Among the blizzard of pre-Ignite announcements, you might have spotted the news from the Office 365 team that they are rolling out "enhanced non-delivery reports (NDRs)". I know that this news will not excite many, but it is important simply because of the massive number of misaddressed messages that arrive into the service. As the post points out, non-delivery reports that you might have received up to now are a "homage to 1982" (when NDRs first appeared) and are "overly technical and ill-designed for the modern email user." Quite.
One way of looking at this is that we all need our hands held to understand why email cannot be delivered. And in a way, that's true because the user population that existed in 1982 was a minute proportion of the billions who use email today and were mostly pretty technical. As I described in a July 2014 post, the information contained in NDRs is therefore pretty esoteric, detailed, and uninteresting unless you understand the finer points of SMTP.
Simplifying NDRs and making them more understandable for the majority is a very good thing. It's surprising that the email industry as a whole has not addressed the problem before. The probable reason here is that no one really cared too much about NDRs. Programmers had jazzy user-facing features to write, architects worried about the overall performance and throughput of email servers, and anyway, the old-fashioned NDRs were cheap and cheerful to implement and worked. But when you need to support an infrastructure the size of Office 365 that generates a huge number of number of support tickets daily, it pays to look at detail and, if possible, eliminate the causes for user concern. One way to do this is to make the reason why NDRs are generated obvious and to tell users exactly what they have to do to fix the problem.
Eliminating support calls rather than a desire to aid humanity is the probable reason why NDRs are getting a new look, but that's not a bad thing. For now, the new-style NDRs are only generated by Office 365 for inbound email that cannot be delivered. Other email systems have to upgrade their processing to handle problem messages that are delivered to them. Given the pace of change in this area of email, I shouldn't hold my breath waiting for the other cloud providers to change the way they generate NDRs. And nothing will happen for on-premises email servers until Microsoft and other vendors get around to upgrading their code.
Still, enhanced NDRs in Office 365 is a piece of good news. I like it and welcome the advance in the art of email. I hope that the enhanced NDRs will also show up in Exchange 2016, which seems like an appropriate delivery vehicle for this code. It is possible that Microsoft will reveal more at Ignite next week, perhaps at the "Meet Exchange 2016" session at 10:45AM on Tuesday. Or maybe not - the presenters at that session probably don't want to get down into the weeds.
It's just a pity we had to wait since 1982 for NDRs to get a makeover. That’s just about as long as I have been working with email…
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