When you send an email to a number of people, should you put the addresses in the 'TO:', 'Cc', or 'Bcc' field?
It's all very simple, but recently I had to explain it to a technophobic friend—and I found that difficult. So in case you too need to explain it one day, here's what I told her.
Explaining TO, Cc and Bcc to my friend
When you send an email to more than one person, you have three fields for their email addresses.
Option 1. The obvious place, labeled 'TO:'. You can put one address in that slot (called a field), or many. Some systems insist one address goes in this slot; others let you leave it blank.
Option 2. Add Cc: this means Add carbon copy, or copy this letter to the following addresses. Anyone can see who you sent this email to.
Option 3. Add Bcc: this means Add blind carbon copies, i.e. send these people the same letter, but don't let them see any of the other addresses. Only you can see who you sent this email to.
At stake when you choose an address option are 3 things.
- Protecting privacy: it's not wise to share people's addresses without their permission. It may not be legal. It can certainly cause embarrassment.
- Visual clutter: all the other email addresses are listed above the message. Sometimes you can't even see the message until you scroll down.
- Spam filters. Spammers and other baddies love the Bcc field, because they can send spam to hundreds of people at a time, who think they are being addressed personally. Consequently, one systematic way of blocking spam is to block all emails sent to addresses in the Bcc field. I believe many workplaces, especially in government, do this.
Background: communicating with technophobes
My friend Diana is in the late stages of MS and keeps in touch with friends and family primarily through her blog. Diana writes a poem or message in her head, tells it to a helper who publishes it and emails me.
I then email 48 of Diana's friends and families, alerting them to a new blog entry, giving them a link and encouraging them to contact her. However, most of these lovely people are elderly luddites who need someone to hold their hand.
For reasons of privacy and clutter, I have been using the Bcc field. But the question arises: are these people receiving my messages? It's pretty important, because this is the way they will learn about Diana's death one day.
So I emailed them all (Cc), asking whether they had been receiving my regular blog alerts. Most said yes: lucky for me. And them.
One person does get blocked by a Bcc filter, and that's easily fixed. Five people have never replied to my emails over the years; three have their reasons, and two are just slack.
Yes, this communication system is almost as cumbersome as the way we corresponded with my sister in Nepal in the 1960s. This required a runner to carry letters by hand for a 10-day hike over the Himalayas. We sent those letters in blind faith, which was duly rewarded. So I will carry on sending blog alerts into the ether.