If there’s a technology I’m starting to, well, hate lately, then it’s the Auto-Responder feature provided by many of the current e-mail and groupware systems. Basically, the very idea seems to be good: No matter whether someone is on vacation or just out of office to get some external project done (and, thus, unable to read mail for a while), each of the messages to hit the inbox is about to be answered right away by an automatism, using a (customized) message that usually will tell the message sender that the recipient desired to be reached will not read the message anytime soon. This is good, as it saves you a lot of time if you can’t let people wait for too long and can’t specify someone to take care of your mail while you’re away, either.

However, there are two things making autoresponders an extremely annoying thing right now: Being subscribed to several mailing-lists, setting up a general autoresponder is completely ridiculous as this is likely to automatically reply to each and every mail coming across the list. This way, it’s likely once in a while to (especially in summer days) see mailing-lists flooded with useless non-information (as probably nobody really cares about people being off-list), ending up in discussions about how to get rid of that junk.

But that’s not worst of it. Right now, both worms and spammers tend to send off mails using faked sender addresses. In such a situation, an autoresponder is extremely ugly for those whose addresses are (ab)used for that. Looking at the catch-all – mailspool of, right now I see one half of the messages being useless spam which is immediately discarded by the great junk filtering mechanism in Thunderbird, and other half of the messages being “out-of-office” replies to spam and junk sent out to the world using faked mail addresses. So it’s almost twice the fun, and it’s completely useless. There’s another fine thing about autoresponders, by the way, while talking about spam: Many spam senders actually are probing domains for “valid” e-mail addresses. If an autoresponder is about to reply to one of those messages, the spam sender then will know it found an e-mail address associated with some local user and checked for mail at least once in a while. Guess that’s another way of getting your inbox filled.

Overally, perhaps nowadays shutting down autoresponders and “out-of-office” mechanisms is a better way unless your system provides means of configuration that allow for fine-tuning which message is to be replied and which ain’t. Of course, talking about spam and viruses, setting up an up-to-date filter software also is a good solution – but obviously, few people seem to take care of that…