Solving the cc: Conundrum

In the Hutong
Contemplating my iTunes account
1933 hrs.

Talking with Tay Kuan Yan over at Hoffman Singapore the other day got me thinking about how lazy people are with e-mail.

Instead of really thinking about who needs to see what, most of us simply pile on the names in the To: and especially the CC: fields, hoping to ensure that everyone who needs to see the thing – or who eventually may wish to see the message and its contents – gets a copy.

On the receiving end, not only does this mean having to slog through an interminable list of emails that people send to you just to cover their posteriors, it also means that you are expected to be responsible for the entire content, even if it was just sent as an FYI.

People and corporate politics such as they are, we have to wake up to the fact that the CC list will be the bane of most of our lives for some time to come.

There is, however, a way to make all of this a little better:


The problem is that the “To” and “CC” fields don’t convey enough information. E-mails have to be rethought to convey at a glance not only the importance the sender assigns to the message, but what he expects in response.

Sure, you could say “gee, Dave, why couldn’t you simply include this information in the body of the text?” Sure you could. But that’s cumbersome, and it underestimates the power of the tools we have in our hands today.

That’s why I like the idea of tags that are specific to each recipient, and are simple to choose from.

An open system of email tagging, similar to the priority/urgency tags that come through, that tell each person receiving an email how much attention he needs to pay to this. Each time you add a person’s name, you simply select from a pop-up menu of options such as “For your action,” “read and be aware,” “for your records,” “keeping you in the loop,” and other definable tags of that nature. In that way, each person knows how you expect him or her to handle the email.

The other approach would be to add additional address fields, but that would make the header of the mails extremely complicated and larger than they already are.

Anyone who takes on that idea would be a huge help to those of us who run our working lives – and our businesses – via email.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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