Thursday, April 20, 2006

Top-Reply in Emails and More-Than-Text Body Formats

I commented to Fighting the top reply over at Signal vs. Noise and felt like writing a small bit about it here. The basic issue was where to place your reply in an email, as any modern mail client will quote the original text and most of them place your cursor right above it. I have a couple of angles to take on this, but the conclusions all arrive at the same place.

When I still worked at an office and spent a decent portion of my time tracking efforts and monitoring going-ons throughout the company, I used Microsoft Outlook, which was enforced by the corporate IT people. Although it did bug me that I was unofficially forced to top-reply, I admit that in certain situations I do it myself, anyway. Typically, my view is that if the conversation shouldn't go on for a long time with the need to review a chronological log of what was said, and is only between two parties who will know what was said before, top-reply is really OK. When you are on a mailing list or newsgroup or in a reply-all cycle with thirty other people, it can get a little confusing trying to track the conversation.

I have probably slipped even more once I started using GMail, because it makes it easier to track the converstation by showing me all the actual emails, with quoted text collaposed. This might seem lazy, but I am a firm believer that the software is here to make our lives easier, so why do we ignore so many ways it can do that? Why not take the next step and stop quoting text by prepending a bracket or indenting it and come up with some extensions to the email protocols, maybe some new headers or a modified Multi-Part header, which would let us specify "Quoted Text" and "Reply Text", with the reply associated directly with the quoted text.

How we want this to be arranged on screen when we write it and how someone wants to read it, should not be based on the order of the bytes representing the glyphs that display the text we read. It shouldn't be a convention, it should be a preference and that preference should be free for all. This all reminds me a lot of a vast HTML-vs-PlainText-Email flame I was on the painful end of a while back, all because some people still want to use some console based email apps (which is fine) that don't support Multi-Part messages properly (which is not fine).

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I write here about programming, how to program better, things I think are neat and are related to programming. I might write other things at my personal website.

I am happily employed by the excellent Caktus Group, located in beautiful and friendly Carrboro, NC, where I work with Python, Django, and Javascript.

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