Bccthis for Outlook: contextualize your emails, avert disaster

It’s Friday afternoon and you’re getting back to your cube after your 4 pm Starbucks run.  Your administrative assistant  (research has shown that 8% of all SlapStart readers have administrative assistants) pops in and says, “Hey, thanks for bcc-ing me on that email on Tuesday.  Have a nice weekend!”  You nod, think it over, and suddenly the extra-hot mocha latte starts boiling in your veins.  You bbc’ed him for a reason: he was supposed to follow-up with the recipient.  That very day.  Four days ago.

You plummet into an existential vortex: “Wasn’t it patently obvious a follow-up was necessary?  Why didn’t I remind him immediately?  But do I need to really to coddle this person?   When was the last time I called my mother?”  The point: you’re in big trouble.  The email and the bcc was misinterpreted.  So now you’ll cut your weekend aikido plans short and spend five hours looking for jobs on Monster.  If only you had bccthis.

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Bccthis is an Outlook plug-in that lets you safely send personalized messages to email recipients along with your original e-mail.  It extends the capabilities of Outlook and Twitter by creating a richer, more contextual messaging experience.   It serves a very real need: the information disparity created when sending one message to multiple recipients with different levels of knowledge about the subject matter discussed.  It’s hard to disagree with that.

Heck, I have trouble communicating, with words, face-to-face with real people in the real world (inevitably weeping and minor drooling is involved.)  So who can be surprised when things breakdown over e-mail  with multiple people in the mix?  After all, when many people read one message, the message will often be interpreted differently: context, tone, and intent are all in the eyes of the beholder.  It’s a big Rorschach test.  To some, it’s a butterfly.  To others, an inky butterfly.  To others, Charles de Gaulle.   We’ve all been there.  We read an email and then wonder, “Why didn’t they put a smiley face at the end?  Why no exclamation point?  How should I interpret, ‘Don’t make me get a second restraining order’ when it’s in bold, 48-point font, and underlined?  Are they mad at me?”  That’s the problem with email: context goes out the window, and it’s something bccthis addresses quite elegantly.

The tool itself is simple.  Check it:bccthis21

Once installed, a new bar appears at the bottom of you Outlook screen while you’re writing an e-mail.  The “public,” “old-school” e-mail message is on top, like normal: To, CC, BCC, Subject, and the Message.

On the bottom is the BCCThis bar, where you can enter the personalized, private text.  You have all the same formatting tools at your disposal too – bold, italics, colored-fonts, etc.  Simply type your message, and then, to the right, recipients for whom you want to receive the private message.  Check the box next to their name, and you’re done.

The screen shot above came from their Learn More page, and I suggest it highly.  It’s quite interactive – by scrolling to the bottom and selecting one of six topics, the screen shot above changes accordingly.  It took some experimenting to figure it out; I’d suggest adding some text up top, like, “Click on each topic below for a representative screen shot.”  In fact, it was by doing this that I found an answer to one of my questions: “Do recipients needs bccthis installed to view their bccthis messages?”  The answer: fortuitously, no. The screen shot showed a normal, old fashioned Outlook message, except at the top, in a gray-bordered box, it says, “You received a personal BCCthis messsage from Michael Steuer.”  Simple, easy.

What we’re ultimately talking about here is, essentially, an electronic Post-It note to your e-mail.  To which some folks – myself, initially, if I may be honest – thought, why, isn’t that a tad redundant?  Why not a follow-up email?  But I quickly realized the value.  For starters, refer to my analogy above: we do this precise thing in the real world, so in theory, it’s not foreign at all.  And secondly, context does matter.  Getting the tone right the first time is critical, and follow-up emails only add to the clutter. I also like this tool because it provides another layer of audit trail protection.  If all heck breaks loose, it is nice to have this contextual evidence to absolve workers who’ve been sorely misinterpreted.  Go to bccthis’ blog, here, and scroll down a bit for some real-world uses for this tool in the Sales, HR, and Management context.  It makes a ton of sense.

So I bid you a parting rumination: in the annals of corporate history, how many misinterpreted e-mails have, for example, caused a minor tiff among co-workers?  A major tiff?  A tiff, then a rift?  A – God-forbid – firing?  A moderate tiff that lead to a firing?  A minor rift that escalates to a tiff, that culminates in looting in Detroit?  The cancellation of Hawaiian Shirt Fridays?  Quite a bit, I’d venture.

Bccthis has ruminated on this as well, and addresses a problem older than God Him/Herself – the inability of people to communicate with each other – across a medium as old as apple pie – e-mail.  It makes the experience more contextual and more adept at addressing real world problems.  In fact is somewhere, someday, it can save Hawaiian Shirt Fridays, bccthis will be preserving our very humanity itself.

Bccthis was omitted from an email for the last time. In a fit of rage they burned the server and deleted the code. All that was spared was this article.