Remember how in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Saved By the Bell characters could freeze time for a moment, say something to the camera meant only for us, the viewers, to hear? Yeah, you can’t really get away with that in real life, even if you’re communicating via e-mail or Twitter. Bccthis, a pair of free Outlook and Twitter plug-ins, gives you that kind of power.
This little app lets you tack on a private, BCC’d message that only some of the recipients of your main message can see. Likewise, with Twitter you can post a tweet to the masses, but then start a private direct messaging chain that will only be visible to select users. The idea is to save you the tedium of composing a public e-mail and a separate aside message, or a tweet followed by a direct message or group e-mail.
Start by downloading the Outlook plug-in, which works with Outlook 2003 or 2007, as well as Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7 ($77.49). Installing it on our XP machine with Outlook 2007 running took about a minute. The program looks intuitive. When highlighting a message, you can click Reply or Reply All to open a new window with a Bccthis pane lining the lower half of the window.
Separating the regular message pane from the Bccthis one is the same formatting strip you’ll find at the top of any Outlook message, including different font and text color options, among others things. Although a bit redundant, we liked that this guarantees less upward scrolling to format the private text taking up the lower half of the screen.
There’s a large field into which you can type that side message, meant only for specific recipients. And next to it is a smaller window where you can insert the recipients for that special message. Annoyingly, you can only add people who are already listed in the “To,” “CC,” or “BCC’ fields of the original message. To write a side-note to someone who’s not included, we first BCC’d them on the original e-mail, and then added them again, this time to the Bccthis recipients field. We wished the Bccthis field auto-populated once you added a bcc contact in your e-mail.
Let us give you an example of how Bccthis works. Say a company e-mails you about a hot product that hasn’t been announced to the public yet. And say, Mark Spoonauer, our editor, was not CC’d on the original e-mail. If want to respond to the company and also make a private comment to Mark about that new gadget, you’d have to BCC him in not one, but two places.
It’s okay if the person you’re BCCing doesn’t also use Bccthis. He or she will have the option of viewing the main e-mail and the private message as either a consolidated message, or as separate e-mails. If you choose the consolidated option, you’ll see the Bccthis content at the top of the e-mail, with the main message listed below, just as if someone were to forward you an e-mail with their own comments at the top.
With Twitter it’s the same idea: you can tweet something to the masses, while adding a little extra something for select followers. In this case, though, you don’t have to download anything; simply drag the bookmarklet onto your Firefox toolbar. From then on, if you want to BCC followers on your public tweets, ditch Twitter’s own Web interface or desktop apps such as Tweetdeck, and sign in from Bccthis.
When you sign in, you’ll see the usual tweet composition box, with a timeline underneath, showing tweets written by the people you’re following. As with Twitter’s UI, there’s a pane on the right side, where you can see the top trending topics. This box and others, such as a Bccthis demo video and instructions for adding the bookmarklet, can be minimized.
Whereas in the standard Web-based Twitter interface there are links on the right side for seeing mentions of yourself, or your lists, or your favorites, here, they all appear as small icons lining the top of your timeline. We prefer the standard Twitter UI, as the font there is easier to read, and larger.
When you click to compose a message, that composition box expands so that there are two separate fields: one for writing your “main” tweet, and one for BCC’ing specific people. There’s also built-in link shortening, a welcome feature.
As with any direct message on Twitter, you can only BCC people who a) you are following b) are following you back and c) have consented to receive direct messages via Twitter. So, your selection of super-secret recipients could be pretty limited.
Our friend saw the public tweet (test) in his newsfeed, as did the rest of my followers. However, he also received an e-mail letting him know he had a direct message, the contents of which was that BCC’d message. I can follow the conversation in my own Messages folder, too, which is easy.
Both Bccthis’ free Outlook and Twitter apps are worth trying, although the Outlook plug-in is more compelling, since you can BCC anyone in your contacts. The Twitter app is limited by, well, Twitter, letting you write stealth side-notes only to certain people. Overall, though, Bccthis is an innovative and time-saving tool.