Journal: News & Comment

Saturday, August 30, 2003
# 6:31:00 PM:

E-mail should work

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You've probably been affected by one of the spate of recent e-mail worms out there on the Internet, even if just by receiving false bounces to e-mail apparently sent by you, but actually sent by a worm program masquerading as your e-mail address. The worms and viruses propagate largely because of the near-monoculture of Microsoft Outlook and Exchange in corporate e-mail. Many people seem to think That's Just the Way It Is.

John Gruber (thanks to Bill from Navarik for the link) eviscerates that idea in two excellent articles—some of the best analysis of the subject I've read. He finishes them like this:

Complexity is not an excuse for low expectations. We've strapped men into giant rockets loaded with jet fuel, propelled them into space, and landed them on the moon. That was complicated. And our expectation was that we'd get them back.

Why we don't expect our email to work is beyond me.

My e-mail does work, but I'm flooded with crap from people whose e-mail doesn't work. As Gruber says, we need to raise our expectations:

Imagine if the plumbing in corporate America worked with the same degree of reliability as their computer infrastructure. This would mean that individual sinks, urinals, and toilets would go out of order on a regular basis. Water from drinking fountains would turn brown, but, hey, that's just how it is. Every few weeks, teenage pranksters from Hong Kong would overflow every toilet in the building, knocking them out of commission.

In response to these problems, large companies would have large in-house plumbing staffs, led by a CPO (chief plumbing officer) reporting directly to the CEO.


Forget the plumbing analogy if you want. Let's talk telephones. Would anyone tolerate a corporate phone system that exhibited similar vulnerabilities? Say, by placing tens of thousands of automated calls, non-stop, at all hours of the day, to your company's customers and suppliers? No, of course not. Such a phone system would be thrown out tomorrow—even if it were conveniently tied to your company's shared calendaring system.

Yet most of us blunder along. It's pathetic, actually.


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