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How one community's annoying 'spampocalypse' took a happy turn

What happens when a rogue test email gets sent to thousands of people? If you're in Berkeley, Calif., you have a community picnic, of course.

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One of the buttons that celebrate the email storm that happened when a man sent an email containing nothing but an "X" with the subject line "Test."ReplyAll/Zazzle

This is the story of how an innocent email containing nothing but the letter "X" led to a picnic attended by a bunch of strangers in a Berkeley, Calif., park last week, and it proves that all mistakes aren't necessarily bad mistakes.

Working on the email system for a community group called the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CNA) for which he is president, Berkeley resident Nigel Guest accidentally sent the "X" email with the subject line "Test" to thousands of people. He only meant to send it to himself, but alas, that's not what happened.

What happened is that the simple little email puzzled the people who received it, and some of them wrote back to ask why they got it. But they didn't just reply to Guest himself. Had they done that, this story would be over. Instead, they used the fateful "reply all" button in their email program and the Berkeley Spampocalypse was born, as first reported by Berkeleyside, an online independent news site for the San Francisco Bay city.

Over the next few days, emails would zip back and forth among the group, some angry, others amused. In the first camp was a man who wrote an email saying he believed Guest had used some kind of equipment that was "somehow leeching on to devices that apparently are exposed somehow and co-opting the users' information from the device." There was also a woman who threatened legal action if her personal information had been compromised.

But it's the members of the second camp -- those amused by the cyberstorm Guest's simple email had caused -- who are really the heroes of this story.

They took to the flood of reply-all emails with humor and grace and even added more folks to the thread who wanted to be in on the good-natured fun. Some created memes:

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Berkeleyside

And others buttons:

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Sofia Chang/Facebook

Some made T-shirts:

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Screenshot by Michael Franco

And others just posted fun comments like this one, as reported on Berkeleyside: "As of 10:47am on March 19th, I have counted 332 individual emails in my inbox relating to this whole matter. Come on people, pick up the pace! I'm only at 49% storage capacity in my gmail account. What could I possibly do with those extra 7 or 8 gigabytes?? My inbox isn't going to fill itself up without your help, I want to see more replies. Don't stop!"

Berkeley resident Christopher Berry even created a "highlights reel." A Facebook page was set up called CNA Survivors and it wasn't too long till that group decided to have a real-life meetup in Berkeley's Ohlone Park called the CNA Survivor's Picnic on March 22. It was attended by 67 of the spammed, and fittingly enough, they went home with their very own cans of the processed lunch meat.

And thus, the story has a happy ending.