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[wlug] Mailing list etiquette (was Re: Sudo)

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Daniel Lawson daniel@m...
Tue Apr 5 14:36:14 NZST 2005

Oliver Jones wrote:
> Daniel, while I do not disagree with you regarding limiting posts to
> ASCII on this mailing list, there are a number of good reasons to use
> HTML or rich text emails.  So I thought I'd provide a counter opinion
> here.

I don't mind if mail clients post in both plain and in HTML. Well, I 
feel some twinges as it violates my preferred principle of least 
bandwidth, but I'll concede it's a fair tradeoff. I've already said this 
a couple of times.

> Most complaints I see regarding HTML mail stem from users using text
> mode MUAs like mutt.  While I'm sure mutt is a great mail reader (I used

Most complaints I have are actually stupidly broken HTML mailers, like 
my previous example of Incredimail. I know it's not a reason to dismiss 
HTML emails entirely, however it's the sort of thing that will only 
continue to cause problems. I still hold that education is an option, 
despite this sentiment seeming to go against what the vast majority of 
the online world want (instant gratification and no expectation that 
they will have to learn anything)

> so as to avoid corruption issues.  The best mailing list digest systems
> I've seen package each mail as a separate mime entity.  This allows
> smart MUAs to provide a mailbox like UI to the digest message.  It also
> allows you to use MUA threading support.  Which is much better than one
> plain text digest of all the messages in timestamp order.

I wish we had a decent MUA. One that understood reply-to-list as 
distinct to reply-to-all (solves the entire debate of reply-to-munging). 
One that made use of vfolders for mailing lists or digests. If I had the 
time I'd write one. Perry and I were talking about this years ago, when 
trying to finish writing a compiler at 5am one Monday.

> What you're really saying to people when you ask them to post in 7bit
> ASCII is, "my software lacks features capable of reading your mail
> successfully, please change your behaviour to suit my requirements".

Well, *my* software groks HTML just fine - I use Thunderbird. All I'm 
trying to say is "You're playing in a group now. You should consider 
everyone in the group, not just yourself."

> Also, asking people to post in 7bit ASCII (or ISO-8859), while being the
> lowest common denominator, limits mail to English or Latin based
> European languages.  We live in a multicultural world so requests should
> really be for people to use Unicode, eg, UTF-8 which is backwards
> compatible with ASCII.

Granted :)

> *bold* /italic/ _underline_).  Instead they use features supplied by
> their MUAs to do the same.  All very WYSIWYG.  This is entirely
> understandable and is in fact preferable.  When indexing mail with a
> computer I'd much rather the mail was formatted in XHTML than plain
> text. 

Except HTML isn't really WYSIWYG. As an author, you can't predict how it 
will be rendered. Perry's suggestion of using PDF isn't so far off, 
really. Emails are for basic communication. If you want to send 
something fancy, like a flashed up report, you're far far better off 
either posting it on a webpage and sending the URL[1], or turning it 
into a PDF and sending that instead.

[1] Sending a URL doesn't really solve the rendering problem. I'm not 
sure how most MUA's render HTML - the moz based ones use gecko, OE etc 
uses IE's rendering, but I don't know how Opera / Incredimail / Pegasus 
/ Eudora and so on use them. If they embed a standard html parsing 
control, then fine, otherwise they might do who knows what.

> extending to desktop MUAs.  Systems like Beagle would benefit from XHTML
> formatted mail.  Similarly on-line mailing list archives could also
> benefit from semantic context in emails to aid in search and cross
> reference.

Yeah, I'm quite interested in how well Beagle works out.

> Many current MUAs break hideously when parsing previous text messages.
> How many of you have seen deep quotes go very bad with results like
> this:
>>>>>>people whose mailers don't understand 
>>the > > > > format you
>> use to read your 
>>email. While you can > > > > feel free to
>> inconvenience your friends as much as 

I have to say I haven't seen that in a long time. TB/Mozilla seems to 
"just work", perhaps because they are smart enough to deal.

> My basic point here is that HTML mail in and of itself is not bad.  In
> fact to is highly beneficial in a number of areas.  The problem is the

No, it's not neccesarily bad. It's the way it tends to get used, and the 
blind assumption that everyone else can read it.

> lack of proper implementation standards and the lack of MUAs which
> implement any standards were they to exist.
> So while politely asking posters to use a common denominator like ASCII
> is all well and good while we lack decent MUAs it is not a solution.  It
> is just a stop gap that is avoiding the problem.

What is the problem though? Is the problem "lack of HTML capability in 
MUAs"? I don't think it is.

To clarify my original point: I'm not suggesting people shouldn't send 
HTML email in general. If you want to sending a happy bouncing frog and 
lots of animated smiley faces (or, if you have a sane use for HTML, that 
too) in email to a friend / family member / business acquintance 
/prospective employer, then that's fine. Possibly detrimental to your 
career, but not my place to comment on. When sending mail to potentially 
hundreds or thousands of people, many of whom you don't know, you should 
try for a lower common denominator. Especially when it's a list filled 
with people who are likely to be using software written in 1985 on an 
Acorn to read the email.

Granted, this isn't mentioned anywhere up front. Maybe it should be in 
the AUP of the list? (along with "Don't diss other people's mothers", 
and please spell "Microsoft" correctly, thanks)

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