Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(November 2005)

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Subject: Re: Posting style filters?
From: Vince Sabio <vince @ vjs . org>
Date: Sat, 26 Nov 2005 14:31:18 -0500
To: list-managers @ greatcircle . com
In-reply-to: <8BB732D2-4FB5-4C72-BC11-C94423D39AD2 @ plaidworks . com>
References: <20051124000638 . GA23161 @ firedrake . org> <43850C13 . 90305 @ btinternet . com> <20BB9502-AF30-4CE5-B81F-018452F8B99F @ plaidworks . com> <p05200f0dbfab039a43ef @ [192 . 168 . 0 . 4]> <8BB732D2-4FB5-4C72-BC11-C94423D39AD2 @ plaidworks . com>

** Sometime around 22:56 -0800 11/23/2005, Chuq Von Rospach sent everyone:

funny, I generally top post now. I guess that makes me a heathen or something.

Chuq, Chuq, Chuq, what has happened to you? I don't remember your being this judgmental. No one has tried (AFAICT) to equate top-posting to heathenism. Last I recall, we were trying to discuss a topic, not trying to ban it from the 'Net.

At work, we do that because it keeps the context of the discussion together, but out of the way. It saves us rooting around for something that was said three messages ago. Occasionally I'll tear down a message and respond point by point, but usually, that's overkill.

And that is exactly how correspondence works in my office, as well -- and I'm sure that it's the norm in most offices these days. And there's nothing wrong with that -- yaknow, "right tool for the right job" and all that.

First, top post vs. inline is a religious fight.

It certainly is, which is why I ended my post with "Say, anyone want to talk about Reply-To munging" comment (another religious argument where there is no right or wrong).

Nobody is "right"

Yes, Chuq, that is entirely correct. And you might have noticed a distinct lack of any suggestion in my post that either method is "right" or "wrong." (Or if there was such an inference, it was entirely unintentional.)

-- different people have different preferences. To assume there can be only one style is like telling everyone to use san-serif fonts. It's not about what's best, but enforcing on everyone what SOME people want.

Yes, that is correct. And unfortunately, sometimes it is necessary to make decisions like that -- to inconvenience a few for the good of the entire list. Now, don't get me wrong, that is not the same as saying that one method is "right" or the other one is "wrong"; we've simply decided to standardize on a particular format that we feel is better suited for discussion lists.

My argument has been, and continues to be, that people should spend their time teaching their mail clients to present mail in the format they prefer, adn not yelling at others to "do it this way", because there will always be idiots like me who refuse to change my habits to fit your preferences. Because I don't believe anhyone has the right to declare themselves god and enforce their preferences on others.

And I agree, and that's one of the <cue daffodils> truly beautiful things about the Internet </daffodils>: If someone doesn't like that way one list is run, then s/he is free to leave and join any number of other lists.

And so the argument to that statement is anticipated to be, "Well, then you are chasing away subscribers." Granted, but the reality is this:

(1) We're not in this to see how many subscribers we can get; we're providing a free public service. No one is forced to subscribe, much less post, to our mailing lists.

(2) We're going to chase away subscriber no matter WHAT we do. If we standardize on top-posting, we will lose subscribers who don't like that format. If we do not standardize on any format at all, and allow the individual subscribers to choose, then we will lose subscribers who find it difficult to follow threads or read the digests (that was the complaint we were receiving that led to our decision to standardize on a threaded posting format on our Mac-centric lists).

it's a losing game from the start,

Actually, it's not -- we've had very good success overall with the threaded-posting standardization. That's not to say that it makes everyone happy, but there's NO list format that will make everyone happy; we simply need to select something that works for the individual list and go with it. On our lists, the vast majority of posts are in the threaded format, which doesn't seem to be a "losing game" AFAWCT. And the fact that we have subscribers asking us to extend the threaded-posting requirement to other lists suggests that it's working pretty well, at least for some.

so why bother?

Primarily because the digests were simply becoming untenable -- many threads, even for those in MAIL mode, were confusing to the point of being utterly useless, with top posts interspersed with threaded posts.

focus on things you CAN control, which is your own environment.

But they're OUR lists, so they ARE our environment. And your statement seems to imply that it's not controllable, while our experience is directly contrary to that.

Quit trying to stuff your envirobnment out on the commons.

The job of a Listmom is to manage the list for the better interests of the group (a socialist perspective on discussion lists -- but then, discussion lists are, IMO, inherently socialist).

FWIW, we also kill threads when they drift off the topic of the list, and we stop flame wars dead in their tracks. Sure, we could quit trying to impose our individual wills upon the lists and just let there be a free-for-all out there -- but then what good would the list be? Defining "order" on the list is a line in the sand; our line just happens to be a little farther down the beach from your line, but we're still drawing our lines arbitrarily based on our own experience, on the subscriber base that we have (or imagine that we have), on what our individual goals are for the list, and on the tools that we have at our disposal to help us implement the list's guidelines.

That's why some users get "pissy" when the list moms do this, by the way, and I can't blame them. they're RIGHT.

But Chuq, I thought you said, "Nobody is 'right' -- different people have different preferences." Either way, this is not a "right" and "wrong" type of issue. They have their preferred method of posting; we have a method upon which we've standardized for [what we perceive to be] the good of the list. Those who simply do not want to adjust their posting style to our posting requirements are neither "right" nor "wrong." It is their choice whether they post, and their choice whether they subscribe at all. If I were running a publicly funded service -- e.g., university-funded discussion lists set up by an academic department at a state university for the benefit of the students -- then I'd be more inclined to view this as a question of egalitarian access. But I personally pay for (and maintain) the servers and the bandwidth, and we have an all-volunteer group of Listmoms, and we feel that it is acceptable for us to decide how we want to run the lists, and what format we wish to use, and then let those who like that style of management join the lists and participate. To be sure, there are those who DON'T like our management style -- and some of them are quite vehement about it. I don't fault them for their opinions, nor do I feel that they are wrong simply for not liking our management style -- but I'm also not going to change a format that seems to be working quite well for the majority simply because of a very vocal few.

Same with "reply to", and "don't email me AND the list", and any of a dozen other "you have to do it my way, because I said so" things.

Well, "Reply-To" is simply a decision that has to be made -- there are three choices, and the list manager/owner simply has to select the one that he thinks works best for his list, taking into consideration many of the same factors that were taking into consideration for posting format (subscriber base, type of list, goals of list, etc.). In contrast, the "don't e-mail me and the list" thing is an individual subscriber preference -- and while I believe it's acceptable for posters to keep track of the posting guidelines for an entire list, I don't think it's practical for a poster to have to remember the Cc: preferences of every active poster on the list. I think it's acceptable for the list managers to decide, on behalf of their constituency, what is best for the list, and impose standardization, guidelines, rules, whatever you want to call them. I don't think it's acceptable for individual subscribers to start dictating format, because that's just no scalable.

But frankly, I think it no longer matters; the mail list as a primary communications community tool is dead. Which is a great way to start another argument, but I won't bother getting into it. I'll just note this posting: and shut up again.

Hmmm, well, I have my own thoughts on that, and I think you might be trying to generalize a bit too much, but I agree that it's all a different argu^W thread entirely.

By the way, what RFC states that top posting is the wrong way to do this?

Gee, Chuq, I don't know of any.

I don't remember seeing that standard.

Funny thing, neither do I. And I should hope that one never materializes, either, as I think it would be quite detrimental, no matter what format the RFC decided to espouse/endorse.

Oh, and this is a losing cause at best, given that most email clients today handle replies in a way to encourage top posting. You might as well fight the fight against porn on USENET. ACtually, that's probably easier.

Well, as I said, it seems to be working pretty well for us -- with the caveat that, no matter WHAT choice we make (including the "no choice" option), we're going to make some group of people unhappy. Including, apparently, other list owners. ;-)

Vince Sabio                                                  vince @
vjs .

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