maybe the size of the confirmation dialog or friction of confirming should be proportional to the number of people on the receiving end. Make the user hold down their mouse for 10 seconds to make it more visceral.