Two days ago, the Bursar’s office at NYU sent out a typical administrative email to all 39,979 students at NYU entitled “Opting Out of the Paper Version of Your 1098T.” Shortly after, NYU sophomore Max Wiseltier, attempting to forward the email to his mom, accidentally clicked Reply All. He quickly realized his error and apologized:
Of course, by this point, the metaphorical door had been opened. In fact, it had been wrenched off the hinges and thrown across the room by the 39,979 people who realized that, with the click of a button, they could email 39,978 other people—NYU’s total student body. For scale, that’s only about 7,500 less than the entire population of Middletown, which was 47,481 in the 2010 census (and way more than the population of my typical Connecticut suburban hometown, which is 23,511).
How did this happen? NYU Local’s tech editor, Ben Zweig, explains the problem:
“NYU uses something called E-Mail Direct for most mass emails. That system is meant for one-way emailing.” E-Mail Direct does not allow for reply-alls, therefore you cannot respond to most mass emails. Several NYU departments still rely on the older, discussion-based ListManager program, however. ListManager also sends mass emails, but allows discussions (in the form of reply-alls), unless the settings are adjusted, disabling group discussions and only permitting emails from admins.
Sure enough, this seems to have been the problem, as the sender of the initial email pointed out in his apology in the NYU Local comments section:
Hi everyone — I’m the culprit behind the Lyris blunder. I was assisting the Bursar with an email message and in populating one of the SRC Listserves did not realize the list I was using was one that allowed for responses and thus the “replyallcalypse”.
This morning I deleted everyone on the list. ITS had disabled around midnight, but there were so many that responded, emails were still in the que. Thanks to ITS, the que was cleared and the listserve deleted. We are monitoring for any residual emails.And yes, you are absolutely correct that I should have used Email Direct instead of Lyris.
I take full responsibility for this blunder and offer my sincere apologies for the frustrating situation that was created.
NYU Student Resource Center
In the day between the initial Reply All and Vogelsang’s resolution of the problem, some pretty witty emails popped up on the massive, seemingly infinite email thread, as captured here by Buzzfeed. Some of the highlights included a picture of Nic Cage; a student asking for a pencil; a student asking if Professor Rosenblatt was having officers; a student starting a list of grievance about NYU with, “I wish we had dental insurance”; and, my personal favorite, the question “Would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses, or 1 horse sized duck?”
Max Wiseltier (NYU ’14), the one whose email started the madness, has apparently gotten an appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show out of it:
@maxwiseltier Max, would love to get in touch with you ASAP about a possible appearance.
— Jimmy Kimmel Live (@JimmyKimmelLive) November 28, 2012
@jimmykimmellive That would be amazing! I assume you have my email address?
— Max Wiseltier (@maxwiseltier) November 28, 2012
Zach briefly interviewed Wiseltier about the incident:
Who were you intending to email with your initial reply?
I was trying to forward the message to my mom, to ask her opinion on switching to paperless tax forms.
When did you realize you had emailed 40,000+ people?
First, my roommates asked me why I emailed them, which made me a little suspicious. Then, I began getting calls, texts, Facebook messages, and emails from other friends, and eventually the entire school. It blew up pretty fast!
What was your favorite email sent during the replyallpocalypse?
My favorite email was from one student asking all of NYU if he could borrow a pencil. The student asking about his professor’s office hours was a close second though.
How have people been treating you since this happened?
I’ve gotten everything from threats to people wanting me to run for president (I guess it’s my innovative communication skill). I think the whole situation is so funny so I’ve been pretty positive. Anyone who got genuinely pissed off about this needs to lighten up!
What’s the deal with this replyallpocalypse party?There are actually a few parties. The first is being thrown by A-League NYC where I am being featured as a “Special Guest.” The second is a “Reply All” party thrown in coordination with Amanda Sarah. I’ve also been honored with having an A Cappella concert named after me, and a Comedy show featuring my shenanigans.
However, while the so-called “Replyallcalypse” has been hilarious for most of the internet, opinions from NYU students are mixed, with many students either expressing annoyance at the situation or surprise that it has gone viral (Myles Potters ’12, now an NYU grad student: “THIS MADE BUZZFEED?!?”).
Zach and I interviewed several NYU students to ask them their opinions of the “replyallcalypse”. Chris ’15 had this to say about the matter:
Well, this whole replyallcalypse was actually way less funny than the Internet media has made it seem. For every one clever or witty email, there was (what seemed like) one million “stop emailing me!!” Emails.
Though the first few emails were funny, or at least I thought so. It devolved pretty quickly.
I had seen messages from people on my phone and Facebook. Everyone was talking about it, and everyone was aware it was happening and knew the implications. But for a little while, nobody actually did anything. There were just the original 3 or 4 replies sitting in there. I think we contemplated replying with something funny, or promoting our bands next show or something, but ultimately didn’t follow through. And I think that’s what was happening to a lot of people at that time. But then of course, it only took a few people to start commenting and posting pictures of Nicholas Cage before hundreds of people started replying to these emails that were being sent out to the whole NYU community.
It’s pretty silly that it’s even news-worthy at all if you ask me. But I guess it’s a sort of accidental, lighthearted, shared experience that was shared between the student body, and shared experiences like that are way harder at a school like NYU that is at least 10x the size of Wesleyan, with such a diverse student body that shares no one thing in common.
The “replyallcalypse” (as it’s been quaintly deemed at NYU) has been both amusing and obnoxious in equal measure. But on an even deeper level, it reveals some interesting facets of the NYU experience. Why is it that we only feel a sense of community here when engaged in annoyance with each other? My experience as a student at NYU has been both isolating and wonderful, depending on the day, but I can attest to a permeating sense of loneliness among much of the student body. A number of the emails deviated from the general trend of silliness to comment upon the fact that this event was the first time in a long while they had felt apart of a community at the school. I’m not sure whether to be intrigued or disturbed by this, or whether or not I’m reading into this in a ridiculous way (projecting my own insecurities about the student experience here outwards), but there is definitely a noticeable trend in the email thread.
It’s also worth noting that a similar thing apparently happened at Wesleyan earlier this semester when the administration sent an email to all the students who had not yet clicked the “Enroll Me” button in their portfolio. The situation was a bit different because, at Wes, every individual was a recipient on the email. Without a listserv “middle-man” that could be cleared to stop the madness, the email chain had to die off on its own. I suppose that everyone at NYU can thank their Student Resources Center for at least using a listserv. Otherwise there would probably still be pictures of cats and increasingly profane emails bouncing around between 39,979 students in NYU’s corner of the internet.
POSTSCRIPT: Courtesy of Solomon Billinkoff ’14:
Also, I just realized this, but I went to Camp Eisner with Ben Zweig (NYU Local‘s tech editor, as quoted in the article). And I was in a musical adaptation of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone with him. They re-wrote the lyrics to songs from Newsies and Ben played Harry!
I’m not kidding!
- Horses, thanks to many years of domestication, are not as quick to anger as ducks.
- Ducks waddle on land. While a horse-sized duck would likely have large strides, outrunning it would be a possibility (before, of course, it takes to the air).
- A heard of small horses would likely be rather disorganized unless they have a leader of the caliber of Spirit, the protagonist of the 2002 Disney film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. In this case, they could be quite dangerous.
- Chris ’15: “Furthermore, I vote horse sized duck, because I find the idea of a giant duck way funnier than miniature horses, regardless of what the fight would be like. I’m not as interested in a fight but a spectacle, so I think the horse sized duck is the only logical choice.”
- Even if it’s killing you, a horse-sized duck will likely be the closest you will ever come to seeing a chocobo in real life. Or, if xkcd is to be believed, a velociraptor. Yikes.