2822: *@gmail.com

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Hi all, just replying to loop in *@outlook.com and *@yahoo.com.
Title text: Hi all, just replying to loop in *@outlook.com and *@yahoo.com.


When performing operations on computer files using a command prompt, the asterisk (*) may be used to represent a collection of items whose names match a particular format. For example, "*.txt" denotes all files whose names end in ".txt". This is called a wildcard character. Similarly, the e-mail address *@gmail.com, as illustrated in the comic, is a proposed feature from Randall that would send an email to every Gmail user, without having each and every valid Gmail address at hand (of which there are about 1.8 billion). For obvious reasons, this is not actually a feature, but Randall suggests that if Google ever wanted to shut Gmail down, they could either do it this way (possibly causing a service-ending overload of resources) or allow someone this one last boon (as a farewell gift, knowing that there would be relatively few additional repercussions to deal with). Google does not seem particularly likely to shut down Gmail, as it is a source of information for their advertising and other businesses, but they are known for abandoning programs and projects even after they have been found useful (by at least some people) for years.

Reply-all is a sometimes useful feature of email that nonetheless commonly causes headaches and annoyances for both users and administrators. By allowing users to simply reply to everyone copied on the email, it encourages users to do this rather than think carefully about which people their response should be addressed to. This causes lots of users to receive irrelevant emails, and email servers to have to process and store a lot of unnecessary data. Randall's email is essentially designed to induce every Gmail user to email every other Gmail user, generating an excessively large number of emails.

A recurring phenomenon for email users, especially in the early Internet days of the 1990s and 2000s, was a reply all storm – someone would start a message to a very large group, perhaps hundreds, and even if only 5% of recipients replied to say something like “take me off this list“, a storm of dozens of replies would soon follow. Inevitably, new replies to everyone would start saying things like, “stop Replying All!” If this were done with millions of Gmail users instead of just dozens or hundreds, their result would be apocalyptic. A real-life example was a 2016 incident involving 1.2 million staff at the UK National Health Service.

In reality, the asterisk wildcard is not generally usable via email servers, although email clients may sometimes implement such a function, internally, perhaps to support mailing-list functions (though more commonly this is done via named address-book 'groups'). That said, the asterisk character is a valid one that may form part of the name of a mailbox, including group-boxes that might facilitate server-side distribution.

Now, organizations operating their own e-mail domains frequently implement mailing lists such as [email protected] or [email protected], and these lists occasionally cause reply-all storms, which usually results in the organization restricting access to the list to trusted administrators. Here, Randall proposes doing the opposite and opening the list of all Gmail users to everybody.

The title text suggests a reply where someone decides that all users of Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail) and Yahoo! Mail, two further well-known mail services with similarly large user bases, should also be included - "loop in" is common business jargon for meaning "include in communication about something", related to "being in the loop" meaning "being informed and up to date". Accepting this would trigger an even bigger reply-all "apocalypse", as the chain will get even bigger and will include accounts for services not presumably about to be shut down like Gmail is in the comic, thus bringing down all significant platforms for e-mail services, fracturing the internet for most users. This also alludes to an occurrence in email chains where a user replies to simply add another user into the chain, which doesn't add much information to the group.


[A typical gmail UI]
To: *@gmail.com (+expand)
Cc: [Empty field]
Bcc: [Empty field]
Subj: New Friends
Hey all! Go ahead and introduce yourself!
[Caption:] If Google ever decides to shut down Gmail, they should let one user trigger a global reply-all apocalypse.


The number of this comic (2822) is the same as the number of RFC 2822, which is the 2001 version of the email specification (it was replaced in 2008 by RFC 5322).

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Why not send to *@*.*? 03:08, 31 August 2023 (UTC)

Either *@* suffices (if not just a *), or (because of non-standard wildcard parsing) it would reach neither <[email protected]> nor <[email protected]>... But it'd depend upon how you invoke the query of the relevent MXRecords. 03:18, 31 August 2023 (UTC)

Based on the caption of the comic, I believe the real joke is that many GMail recipients of the original mass email would incorrectly use the "Reply-All" functionality of their email client and thereby further bomb the gmail server with a much larger volume of emails. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 03:21, 31 August 2023 (UTC)

That's certainly part of it, but getting millions of emails is far more annoying than the typical few. DownGoer (talk) 04:44, 31 August 2023 (UTC)

I have a setup to shorten mail notifications and "XKCD: *.gmail.com" totally looks like something it could output as the sender name, so for a moment I got very confused why the latest comic was suddenly sent from a GMail address and with no subject. Fabian42 (talk) 05:51, 31 August 2023 (UTC)

Add to this the unfortunate tendency to promote Top-Posting (I'm looking at you, Outlook Express, but the various successors and competitors over the last three decades need not have followed that most unconventional convention too!) and 'email chains' of nested replies so easily build up in volumes that never would if each sender were encouraged to actually read through the prior chain of messaging (perhaps realise their contribution was unnecessary, given what someone already else said two iterations ago!) and judiciously prune out the historic ">>>>..."ed contributions that they aren't replying to.
It also lets you mid-post (respond to a paragraph/point immediately after that embedded paragraph/point, to skip and excising later points intelligently) and stops it from becoming a hige hidden upside-down tree of everything in that message's history. (Which can also be a different problem... Something might have been said early on that might be best not to repeat to a later "copied in" contributor, for security or even politeness reasons, but now it's there to be discovered.)
But, instead, the modern solution is to hide these top-post tree-roots behind client-side "collapsed"-content and keep forwarding all historic context unless someone takes time to scroll down-down-down from their "Yeah, I agree" simple response and snip the "..."-worthy stuff out (as well as many, many repetitions of "Please don't print this email out if you don't have to", "This email is intended only for the stated recipients", "The views of this sender do not necessarily reflect the views of his company", etc, often adding up and combining into .sig additions much larger than their respective senders' contributions). Plus an often confusing attempt to "threadify" multiple received messages, which (done right) would actually do better than the retention of a full and unexpurgated reply tree within Every. Single. Individual. Email!
...can you tell that I've been annoyed about this for pretty much almost thirty years? And it really hasn't been made any better over the last decade or so. 12:16, 31 August 2023 (UTC)

Inevitably someone would reply all with "Me too" to *@aol.com Rtanenbaum (talk) 13:15, 31 August 2023 (UTC)

I don't see any implication in the comic of "attempting to expand the resulting lists within the mail body of the above email"; I just read it as the user typing that literally, like someone might write "I'm looping in sales@" instead of "I'm looping in the Sales Team" - they're not expecting the client to do anything magic with the body of their e-mail, just explaining what they've typed into the To / CC box. - IMSoP (talk) 14:14, 31 August 2023 (UTC)

Looked to me like invoking some scripting language. e.g. "loop <address> in (*@outlook.com, *@yahoo.com) do add_address(_To_,<address>)", or somesuch according to required syntax, but I also didn't know whether this script fragment was supposed to be parsed/expanded/invoked/exec()ed within the To: or Body: fields.
I suppose "looping in" could well be a synonym for "copying in" (perhaps implicitly not "Cc:ing in", but adding to To: field), but I've not been aware of that precise terminology so that's probably why I too defaulted to thinking it's some sort of macro command being invoked at some level (despite there being few such mechanisms established to do so).
But, if you're more sure/correct than the prior editors apparently were, go ahead and edit it... 16:36, 31 August 2023 (UTC)
Right, to loop in is a common bit of jargon for "include in communication", related to in the loop. "I'm looping in Jane and John" would be a common phrasing in business e-mails. I'll edit that into the explanation. - IMSoP (talk) 09:51, 1 September 2023 (UTC)
'Common business phrasings' always make me twitch. I still can't take "touch base" seriously, after all these years. I suspect there are some people out there busy inventing the contexts for new verbed nouns and adjectival verbs just to sound sillier. (They're the ones who invented both "podiumed" and "medal(l)ed" for sports contexts, too.) 10:38, 1 September 2023 (UTC)
On the other hand, English is very, very adaptable and allows a lot of new usages, such as where a noun becomes a verb. Functionally irrelevant opinion notwithstanding, the meaning is clear, even when you hear it for the first time, as the semantic structure is so robust (yet plastic). Like when you ironied there, in the use of "verbed".Yorkshire Pudding (talk) 21:49, 1 September 2023 (UTC)
And don't forget "adjectival". 22:12, 1 September 2023 (UTC)

On another note, a notable real-life incident involving this was in the UK National Health Service, involving a distribution list of 1.2 million users! - IMSoP (talk) 14:14, 31 August 2023 (UTC)

A relatively famous Perl programmer had a legal, deliverable email address of *@qz.to, and has retained the * for his current email. I have an auto-reply bot at fred&[email protected] as a demonstration to anyone that it's a legal address but often rejected by stupid regexen. RandalSchwartz (talk) 23:28, 31 August 2023 (UTC)

Fun fact: The Amazon corporate slang term for this is "Walleting", named after the subject line of one of the company's first widespread email storms. 04:08, 23 September 2023 (UTC)

I wonder if there is a reference here to Microsoft in the late 90s when a no reply distribution list with a third of the employees had permissions set incorrectly. Then somebody on the list noticed noticed. It took down the Microsoft internal network for 2 days (network, not just mail, due to replication between Exchange servers!). The DL was amusingly called Bedlam DL3. For older MSFT employees the phrase “Bedlam DL3. Me too!” has a resonance. I think this might have been the first major email storm. For more details: [1] 17:45, 26 September 2023 (UTC)

The comic reminds me of some gsuite enumeration tricks I’ve seen on OSINT twitter — getting a big list of an institution’s every email is, well, quite useful. — 14:56, 9 December 2023 (UTC)