Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(April 1998)

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Subject: RE: HTML-enabled mailing lists
From: Dave Voorhis <dave @ armchair . mb . ca>
Date: Tue, 07 Apr 1998 19:02:39 -0500
To: "Woodrick, Ed" <ewoodrick @ ed-com . com>, "'List-Managers @ GreatCircle . COM'" <List-Managers @ GreatCircle . COM>
In-reply-to: <116338B0A28AD1118E6400AA005B102B108583 @ pumba . ed-com . com>

At 11:52 PM 4/6/98 -0400, Woodrick, Ed wrote:

>HTML starts to give you methods of better expressing yourself, one of the
>biggest problems in electronic messaging.

Huh?  How is "expressing yourself" one of the biggest _problems_ in
electronic messaging?  For anyone who can write passably well, that's no
problem at all.  For those who can't write, no amount of fancy formatting
is going to help.  REAL problems, which you didn't address, are digests
that my s*bscribers can't read even with HTML-capable mailers, or messages
that non-HTML-capable mailers can't display properly, or bandwidth
consumption with no additional value.

I agree with you that EFFECTIVE use of formatting can be of value, but I
just don't encounter people using it.  For example, your own message was
devoid of formatting, except it appeared in 8 pt. Courier rather than the
default 9 pt. Courier.  If MTA's would be considerate enough to only
HTMLify when it's needed, then I wouldn't have much of a problem.  

I'll admit that enhanced text in email is inevitable, but in its present
form, the problems outweigh the benefits.  If enough people like me reject
the flawed form, maybe we'll see ways of handling enhanced text that don't
consume so much bandwidth; that only use it when it's called for, and that
don't exclude readers without the capability.

>It's a next step beyond the incredibly stupid utilization of punctuation for
>expression. ;-)  If you were to see a HTML exchange between people, I think
>that you would be rather surprised at the value.

I have seen many.  In the hands of an experienced designer or typsetter, a
well-crafted document is an effective communications tool.  In the hands of
most people, I either see (a) documents with no enhancements at all, but
they're still HTMLified; or (b) a ghastly mish-mash of fonts and colors.

>First, just the included text operation. Some HTML mailers put a horizontal 
>bar down the left side and change the color/format of the reply text. It 
>makes it significantly easier to read than the > characters that get 
>so confusing when there have been five or six replies.

Such replies are only confusing when respondents fail to snip, and you DO
NOT want to get me started on that.  And I'd sure like to see the studies
that show a vertical bar is appreciably more readable than a column of '>'s...

>A choice of font (type, size, and color) can give a unique representation 
>of a person, just like a voice does.

That's a frivolity, entirely unworthy of wasted bandwidth.

> Emphasis is so much easier with 
>the ability to italicize or make characters bold. In longer messages, 
>setting subject headings in larger text can ease reading.

Good point.  Kudos to the mailers that can do this with tags JUST around
the enhanced text, instead of HTMLifying the entire message.  Alas, this is
probably not a standard.

But, again I wonder...  Just how much MORE readable are bold and italics
over _underlines_ and *asterisks* and CAPITAL LETTERS?  Is it worth the
additional bandwidth and hassles?

>If black and white courier 12 point text is so great, then why are there no
>more courier 12 point printers any more? I put my daisy wheel printer away
>many years ago. 

I'll bet black and white Courier 12 point text on a video display is more
readable than almost any other font of the same size.  A monitor is NOT
printed text.  What's highly readable on paper is not necessarily highly
readable on screen.

Look, I'm not arguing that enhanced text isn't, er... an enhancement.  I'm
arguing that the majority of HTML-formatted messages are just a
bandwidth-gobbling collection of invisible tags on plain text content.  I'm
also arguing that on the majority of mailing lists, there is no NEED for
enhanced text that outweighs the current limitations and problems.  

Really, it comes down to this:  A plain text message is readable by all my
s*bscribers.  An HTML message is not readable by all my s*bscribers.
Therefore, I am justified in filtering out HTMLified messages.

>If you don't give a new technology a place to incubate, it will never grow, 
>or at least it won't grow on your turf. Sure, you might think it is weed, 
>but a worthless bread mold did change the path of modern medicine.

Good heavens.  Let's NOT try to equate the use of HTML in email with the
invention of penicillin, okay?  That stretch pulled the point so thin that
it broke.

I've said my piece.  If anyone wishes to discuss this further with me,
let's do it privately and avoid boring everyone else.

Dave Voorhis
mailto:dave @
 armchair .
 mb .

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