Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(August 1995)

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Subject: Re: Appending "Reply-To" in Outgoing Mails
From: scs @ lokkur . dexter . mi . us (Steve Simmons)
Organization: Inland Sea
Date: Thu, 17 Aug 95 20:25:52 GMT
Apparently-to: list-managers @ GreatCircle . COM
Distribution: local
Newsgroups: local.list-managers
References: <199508171730 . 2413 . gyda . ifi . uio . no @ ifi . uio . no>

Kjetil Torgrim Homme <kjetilho @
 ifi .
 uio .
 no> writes:

>[Chip Rosenthal]

>|   I've thrown together a *very* rough draft of a page on this topic,
>|   entitled ``Reply-To Munging Considered Harmful''. It is available
>|   at <URL:>. I welcome
>|   any comments.

>Great, Chip! All you who advocate munging Reply-to must read this. I'd
>be interested to hear you refute what Chip's saying.

Summary: same as what I said earlier `*shrug*', but at greater length.

Taking Chips summary as a kicking off point, I will offer refutation
by various counter-examples.  Most prominent will be the General
Technics/Permanent Floating Riot Club mailing list, which does
Reply-To munging.

FYI, Chip and I go way back on the Elm lists, and I have great
respect for him and his work.  Nothing I say here should be taken as
personal criticism of Chip, nor does my disagreement here lessen my
respect of him.

chip> Many people want to munge Reply-To headers. They believe it makes
chip> reply-to-list easier, and it encourages more list traffic. It really
chip> does neither, and is a very poor idea. Reply-To munging suffers from
chip> the following problems:
chip>   o  It violates the principle of minimal munging.


chip>   o  It provides no benefit to the user of a reasonable mailer.

This presumes of course, that the readers of the mailing list all have
access to a reasonable mailer.  One member of the Dorsai Irregulars
Mailing List works for a bank which mandates the use of a particular
brain-dead system that uses X.400 addresses, cannot generate a
subject field on internet-gated mail, and always generates return
addresses of the form

       `X.400 crap here'@bank .
 x400domain!otherhost @
 attmail .

Assuming her mailer understands the difference between group and
individual reply is not a safe assumption.  Nor is assuming that
a given user knows that difference for any given mail package.

chip>   o  It actually reduces functionality for the user of a
chip>      reasonable mailer.

If the list is done correctly, only in a very minimal fashion.
Consider the following article from gt-pfrc [I've purged many of
the irrelevant headers]:

gt> From: nickerson @
 BIX .
gt> Subject: Re: Part help?...
gt> To: gt-pfrc @
 angus .
 mystery .
gt> Sender: owner-gt-pfrc @
 angus .
 mystery .
gt> Reply-To: gt-pfrc @
 angus .
 mystery .
gt> Date: Thu, 17 Aug 1995 12:49:43 -0400 (EDT)
gt> {#} Replies are directed back to gt-pfrc @
 angus .
 mystery .
gt> {#} To reply to the author, write to nickerson @
 BIX .
gt> >We've a 10base-T hub at work in which the cooling fan has decided
gt> >to go on strike permanently.
gt> When my power supply fan decided to start squealing, and then stopped,
gt> I disassembled it, cleaned it, and lubed it (Triflow-the world's best
gt> lubricrant). It's like new again. Unless a wire burnt up there isn't
gt> much that can go wrong with a fan.
gt> Kevin "Can't break it, it alread is"
gt> {#}--------------=[ GT/PFRC -- Science Fact and Science Fiction ]=---

Note the inserted {#}.  Since Gabe (the list manager) has been doing
this, I have seen zero (count-em) zero complaints about mis-replied
mail.  Previously, people were constantly getting things other than
what they expected.

chip>   o  It penalizes the person with a reasonable mailer in order to
chip>      coddle those running brain-dead software.

I would argue that penalization is small to zero, where the win for
letting members with brain-dead software participate can be a big
win for the right group.

chip>   o  It removes important information, which can make it impossible
chip>      to get back to the message sender.

Note in the gt-pfrc example above, the important data is right there
at your fingertips.  Gabe did it right.

chip>   o  It is arrogant because it asserts the will of the list
chip>      administrator onto all of the list subscribers.

The group as a whole wished for the change.  Doing anything other than
following the will of the group would be arrogant.

chip>   o  It violates the principle of least work because complicates
chip>      the procedure for replying to messages.

The members of the list decided they wished all the items to go to
the list as a whole (and gt-pfrc is not the only list I see like that).

chip>   o  It violates the principle of least surprise because it changes
chip>      the way a mailer works.

This criticism can be made of *any* capricious use of Reply-To:, as
various email and netnews spams have shown us.  The critical point
is *capricious* use.  Reply-To has a purpose, and when used wisely
it works fine.

chip>   o  It violates the principle of least damage, and it encourages
chip>      a failure mode that can be extremely embarrassing -- or worse.


chip>   o  Your subscribers don't want you to do it.

Disproof by counter-example, above.

My summary -- if it's what the members want and is done with care
and caution, it works fine.  I agree with Chip that in *most* cases,
automatic `Reply-To: list' is a bad idea, but there are definately
times when it is the right thing to do.

Chip, if you'd like to drop this onto your page as a comment I'd be

Simmons' Law Of Alcoholic Expectations:
  The best stuff always happens after the meeting, when everyone goes to
  the bar.
Correlary: Any meeting which doesn't adjourn to the bar isn't worth going to.

Indexed By Date Previous: Re: Appending "Reply-To" in Outgoing Mails
From: scs @ lokkur . dexter . mi . us (Steve Simmons)
Next: Re: Appending "Reply-To" in Outgoing Mails
From: Chip Rosenthal <chip @ unicom . com>
Indexed By Thread Previous: Re: Appending "Reply-To" in Outgoing Mails
From: Kjetil Torgrim Homme <kjetilho @ ifi . uio . no>
Next: Re: Clobbering "Reply-To" in Outgoing Mail
From: dattier @ wwa . com (David W. Tamkin)

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