Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(November 1995)

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Subject: Re: Netiquette of mailto: URLs?
From: Michelle Dick <artemis @ rahul . net>
Date: Sat, 25 Nov 95 19:48:48 -0800
To: list-managers @ greatcircle . com
In-reply-to: <199511252235 . OAA11164 @ server . postmodern . com>

Michael wrote:
> Michelle Dick <artemis @
 rahul .
 net> writes:
> > I'm skeptical that much can be done.  I'm working on another front:
> > trying to inform people that web netiquette requires that one never
> > ever ever put up a mailto: address without express consent from the
> > recipient at that address.
> > 
> > It's just downright rude.
> Hmmmm.  This is the first time I have heard of this

Really?  It has been discussed on list-managers in the past, with
several people piping up about how evil they felt it was to have their
list-related addresses in web mailto:.  In fact, when I posted about
having problems with this several months ago, one person said I was
lucky -- they'd been having problems for a long time.

, and though I
> don't necessarily disagree with the idea, I would not think that this 
> should be raised to the level of a consensus, i.e., "web netiquette
> requires."  In fact, several authoring/translation tools that I've
> seen (in ads, show, books, etc.) can be configured to automatically 
> generate mailto: URLs whenever they come across e-mail addresses in 
> a document being converted to HTML.  I wouldn't have thought anyone
> would find this objectionable

Well, to summarize the previous discussion on this list, the problem
is that there is no way to control how people with broken web browsers
parse the mailto:.  Further, users generally just click on the link
and ignore any explanatary instructions.  This results in such events
as users subscribing themselves (or others -- for a period of time one
link last year resulted in the address 'webmaster @
 mit .
 edu' being
autoreplied to by an address of mine, much to the displeasure of both
them and me).

Before I chased down and asked that the mailto: links to my -request
address be removed, I was regularly getting newbies who subscribed to
my list, were deluged by the volume, and then wholely clueless as to
how they got on and irate at me.  This despite the fact that the text
surrounding the link was very explicit about what the list was about,
how high volume it was, and what choosing the link would do --
i.e. there is no way to compensate for this problem with good web
design other than to eliminate the 'mailto:' until permission has been

I have nothing against 'mailto:'s being used with permission.

A good mailing list compiler only includes lists that have given their
permission to be listed, yes?  Likewise, a web-based compiler should
make it clear that all lists at their site will have mailto:'s up front
(in which case I withdraw permission for my list to be included in
their site whatsoever), get individual permission from each list for
the mailto:, or not include mailto:'s at all.  Even to -request

> Personally, I don't see the difference between a plain e-mail address
> appearing in a Web document and the same address converted to a
> mailto: URL -- I think the real netiquette issue is how the address
> (mailto: or not) is presented and whether readers are urged to send
> mail to an inappropriate address (such as a list posting address
> instead of a list server or -request address) by the page's author.

It doesn't work.  We tried.  Excessively hard.  I worked with the
first site I had problems with to make the presentation as explicit as
possible. Put bold-face instructions around the mailto: link and
everything.  It just didn't work!  I'm tired of dealing with irate
people "but, I didn't *know*, I didn't read that ....".  So now I go
after the mailto: links to my site whenever I can.  So far I haven't
had a refusal to remove the link.

Now, maybe I see these things because my list is large and therefore
sensitive -- 2200+ members, 15-50 posts a day.  And maybe I just see
these things before they become a problem for other lists.

I don't see what the big deal is with getting permission first -- I'm
sure many lists will grant such permission.  If one has to get
permission to list a list, then get permission for the mailto.  If you
write fancy software to html-ize, put in a little extra effort and
make it smart enough to consult a permission database before
html-izing email addresses.  Yes, it is extra work to do this, but
being responsible usually is.

Michelle Dick       artemis @
 rahul .
 net       East Palo Alto, CA
          Owner, FATFREE Vegetarian Mailing List

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