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'No-Reply' Email Addresses Are a Plague

"If you’re allowed to send me an email, I’m allowed to send you an email."

Blogger and programmer Matt Haggard makes the following argument in a Medium post published on Friday: "If you're allowed to send me an email, I'm allowed to send you an email."

What he's referring to is the explosion of "no-reply" email addresses, a phenomenon tightly coupled to the explosion in automated or programmatic email sending. Simply, if I'm writing a script to send an email—or one million emails—I'm most likely not writing that script to handle replies to those emails. This doesn't necessarily make me a spammer or a dick; instead, it might just mean that the normal "reply" interaction has been replaced with some other interaction, like, say, clicking a link within the email. Or it might mean that there is no interaction to be had in the first place, as in the case of spam or news alerts, etc.


A quick search of my own email inbox for "no-reply" reveals that these are generally spam emails from companies like Groupon and notification emails telling me that such and such has now joined Quora or some shit is going down on Twitter. The complaint in these cases is really more that I'm getting spam emails at all than the fact that I can't reply to them.

But there's some stuff in there that really should be reply-able, like kind of vague warnings that a key account needs to be updated. The absolute worst no-reply offenders are emailed notifications that I've received a message within some other messaging system, like the one used by my bank. And then sometimes you're just numb to it, like when a student loan servicer sends you a late notice in an email and then informs you that to follow-up on the notification you'll have to login into your student loan account and figure out how to send a message to customer service via some internal "chat" system that's really just a basic-ass contact form.

Here's (most of) the rest of Haggard's post:

You just sent me an email and I have a question. Don't make me hunt for a way to ask it. Email already has a built-in way to do that — reply.

Whether it's good news or bad news, whether you're an established company or a startup, your customers will love you more if you let them reply to your emails.

I think Haggard's complaint is really part of a much, much larger complaint about the hell that is trying to communicate with most any company in the year 2017. Every medium- to large-sized business is really on top of making sure that you can give them money as quickly and smoothly as possible, but when it comes to any other interaction, good luck. Like, I've spent full days of my life trying to get hundreds of dollars in erroneous charges refunded from a certain lodging industry disruptor.

So, I'm not sure that it's the existence of no-reply email addresses that's the real problem. They're just a manifestation of a much larger thing, which is the no-reply corporation.