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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 03:25, 31 December 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!
We have an explanation for all 1 xkcd comics, and only 11 (1%) are incomplete. Help us finish them!

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Message in a Bottle
I tried to send a message back, but I accidentally hit 'reply all' and now the ocean is clogged with message bottles.
Title text: I tried to send a message back, but I accidentally hit 'reply all' and now the ocean is clogged with message bottles.


Cueball experiences a moment of non sequitur while walking along a beach, when he finds a message inside a bottle saying "unsubscribe".

If you're part of an Internet mailing list, it's a common experience to come across random posts by users who may not be very tech-savvy, saying "unsubscribe". This is their attempt to unsubscribe from the list, accidentally broadcast to every other person on that list instead of just to the mailing list admin (who is either a person or an automated program that manages the list). Another common modern experience is that "unsubscribe" links don't always work (perhaps intentionally, for spam e-mails). In desperation, someone has tried to send their "unsubscribe" request in a bottle, hoping in vain that it will have its intended effect. Instead, Cueball receives it. (A darker interpretation of the message could indicate the sender is unhappy with the world or life in general and wishes to leave it.)

A "message in a bottle" is either a fun activity or an S.O.S. from someone stranded at sea, where one places a note in a bottle and throws it into the ocean. It then gets carried on ocean currents, possibly around the world to be picked up by some unknown other person at a point in the future.

The title text extends the joke to another common technological faux pas. It further mixes the metaphor of a message in a bottle with an e-mail list. It states that when he hit "reply all" (this is an option in most email client programs, but obviously not an option when one receives a message in a bottle), it sent a message in a bottle to everyone to whom the original message was sent - in this case clogging the ocean with bottles.

This mistake is often made when a person intends to send an email to just one recipient of a message that's been broadcast to a whole list of people, but they accidentally hit "reply all" instead of just "reply". In some cases, if the mailing list is sufficiently large, amplification effects can completely overwhelm mail servers (by analogy, "clogging the ocean"). For example, an employee may send a simple message like "does anyone speak Russian?" to the whole company address book. Several people are likely to reply using the "reply all" button by mistake, causing the whole company to receive the reply. Then, automatic "out of office" notifications and people complaining about the flood of emails will further worsen the situation.

This strip was probably inspired by the recent news of the world's oldest message in a bottle having been found last year, after over 108 years of being at sea, thus setting a new Guinness World Record.


[Cueball walks along a beach with six seagulls flying behind him over the sea. There is a small surf, and in the far distance, two mountains.]
[Cueball stops and looks down at a bottle lying in the sand just outside the surf. A letter can be seen inside, and there seems to be a stopper at the top.]
[A frameless panel shows Cueball (beach and sea not drawn) as he pulls out the letter from the bottle that he has now picked up.]
[Cueball holds the bottle behind him in one hand and the letter up in front him with the other hand. The text on the letter is written above him in curvy letters, looking like those often used to depict the writing of a dying or seriously injured man:]

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