back to article Want tech cred? Learn how to email like a pro

The Reg FOSS Desk, as you might imagine, gets a lot of mail from companies keen to promote their wares. How someone emails instantly betrays real techies, who probably know their stuff, from the marketing types. There are two things which allow this cynical old vulture to instantly distinguish the real deal, the folks with …

  1. Alan J. Wylie

    Wrapping at column 78

    One thing missing in the article: wrap your lines for easier reading.

    I'm a proud user of emacs/VM

    And my proudest e-mail

    1. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Wrapping at column 78

      It's actually mentioned on the linked article (although the article mentions 72), and my thought to that is: why would anyone do that rather than use an email client that sorted it out for you? (also, why 78 or why 72???)

      Any quoted text that was wrapped at column X will now need to wrapped at column X-2 every time it was quoted because of the "> ", so it's a giant pain to do manually (also alluded to in the article). I guess it's a hangover from terminals with 'X' amount of columns, but surely one of the recommended mail clients can handle plain-text email with both line wrapping AND automatically inserting the "> "s in all the right places at render time. So what am I missing? (...he asked, fully expecting to be redirected to a 40-page thread explaining the intricacies of it all...)

      1. Alan J. Wylie

        Re: Wrapping at column 78

        why 78 or why 72???

        The answer goes back a long, long time. ASR 33 teletypes, VT52 terminals (both of which I've used) and many others have a width of 80 columns. Tabs are 8 characters.

        I suspect the 72 limit comes from those numbers.

        For the 78 character limit see RFC 2822 Internet Message Format

        The more conservative 78 character recommendation is to accommodate the many implementations of user interfaces that display these messages which may truncate, or disastrously wrap, the display of more than 78 characters per line

        1. Alan J. Wylie

          Re: Wrapping at column 78

          P.S. for anyone interested in the history of incompatible and broken terminal hardware and emulators, read the comments in the Termcap file

        2. Alan J. Wylie

          Re: Wrapping at column 78

          A memory from the late 70's just came to mind and I've just turned up this possible source for the 72 character limit: The format of a Fortran IV punched card

          Positions 7-72 are used for the actual program code. Often programmers use a TAB (8 spaces) rather than type 7 spaces.

          Positions 73-80 are infrequently used, but when they are they are used for identification codes which are only of interest to the programmer, they are not computed.

          1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

            Re: Wrapping at column 78

            I am fairly sure it predates Fortran IV, although I never used an earlier version. I did write my first programs, in Fortran IV, using a manual card punch (no keyboard - just 12 buttons to punch the individual holes and the user having to know the right combination of holes), and with columns 73-80 ignored. It took about 20 minutes to create a short program - say 15 lines - including the time taken on throwing away cards where you pressed the wrong key combination on the last character of the line!

            Those last 8 columns were supposed to be used for sequence numbers so that if the operator dropped the deck while loading it someone (else) could sort them back into order. Actually I think there were machines which would sort punchcards based on columns 72-80. As far as I know it was a convention created in the early days of using punched cards for data.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Wrapping at column 78

              "Actually I think there were machines which would sort punchcards based on columns 72-80."

              They would sort them into 10 bins depending on the content of a single column. Repeated runs, changing the column would get them back into order eventually. That's the word - eventually.

              1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                Re: Wrapping at column 78

                The reverse radix sort algorithm. Really quite clever. O(n) time and O(n) space.

          2. dmesg
            Thumb Up

            Re: Wrapping at column 78

            That's exactly where I learned this habit, though I must confess that nowadays I honor it more in the breach.

            I find that adhering to line lengths is more important in writing code than in email (I prefer auto-wrap for that, for exactly the reason given by the first reply to the article). Seems like a lot of young'uns can't be arsed to look up the line-continuation character for their language, and then use it to keep their code to 72/78/80 columns. And double the long-line offense if the language doesn't require an explicit line-continuation character.

            Simple reason for limiting line lengths: diff -y. On a decent dev desktop machine, you can readily fit 160 (+-) columns in a terminal window at a readable font size.

        3. Herby

          Re: Wrapping at column 78

          Just for information, an ASR33 teletype has 72 columns (not 80). Of course an IBM punch card has 80 columns ofwhich 72 are used in the active portion of Fortran statements.

          Yes, I've used both.

      2. rafff

        Re: Wrapping at column 78

        "why 72??"

        Because of 80-column punched cards. The last 8 columns were generally reserved for sequencing the deck. And I am old enough too have dropped an unsequenced deck down a flight of stairs.

        Also early character-mode VDUs and printers were 80-column, and sometimes did strange things with line spacing if you actually tried to use all 80 columns.

        Here endeth the history lesson.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Wrapping at column 78

          > Here endeth the history lesson.

          ...and in slightly more modern terms, the "spare" 8 chars at the end of the 80 column line allows for a number of levels of quoting before exceeding the line limit and wrapping.

          > Person I'm quoting

          >> Person s/he is quoting

          >>> Earlier person being quoted.

      3. mpi Silver badge

        Re: Wrapping at column 78

        why would anyone do that rather than use an email client that sorted it out for you?

        Becase I have no guarantee that what the mailclient my shows me is the same that your mail client will show you, if I rely on whatever my client does for breaking up lines. Is the line really broken up by a newline? Or does it just render it being broken up? And if it is broken up, how is that done?

        If I type in the newlines myself, there is no ambiguity. I know that what I send to you, is all the information your client requires, to reproduce the exact formatting that I saw on my screen.

        1. captain veg Silver badge

          Re: Wrapping at column 78

          Opera M2 would take care of it perfectly.

          Also it had the best search indexing of any mail client I've used.

          I wish it were still maintained.

          -A.

          1. Munchausen's proxy
            Pint

            Re: Wrapping at column 78

            I've only recently switched from Opera v 12, because my workplace moved almost entirely to Microsoft for email, and I can't get Opera to talk successfully to Microsoft's smtp server. (Evolution does, with a plugin). It's painful. I still keep Opera running on one screen for the excellent search capability, and automatic sorting intelligently by date (on disk).

          2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Wrapping at column 78

            It's trivial to do in vim, and not that hard to do in vi with a simple word-wrapping program. Writing the latter is an exercise for the reader. When I wrote mine, circa 1990, I spent maybe an hour on it, and that was mostly because I did it in C rather than use a scripting language.

            (And, yes, I'm including handling the >s. Remove them, wrap at the appropriate length, add them back. Super easy, barely an inconvenience. And having to do it encouraged trimming.)

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: Wrapping at column 78

              Of course it's easy. It's also pointless. If someone likes having a wider window, breaking up the lines just makes things harder. If they compress the window to 60 characters for some reason (portable device with narrow screen, maybe, or so they can have another window next to it while still seeing the message somewhere), they're either left without the right end of every line or the lines split in two and leave a lot of pointless whitespace. For decades, we've had software, in CLI or GUI, capable of putting some text in whatever size of rectangle you wanted it. We should allow people to have that without structuring our text such that only one configuration is practical without them writing a program to undo what we did. Even though I find writing such programs quite easy and have done it repeatedly for lots of different formats, I don't think everyone else should have to. This is especially because there are many people who don't know how to write something that simple but are still fully capable of using email, and it's our job as programmers to make software that doesn't require every user to write their own code to make it work well in configurations that aren't the same as our own.

    2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: Wrapping at column 78

      Please, no. Let it flow. I honestly wouldn't trust somebody telling me, in the year 2023, that they can't read an e-mail because text went to the end of the screen and mashed up at the end. I don't want to read things manually formatted to a tall, skinny rectangle either.

      HTML is OK if it's to preserve the format an excerpt of a technical document or diagram. Again, it's 2023. Use the right tools; nothing more, nothing less.

      1. mpi Silver badge

        Re: Wrapping at column 78

        > in the year 2023

        ...typography still works the same as it did since the invention of the printing press.

        Lines drawn out into the horizontal look bad, fact. They will still look bad in 2223. There is a reason almost all novels and textbooks use page formats higher than they are wide. There is a reason almost all code formatting software introduces line breaks.

        Limiting line width accomplishes the same on monitors, that are wider than they are high. Hard-Limiting it ensures the effect is the same regardless of the reader.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Wrapping at column 78

          No, hard-limiting only works if my reader displays using the same font and window width you did.

          If I need a larger or simply wider font, I end up with

          something barely

          readable, instead of letting my text layout engine flow into the window size I have using the font I have chosen.

          Similarly, the main reason for text only is so I choose which font I use to read the message.

          Accessibility, dear.

  2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Imagine getting so worked up about how other people format their emails. Some people clearly have very little to do.

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      It distinguishes the professional from the amateur user. I ignore those amateurs who cannot write a decent text mail.

      1. jmch Silver badge

        You mean *professional* as in people whose job includes, in large part, emailing?? I would say that managerial and marketing types fit exactly into that category (far more so, even, than techies, who surely spend a lower %age of their time on email than management and marketing)

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          And we all know that managerial and marketing types are singularly inept at any form of technology. Give them something and they break it, email being an example.

        2. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Of your two groups, "managerial and marketing" versus "techies", which one generates emails that are destined never to leave the spam folder and which one writes informative messages that are worth looking up in an archive months, years, even decades after they were written?

          From that, which is actually *using* email with an intent to be professional about it and which can be accused of just scribbling?

          1. jmch Silver badge
            Happy

            "which is actually *using* email with an intent to be professional about it and which can be accused of just scribbling?"

            You're talking about amateur vs professional conduct.

            I was referring to amateur vs professional work status.

            In the respective contexts, we are both correct!

      2. John 104

        I'm an IT _professional_ and have been for 24 years and I couldn't be bothered with being a gray beard in email. I'm to busy doing actual work to care.

        This article reeks of the very tech 'superiority' that is a blemish on the majority of professional, NOT arrogant, workers who are there to get work done for the companies they work for and not push their 'insert I'm better than you because you aren't old school cool like me' attitude. Give us a fucking break and go get a real job.

      3. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Do these techies insist on writing and reading documents only in courier?

    2. Andy Non Silver badge

      I just go with the flow nowadays which typically means top posting email (chat type) replies to friends and associates and bottom posting on forums or long technical emails. It seems to be the convention most people I know follow today. I always compose using plain text though.

      1. crg the new one

        Can't use plain text, I challenge anybody to reply to a recruiter in plain text.

        And images... How do you reply in plain text to a recruiter inviting you to apply to a lead developer role paid 45k on the basis that he thinks you're a good fit, and it's an opportunity? You need images for that, words can't express the anger.

        1. jake Silver badge

          "Can't use plain text, I challenge anybody to reply to a recruiter in plain text."

          When I'm wearing my "recruiter" hat, I often specify left-justified plain-text only for CVs and resumes. Especially for more technical positions. Makes for an easy filter ... people who can not (or will not) follow simple instructions get circle-filed/bit-bucketed.

          1. ChoHag Silver badge

            You prefer the TeX source file? I'd have to strip out the comments...

    3. Little Mouse Silver badge

      Before today the Top vs Bottom argument never even touched my radar, despite 35+ years in the industry & 10 years of hobbying prior to that. But a quick Google reveals that this is a topic that is as fiercely fought over as Windows vs Linux, and has been since the dawn of time.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        >> since the dawn of time.

        Or at least, since the endless September. Usenet was another place it mattered to a lot of users.

        1. jake Silver badge

          "Or at least, since the endless September. Usenet was another place it mattered to a lot of users."

          Actually, it was about a year and a half before the start of the Eternal September, when Delphi opened its Usenet gateway to the masses.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "despite 35+ years in the industry"

        In your 35+ did it never occur to you that top posted email thread were harder to follow than, say, elReg threads in which bottom posting is virtually universal (although I have committed a top-posted example below, just to make the point)?

        1. Little Mouse Silver badge

          "did it never occur to you..."

          Many, many, things in IT rankle, niggle &/or rub me up the wrong way. But not many of them merit having righteous sub-cultures fighting their opposing causes in a never-ending war.

          And an aside, forum threads and office email threads are entirely different beasts. Bottom-posting for forum threads like this, to be sure. But if I replied to my bosses emails and hid my text at the "wrong" end, he'd either just assume that I'd sent him a blank reply, or spot my out of time text, shake his head in bewilderment, and tell me not to be an arse.

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          Forum threads and emails are quite different. When I come to this forum for the first time, I haven't read any of this so I want to read from oldest to newest (in thread order). However, in an email thread where I have already read the rest of the messages, I want to see the new stuff. If I need to refresh my memory on something from the archives, I can find the old message I already read in your reply or when it originally showed up. For a lot of lists that trim the replies, as the article suggests, I'm only going to get the new message anyway which works the same as top posting. I even do that in these forums; if I'm returning to a topic that has some new posts but I've already read most of them, I will sometimes change the order to "newest" using the handy selection box at the top of any list of comments so I can quickly read the posts that were added. Of course, if there are a lot of them, this won't work very well. The ideal email setup would be a structured format where I can order messages in whichever order I like so if I want to read only the newest message or the whole thing in chronological order, I just hit a button, but unfortunately our standards haven't gotten over the idea that an email is a single blob and parsing semantics from it is the human's job.

          1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Oi! Split you text up into readable paragraphs.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          nope

          Do what the rest of us do, read them in chronological order. I can keep track of a mult-party email thread just by reading them oldest to newest.

          1. Dizzy Dwarf

            Re: nope

            Only if you have all the email history available. And, even then it's a lot of work.

            Pretend you only have the one email - this is why top-posting is bad.

        4. Ian Johnston Silver badge

          Most of the time I find top posted far easier to read. It gives me the most recent stuff first and makes it easy to read back to a point when I know what's going on.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > this is a topic that is as fiercely fought over as Windows vs Linux, and has been since the dawn of time.

        When it's a slow news week, the new american register likes to dig up old long running usenet arguments and write articles about them so the new generation of IT folk can revive the discussion in the comments section. It's just another form of clickbait and it works.

        1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

          Coming next: One or two spaces after the end of a sentence?

        2. Blogsey
          Trollface

          > the new american register

          We will always have Paris.

    4. This post has been deleted by its author

    5. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Imagine creating an email chain that is comprehensive, comprehensible and worth preserving.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Those were the days.

        I still have my Usenet archives somewhere. I should dig them out; I'm sure they'd be both entertaining and informative. And, of course, Back in the Day you'd encounter a lot of people whom you'd recognize as online personalities or of real-world interest, for one reason or another. Computing pioneers in alt.folkore.computers; well-known technical experts in comp.*; authors you'd read in rec.arts.books. Many, I think most, of us went by our real names back when I was a frequently Usenet contributor, or at least our real-world identities were pretty well-known.

        I don't want to go completely GOML here, but Usenet, for me, was a great improvement over its successors. Maybe something similar can be found on some Mastodon servers these days. I haven't mustered the energy to go looking.

    6. OhForF' Silver badge
      FAIL

      My time is more important than your time

      What kind of person wants to say that, and would you listen to them?

      Seems we found a commentard that wants to send exactly that message.

      "I'm too busy to care - my time is more important."

    7. Bebu Silver badge
      Windows

      Its all about *efficient* communication...

      《Imagine getting so worked up about how other people format their emails. Some people clearly have very little to do.》

      I imagine these "some people" have a great deal too much to do to have their time wasted by top posters etc.

      Once the rationale behind these conventions is understood and adopted email becomes very efficient, in terms of *every* participant's time, means of communication. For many-to-many communication such as mailing lists like the LKML I can not imagine anything that could replace email.

      The fact email exchanges are self documenting gazumps video recordings of the tedious unfocussed blithering that typically comprise exchanges utilizing video conferencing technologies. Fine for managers, sales staff and other unfocussed blitherers as it distracts them from more wreaking even more havoc upon the productive workforce.

      1. dmesg

        Re: Its all about *efficient* communication...

        I love the management types that criticize techies for using email instead of making a phone call. The argument usually boils down to "it's so much more touchy-feely, and besides the other person doesn't have to spend time writing things down if they can just think out loud at you".

        To which I'm about to begin replying: "Are you telling me that you hire college-educated people who can't write?"

        1. Snake Silver badge

          Re: Its all about *efficient* communication...

          Email is simply time inefficient, you must go back-and-forth to hammer out inconsistencies, questions or non-declared specifics. Management does have a point: I can get a multi-point topic answered in an often under-10 minute phone call, whilst I have spent 2 days hashing out the specific details of topics via email.

          Really, when you know the topic needs conversation-level, back and forth-style of communications, pick up the damn phone. If the communication is simply a statement or two and does not need or expect much in the way of a reply, then email (or even SMS text).

          tl;dr: Don't write me a damn book, pick up the phone.

          1. HereIAmJH

            Re: Its all about *efficient* communication...

            Nobody does phone calls anymore. Phone calls are the the ultimate "my time is more important that your time". Drop what you are doing and attend to my needs on a call right now. E-mail was great because it is asynchronous. I can receive your email, continue to focus on my work, and address it when it is convenient to me. Unfortunately, there are people who communicate so poorly that rather than exchange an email or two, we now have Teams or WebEx meetings. That way you can have 20 people sitting around while a couple people ask and answer a few questions.

            Then of course there are the 'instant messengers'. This time Teams and Slack. The first thing new team members are informed is; instant message is about the transport, not my obligation to respond. Again, consideration for those of us whose jobs require more concentration than a dog chasing squirrels. And please, if you're going to write anything beyond a short message, use e-mail so it can be properly formatted. Last of all, if you insist on constantly using @channel and @here for all your slacks, you might consider getting a remote starter for your car. For safety.

            1. Snake Silver badge

              Re: Its all about *efficient* communication...

              "Nobody does phone calls anymore."

              And that's the damn problem. Rather than choose the most efficient method of communication for the individual task - email, phone, chat, or even SMS - people just assume that their desire to not connect with the receiving individual in the personal manner relegates "email" as the default, correct choice.

              It isn't. As I mentioned, email is good for those needing records or memorable details, etc, but without much going back-and-forth to discuss things. In email you don't 'discuss', not in a human-typical time dimension, anyway. Waiting minutes, hours or even DAYS for a reply sometimes works...but, just as often in today's modern world, doesn't.

              There's a reason that teleconferencing apps exist and are doing well. Sometimes you really do need face-to-face interaction, to get instant responses and gestural feedback to ideas - sometimes, a 'gasp!' or quizzical look can stop what would otherwise be a drawn-out conversation in just moments. Not only that, a lot of people do indeed expect that their SMS / texts / emails get rapid responses, just as if I am expected to stop everything and read the damn message (oh boy, does my own mate do that to me sometimes!).

              1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

                Re: Its all about *efficient* communication...

                The thing is, you never know what is going to become "need[ed] records or memorable details" somewhere down the line. Even minuted meetings can become disputed later if (as some employers do) the "official" report gets changed to the benefit of the employer. Contemporaneous records, such as emails, can be very useful.

            2. jake Silver badge

              Re: Its all about *efficient* communication...

              So phone calls are "the ultimate my time is more important", because it "wastes" two people's time ... but Slack/Teams/whatever is more efficient because it wastes the time of twenty or more people? OK. If you say so.

              Personally, I'd rather make a phone call and get 'er done. It's been working for me for over half a century, and no complaints to date.

            3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: Its all about *efficient* communication...

              While I am not a fan of synchronous media, and very much not of interruptions, I do use phone calls (well, Teams calls, because that's the particular hell my employer has chosen this week) at work. I almost never initiate them, but often enough I'm on the receiving end. Generally it's to help investigate a technical problem that resists analysis with a quick back-and-forth by email or chat, where we want to screen-share logs or a debugger session or some such thing; or to discuss some other sort of complex technical issue.

              I take Snake's point that there are use cases where the exchange efficiency of conversation offers significant benefit. And since I work thousands of miles from most of my co-workers, and hundreds from even the closest, some sort of telephone-equivalent technology is the only way to do that.

              Most of our discussions do happen via asynchronous text of one sort or another (email, comments in the review system, chat messages that are treated like email, and so forth), because that alleviates timezone differences, avoids interruption, and provides a durable record – and that last point is hugely important. I keep a lot of old email, going back decades, and probably at least once a week I'm running searches against it and finding some obscure piece of information that someone sent years ago.

              (Voice transcription technology Ain't There Yet, particularly for technical discussions where there are a lot of terms of art, jargon, abbreviations, internal cant, and so forth. And current employer forbids them anyway, possibly for legal reasons – they're hell for discovery, because they add a lot of volume and are very noisy and thus difficult to search.)

          2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

            Re: Its all about *efficient* communication...

            No. Emails provide a searchable and all-but-permanent (if one is sensible about backing up) record of who said what and when. Management wants telephone calls so that there is no record of who said what. I'm currently assisting a person with an employment tribunal in which the employer is getting its arse kicked because the employee kept records almost obsessively.

          3. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

            Re: Its all about *efficient* communication...

            There are circumstances where a phone call is more efficient than e-mail, but they're pretty minimal, and the occasions where they're superior are usually catered for by instant messaging.

            The most common reason is that one of the people can't type at a reasonable speed, which can be an accessibility issue.

            The other reason is that a scheduled call means people are forced to answer in a timely manner. This is not specifically an inherent advantage of a phone call.

            If someone is writing 'a book' then usually by definition it is a topic ill suited for a real time discussion. Lengthy and complex responses are not appropriate for a phone call, as they typically rely on one or more recipients effectively wasting their time whilst responses are outlined, clarified, or investigated.

            E-mail is used for several reasons :

            To provide a record of what was communicated, phone calls being rarely recorded. Which is why even after a phone call no-one with any sense will take actions unless the points are confirmed - in an e-mail.

            It's searchable, and can be categorised

            It can be forwarded

            It is not an instant communication technology, although many people try to use it in that way

            It allows for a considered response that can be reviewed repeatedly by the participants

            It's easy to add attachments, and it's easy to find messages with attachments

            Multi platform, highly accessible with appropriate clients

            ..etc

          4. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Don't write me a damn book, pick up the phone.

            NO NO NO NO NO NO!

            I am having *SO* much trouble getting my mother's late husband's probate sorted because so many people insist on talking to me by phone (often when I'm in the middle of nowhere, or shopping, or trying to get on a bus, or etc etc), so there is *NO* documented documentation trail anywhere. I've been tearing my hair out for months emailing and paper-writing to people trying to get the bastards to actually *WRITE* to me so I have actual RECORDED documentation, but still they insist on phoning me and leaving a "quick update" while I'm on the bog or digging potatoes or admiring some architecture. F*****G WRITE IT DOWN!!!!

            1. ChoHag Silver badge

              Re: Don't write me a damn book, pick up the phone.

              > they insist on phoning me and leaving a "quick update" while I'm on the bog or digging potatoes or admiring some architecture.

              Turn and turn about. Give them an update on the movement.

            2. Dr Paul Taylor

              Re: Don't write me a damn book, pick up the phone.

              The answer to that is to refuse to give out your phone number, especially mobile.

              Unfortunately, so many web forms make it a "required" field and don't accept "0".

              Then people really think your phone number is 09876543210

              1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
                Coat

                Re: Don't write me a damn book, pick up the phone.

                Wow. What a coincidence!

                Mine is 01234567890

          5. mpi Silver badge

            Re: Its all about *efficient* communication...

            > I can get a multi-point topic answered in an often under-10 minute phone call

            Or I can spend 20 minutes trying to help the other person to find line 1442-1474 in the log, and understand why they show that his frontend sends the wrong key.

            "No, line 1442. 1-4-4-2. Okay, now, do you see where it says `entry_guid`? No, not that. It is there. Yes it is. Because I'm looking at it. *sigh* okay, can you tell me the timestamp? It's the thing at the beginning of the line. Okay, yeah I'll wait. Yes I know, this happens if you use notepad instead of a real editor. Sure, I'll wait. No worries, take your time and scroll back. It was 1442. 1-4-4-2. LINE 1 4 4 2!! Wait, can you tell me the filename?

            Or I could not waste that amount of time, and write an email, with the text I am talking about and mark it for the readers convenience.

          6. Ian Johnston Silver badge

            Re: Its all about *efficient* communication...

            tl;dr: Don't write me a damn book, pick up the phone.

            You're asking techies to interact in a human to human way? Good luck with that.

          7. nijam Silver badge

            Re: Its all about *efficient* communication...

            > tl;dr: Don't write me a damn book, pick up the phone.

            tl;dr. Hang up the phone, forget what the jobsworth waffler said, get on with actual work.

        2. Tim99 Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Its all about *efficient* communication...

          Many, many, years ago on a public sector senior management course I was told that a prime purpose of paper in an organization (including emails) was as a weapon - It could be an offensive weapon, but often a defensive weapon (arse-covering).

          For tricky cases (plausible deniability) use the phone...

    8. mpi Silver badge

      about how other people format their emails

      I don't give a damn about how anyone formats their email ... right up to the point where I have to read those emails.

      If someone mails me an allegend bug they think they found, and they copypasta the code into their goddamn RTF mail-client, then my work gets harder than it has to be. Because, instead of getting to read code, I now get presented with something that looks like a printing press exploded.

      The same is true for any number of things that are really easy to do in plain text, and turn out to be horrible the first time 2 mail-programs disagree on how to display something. Just because it looked pretty and easy on the eyes in one mail client, doesn't mean it will in another one.

      My favorite example are giant floating images in the text, which may have been autoformatted into a thumbnail in someone elses client, but in mine load into their full 2000x4000px glory. In a plain-text mail, that's an attachment. If I want to refer to it in the text I can just put in "as seen in img1.png". I also don't want someones idea of how to mark text using colors, different fonts, or god-forbid a combination of the two. My mailclient is not someones canvas.

      Using text-only mails prevents all these issues. The formatting is universal. The information density is high. There are no disagreements how to render it. I can download and store the email as text. It is efficient, it is professional. I don't care how people format their mails. I care very much how professionally people communicate to me, when I have to invest time to digest their written communications.

    9. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Imagine getting so worked up about something you supposedly think is stupid that you read an entire article about it, then comment on such.

      1. jake Silver badge

        "Imagine getting so worked up about something you supposedly think is stupid that you read an entire article about it, then comment on such."

        Imagine the need to comment on such a comment.

        It's turtles all the way down!

  3. AJ MacLeod

    An excellent article with which I fully agree. Unfortunately I almost didn't read it because of the sickeningly clickbait style headline; generally I deliberately ignore articles with that style of title.

    One thing that frequently irritates me when dealing with the general public by email is the number of people who reply to my plain text emails saying "sorry, your email was blank, can you send it again?" (Naturally quoting my original message below their own!) These are almost always people using the abominable Outlook mobile app... can it really not display plain text email? Perhaps there is just a particular range of versions that can't, but this kind of almost deliberate incompetence sums up why nobody should use a Microsoft email client.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      ""sorry, your email was blank, can you send it again?""

      I suffer the reverse problem.

      IME most emailers sending HTML send it multi-part with a plain text version. Seamonkey (and probably TBird as well) allows Original HTML, Simple HTML and Plain Text as view modes and this switches the part which is displayed annd, if relevant, sanitises the HTML. I have one correspondent whose emailer seems to send HTML and another who sometimes sends emails with images embedded in the HTML version instead of as attachments. In the firs case the message is blank and in the other the "attached" images are invisible when set to plain text.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Oops. That should have been "emailer seems to send only the HTML".

        That correspondent is a member of my local history group. I have an email address which is the end-point for our web site's Contact page and often forward the emails to the rest of the group. Recently I've had problems with members not being able to see the forwarded emails when they're ,eml attachments. Mail for Windows strikes again?

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge
          Facepalm

          > "emailer seems to send only the HTML"

          My worst offender is a techie! Or sort of. He has carefully set up a PHP script that takes his plain-text, one-liner messages and converts them into weird HTML, with absolutely no attempt at creating a proper multi-part email!

          Hint: if you decide to do this and don't want to risk the recipient face-palming, make sure that the HTML comments don't identify the script and version of PHP that was running it!

      2. that one in the corner Silver badge

        > IME most emailers sending HTML send it multi-part with a plain text version

        A few years back, I would have agreed - *but* nowadays I am receiving fewer and fewer properly multi-part emails, forcing the client to put up a bold statement "*Extracted from HTML Portion of Message:* " followed by a good attempt at extracting a readable extract.

        Even though it does a good job (veering towards showing me lumps of weird stuff embedded in the HTML rather than risk not showing anything useful) I have here an email whose *entire* readable extraction, following the bolded warning, is (minus the greater-than character)

        > giffgaff

        And I kinda got that much from just the "from" (as well as the "to" 'cos one email per company-likely-to-leak-your-info-one-day)! Save the HTML and read it - yes, that is the *entire* content of the HTML! The rest is all images and redirects to gawd knows where.

        Aaaargh.

    2. PRR Bronze badge

      > almost didn't read it because of the sickeningly clickbait style headline; generally I deliberately ignore articles with that style of title.

      Wise up.

      This is The Register. Not The Sun, Yahoo News, Bloomberg, or CNET.

      When The Register uses clickbait titles it is irony or lame humor. The Reg's editors know we know clickbaitery and don't seriously try to hooker us.

      1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        [Author here]

        > When The Register uses clickbait titles it is irony or lame humor.

        Exactly! It was a joke. Quite possibly a lame one, but a joke all the same.

        1. Hans 1
          Thumb Up

          The exact reason why you guyz are still around - you make very good ones and sometimes bad ones, but at least we het one each time.

          The thing I do not understand, is how a gold badge does not know this ...

          There is an angle you forgot, here, which is the need to adapt to the person your are writing to. MBA's typically would not understand a properly unformatted email with a reply below and would probably mark it as spam - if you need to communicate with them, you have to adhere to their rules ... I learned that a decade or two ago ... when I write to techies, I usually append some silly thing at the end, such as _Sent from my CPC 128_

      2. AJ MacLeod

        Five or ten years ago maybe I would have assumed that but not now that the Reg has been so thoroughly Americanised.

  4. jake Silver badge

    Next story: Proper use of CR, CR/LF & LF (and other whitespace) ...

    ... and why ElReg's forums are b0Rken.

    1. Bebu Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Next story: Proper use of CR, CR/LF & LF (and other whitespace) ...

      I recall a comment by Marcus J Ranum in the source code of smtp proxy (smap.c?) component of the TIS firewall toolkit (fwtk) concerning the standard (rfc822?) requiring the each line of the smtp dialogue to be terminated with CRLF.

      His pithy comment above the code that accepted just a LF (or CR?) was to the effect "you can be right or you can work."

      That was a very long time ago...

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: Next story: Proper use of CR, CR/LF & LF (and other whitespace) ...

        His pithy comment above the code that accepted just a LF (or CR?) was to the effect "you can be right or you can work."

        Postel's Law: Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept

        Always good advice, although the latter part can get stretched to breaking point at times.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Next story: Proper use of CR, CR/LF & LF (and other whitespace) ...

          That's Jon Postel's Interoperability Principle, not "Law". And "interoperability" is in the name for good reason: it's excellent advice for interoperability, and terrible advice for security.

          Like most things, it's a trade-off.

    2. sabroni Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Next story: Proper use of CR, CR/LF & LF (and other whitespace) ...

      Proper use is CR moves the print head to the start of the line, LF moves the paper up a line. If you're using them to drive a display that's not "proper", right?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Next story: Proper use of CR, CR/LF & LF (and other whitespace) ...

        "If you're using them to drive a display that's not "proper", right?"

        They are non-printing characters that signify an aspect of cursor positioning and are handled by the computer the same way the printed characters are[0]. So yes, they are indeed a part of display.

        [0] Yes, I know that different terminals may have different capabilities. That's orthogonal to, but related to what we are discussing.

  5. IGotOut Silver badge

    I'm sorry...

    ...but that article has far to many links and formatting issues. It just made me look at it and go, nope, not reading.

    If you want emails to look professional, just learn the basics of typography.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm sorry...

      > it just made me look at it and go, nope, not reading.

      *Clearly* you didn't read it

      > If you want emails to look professional, just learn the basics of typography.

      You *REALLY* didn't read it, did you?!

      Typography is at the far, _far_, *far* end of the spectrum from good old plain text emails!

      1. ChoHag Silver badge

        Re: I'm sorry...

        Possibly whoosh. Possibly not.

        The whole point of this story is describing how to stop people from dismissing your crappy email at a glance without reading it.

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Worst ever example of marketroid mail

    An email where the entire content was an image of text. What made this even worse is that it came from some branch of the Co-op with all its supposed ethical values. I replied to point out that this discriminated against those whose poor eyesight required them to use a text to speech screen reader.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Worst ever example of marketroid mail

      I have Thunderbird set to block external content by default, so a lot of marketing emails are mostly blank spaces where images with text would go.

      In the bin for them.

      WTF are they doing about disabled access?

      Another gripe are folks who quote the message and it includes original attachments, often of several MB, that are not in any sense needed.

      1. alain williams Silver badge

        Re: Worst ever example of marketroid mail

        Another gripe are folks who quote the message and it includes original attachments, often of several MB, that are not in any sense needed.

        Many of the attachments did not need to be sent in the first place. I do not care about their poxy corporate logo or motto of the week. Often these images are huge (measured in bytes) and it would take a few moments to produce the same at 1/10 the size -- but this sort of thing is done by marketing droids, trying to get them to understand such concepts is well neigh impossible.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Worst ever example of marketroid mail

          Some of us who do know better are still forced to include images in our signature. Some yes are even forced to use HTML for composition in our mail clients. There was a meeting for these very items. C-level knows best!

  7. xyz Silver badge

    Can the author please confirm...

    That he/she wears an easily identifiable item when entering public spaces so avoidance actions can be undertaken from at least 50m.

    Last time I had so much "fun" was reading RFC 282.... and I got paid for that.

    You may down vote at will mes amis (plural masculine; I checked in case pedantic Linuxeers are about. ) :-)

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Can the author please confirm...

      with you.

      email correspondence

      have to enter

      hope I never

      and I

      Happy to oblige

      "You may down vote at will"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Can the author please confirm...

      > in case pedantic Linuxeers are about.

      That is Penguinistas, _if_ you don't mind.

    3. Arthur the cat Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Can the author please confirm...

      in case pedantic Linuxeers are about.

      Pedantic FreeBSD user here. Beware, we use daemons, not penguins.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Can the author please confirm...

        When done right, Beastie and Penguins are inherently compatible.

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: Can the author please confirm...

          Ooh! Is this an opportunity to complain about poettering?

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Can the author please confirm...

            "Is this an opportunity to complain about poettering?"

            Not unless you think "done right" includes his trash, in which case I'll happily point out the flaws in your reasoning. (No point in me complaining about the trash piling up when it's so easy to throw it into the bin and be done with it.)

  8. Andy 73 Silver badge

    Hmmmm...

    Since the people who dole out the jobs and the money tend not to be Linux greybeards, I'm not sure how useful this article is.

    Now, if you're hoping to get your fix into the next release of <insert worthy distribution here>, then impressing Linux greybeards is probably a good idea.

    As it is - context is king. If I get an email from someone in HTML, with a long slew of history attached, I'll top post and keep it simple. If it's someone discussing a technical subject in detail, I'll trim and reply inline.

    As a famous aristocrat once said - the height of good manners isn't following etiquette, it's making the other fellow feel comfortable.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Hmmmm...

      "context is king"

      Yes. And top-posting is a great destroyer of context.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Hmmmm...

        Top posting is how it is now

        The ship has sailed

        People know to get the story so far to go down and read upwards.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hmmmm...

          "People know to get the story so far to go down and read upwards."

          So why won't Outlook (who perpetrate this horror) provide a preview pane that automatically scrolls down to the bottom first, instead of showing the same first few damn lines in every single one of the emails from that chain?

          1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

            Re: Hmmmm...

            Let's say I get added to a chain sent to a group (> 1 receiver plus me) that has >= 3 messages (more like 5), top-posted. The first time I receive, I read bottom-up.

            For any additional replies, if the *new* content is at the top, the Outlook preview shows me what I need. An "auto-scroll to bottom" would be redundant if I already read the chain's history.

            I would prefer a "scroll to bottom" button over making it automatic.

            (If using the Preview pane, Ctrl-End may go to the end of the message list unless I click in the Preview pane first. If I wanted extra clicks, I'd open the message as a separate window. Plus, I don't like going between mouse/trackball and keyboard too much, especially for a two-hand key combo like that. And yes, I need two hands because I need "Fn" on this laptop to enable "End" instead of F12, since I prefer having Fn locked to enable full-time F# keys, particularly F2 in Excel, instead of mostly-useless multimedia functions. I'll admit I can turn off NumLock and have navigation keys on the number pad, or use a separate keyboard, but either is actually more hassle for me than using Fn for Home and End, and the other four navigation functions -- PgUp, PgDn, insert, delete -- have their own keys outside the number pad.)

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: Hmmmm...

            More to the point, why doesn't Outlook provide the option to read the thread in the correct order?

            Digging through my various Manuals of Style, NOWHERE is it suggested that one should read a message thread from the bottom-up in English ... in fact, a chronological order, oldest first, top to bottom is suggested for the sake of readability, and ease of parsing.

            From that, it is suggested that judicious snipping is a good idea when threads get long and unwieldy.

            But no, Microsoft knows better.

            Thank gawd/ess for bozo filters.

            1. captain veg Silver badge

              Re: Hmmmm...

              > But no, Microsoft knows better.

              The trouble is that many (most?) ordinary mortals *don't* know any better. Their first, and possibly only, exposure to email came courtesy of Microsoft.

              -A.

            2. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: Hmmmm...

              "More to the point, why doesn't Outlook provide the option to read the thread in the correct order?"

              Because email is not a structured format. Yes, they could take a guess at it and try to reorder the message. However, it won't always work. For example, for the various clients that append the older message to the new one, the dividing line can look like anything. I remember seeing the following dividing lines:

              ----- Original message -----

              On Tues, 22 Aug 2023 12:34:56, somebody <somebody@example.com> wrote:

              In response to: [lots of headers for this one for some reason]

              Re: [subject] [nothing else, really I have seen it]

              As well as translations of those lines into several languages, which I have also seen. By far the largest group of those are the ones that have the date because you have every combination of language and date format to choose from. Any client that tries to split up a message on those lines will eventually fail to find one of them. The other problem is that a lot of clients don't append the whole thread, and that's before you introduce automatic mail handling software which almost certainly won't. If a certain email only includes the last three messages from the thread, reading it in oldest-to-newest order won't give you the whole thread because you'll need the earliest message, but for space or organization, they will have cut it off. Someone may also reply to any part of the thread. This should be obvious from the posts here, where our nested thread interface tracks which reply button someone pushed but means that responses to the top level aren't always near the thing they're responding to because we're effectively doing a depth-first read. If someone deletes a comment in the middle of that, that branch of the tree can stop making sense. Mailing lists often keep online archives in part because it is the way to ensure you find the old messages if you need them.

              We could make a new format for the contents of email to change this, but while we leave it as a single blob of text in which any program can paste whatever it likes, we won't be able to change the format when the source may have been generated by any program in whatever way it wanted to.

            3. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

              Re: Hmmmm...

              [Author here]

              > More to the point, why doesn't Outlook provide the option to read the thread in the correct order?

              This is a key point.

              If someone had taken the time and effort to write an _intelligent_ email client, it should be easy and straightforward to write a client that can identify who said what, when in the thread, and offer the user the option of rearranging it, top-to-bottom as Hopper and McCarthy intended, or bottom-to-stop, or in a blasted animated comic strip if that's what is needed.

              It would be _intelligent_ use of formatting and indexing.

              But no. The people who designed these broken clients are not that smart, and their software is far less intelligent than they are.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Hmmmm...

            Because Outlook is shite.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Hmmmm...

      "As a famous aristocrat once said - the height of good manners isn't following etiquette, it's making the other fellow feel comfortable."

      Knowing how to do that already elevates you massively above the "other fellow" because the "other fellow" either doesn't care has no inkling of whether or not he's making *you* uncomfortable in the first place. So, yes, good manners to fit in with how he operates, but where are *his* manners in trying to fit in with how *you* operate?

      IMO, the height of good manners is to accommodate the other person but also to educate them so others don't have to fit around their quaint eccentricities every time.

      1. ChoHag Silver badge

        Re: Hmmmm...

        > the height of good manners is to ... educate them

        I would like to inform you that that's mansplaining and why you shouldn't do it, but that would be mansplaining.

    3. mpi Silver badge

      Re: Hmmmm...

      > the height of good manners isn't following etiquette, it's making the other fellow feel comfortable.

      The problem starts when someone elses comfort gets in the way of getting the job done efficiently.

      I'm sure they feel comfortable in their RTF client. You know who doesn't feel comfortable however? The guy who gets sent a logfile-section copypasted, in Times New Roman and with no linebreaks, because the other persons "comfortable" mail client unfortunately didn't understand linebreaks.

      You know who else doesn't feel comfortable? The guy who gets a mail with 10 floating-text full-sized screenshots, instead of a couple of attachments he could easily download.

  9. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    reshuffle

    The worst thing to happen top email recently is yahoo, outlook , and probably others trying to re-order the mails into a "conversation"

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: reshuffle

      Any good email client does this based on the Message-ID and In-Reply-To lines of the header. Email service providers are apt to break that.

      One correspondent's emails have recently had the Message-IDs appear with a comment after them to say that it was added by BT Internet. This confuses the client which wasn't expecting it. Someone hasn't read the RFCs, assuming they didn't know they existed. The contents of the line should be ID and nothing else:

      The "Message-ID:" field contains a single unique message identifier.

      and although there seems to be some debate about this it's generally accepted that if the client hasn't provided a Message-ID it's a good idea to add one so they shouldn't need to draw attention to the fact that they have done:

      The following changes to a message being processed MAY be applied when necessary by an originating SMTP server, or one used as the target of SMTP as an initial posting (message submission) protocol:

      o Addition of a message-id field when none appears

      Also the Hotmail/Live/Outlook/${Whatever Microsoft brands it as this week} will replace a client-provided Message-ID with their own. The above RFC continues:

      The less information the server has about the client, the less likely these changes are to be correct and the more caution and conservatism should be applied when considering whether or not to perform fixes and how.

      To be fair to Microsoft (a phrase for which I don't find frequent use) they are in something of a cleft stick here as they may find it difficult to trust the client to generate a unique ID but there's no way for the client to know what the server munged the original into. It certainly breaks threading. Perhaps the best solution would be for a client to BCC a copy to itself and use that, when received, in place of its own copy.

    2. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

      Re: reshuffle

      It really isn't - I haven't used Thunderbird for some time, but probably will start doing so once I move e-mail provider, it made quite a good job at it.

      Unfortunately Outlook's implementation is poor, because 'conversations' are not properly threaded, especially when parts of the e-mail trail include different participants to other parts. It also means attachments do not show as present in the trail unless the whole trail is expanded and navigated, a real issue.

  10. Number 39

    Trimming also reduces the risk of someone being added to a multi recipient message and seeing something they're not intended to that was forgotten in an earlier message.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      I've had emails where the inadvertently quoted correspondence included a remark (between two other parties) to the effect that I had somehow become aware of some secret information, which was embarrassing for them.

      The source of the leak was an equally unwisely quoted email between the same two people, earlier in the thread.

      Is there an email client out there that is *so* broken that it automatically quotes all previous correspondence to everyone else *but also* automatically hides such quotes from its own end-user? I ask because that might explain how my correspondents were quite so clueless, without requiring them to be complete idiots.

      1. DJV Silver badge

        Is there an email client out there that is *so* broken

        Apple Mail

        1. Tim99 Silver badge
          Linux

          Re: Is there an email client out there that is *so* broken

          If you think that, it is possible that you may not have RTFM. My iMac is set up to always reply in plain text and only quote what I choose. Composing mail on an iPad though, can be "challenging" - I sometimes use a plain text editor to copy/paste and tidy up before sending...

    2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      If you highlight/select some of the message, i.e. the bit of interest, in Thunderbird then when you click on "Reply" or "Reply All" it quotes just that bit. Handy.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        You mean there are clients that don't do that? That sounds like every other email client I ever used.

        (No, I've not really used console based mail clients :-)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Now the fetish for using the phone is explained

    Because the younger generation aren't going to read the rules around emails, let alone follow them.

    Suits me, it's another easy way to filter out the thick.

  12. alain williams Silver badge

    Which question did you answer ?

    Another annoyance is receiving a top posted reply "yes" to a message with several questions. Which of those questions is that a reply to ?

    When I receive one like this I will ask them which question they are replying to. Generally they will fail to understand why I am asking the question since they knew which one they answered and surely I should also know. I have lost count of the number of times that I have told people that I cannot see the inside of their head.

    The inability of some people to empathize (or maybe just not care) is the cause of many of the world's problems.

    1. Victor Ludorum

      Re: Which question did you answer ?

      Going OT for a bit...

      It's a bit like certain drivers not using their indicators (blinkers). I think they assume that you are telepathic and automatically know which way they want to go. They think they don't need to use their indicators because they already know where they're going...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Which question did you answer ?

        to not signal for a lane change or a turn is an example of laziness and disregard

        *1 demerit for OT* ...now let's keep things on topic from here on out citizen

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Which question did you answer ?

          > *1 demerit for OT*

          That is hardly fair - he *did* signal before changing lane!

      2. Tim99 Silver badge

        Re: Which question did you answer ?

        The apocryphal story about the posh elderly lady RR driver in a local village turning right without indicating and being struck by an oncoming vehicle saying to the local constable "But everybody knows I always turn right there.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Which question did you answer ?

      "When I receive one like this I will ask them which question they are replying to."

      I will reply in a manner that indicates I think they replied "yes" to all of the questions, which then elicits the usual confused query, at which point I quote my questions and their reply back to them, Sometimes, they get the point.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Which question did you answer ?

      It has been my experience for at least the last 5 years now that people aren't reading the email entirely before they respond. Their responses are often not intelligent or even comprehensible sometimes. It really seems they scan rather than email. I have had people get belligerent in their response because they noticed a specific word or phrase and didn't read my email completely. Some people really do need 7 views before they "get it".

  13. imanidiot Silver badge

    I don't care

    I really don't give 2 shits. I don't "do" mailing lists anymore. If I did I'd be bottom posting on those. In my daily role as an engineer? Seldom do I need to get involved in a long email thread and read up on previous history. If I do I scroll down and read bottom message up. It's really not that much slower. Once caught up I either get involved enough to say up to date with messages and not need any context that bottom posting would provide OR I fire of a once off reply (top posted of course because I'm not an anorak) and let the whole thing fade from memory.

    I don't have the time, energy or will to debate or change anything with regards to top posting. Since it's the norm with every single email communication I've been involved in in my professional life, I don't care. When on BBs or other media that have bottom posting as etiquette, that's what I'll do and not give it another thought.

    1. ChoHag Silver badge

      Re: I don't care

      Are you suggesting that you should try to fit in with the communication norms of the people with which you're communicating?

      Even if the tool they use to do it happened to be used once for some particular thing that your ego is in some way wrapped up in?

      That's crazy talk.

  14. heyrick Silver badge

    It's annoying how much I have to fight generic mail software in order to have in-line context quoting, like we used to with Fidonet and even the little mailer written in BASIC that ran on a BBC Micro.

    What's so hard about adding a '>' to the left and then dropping the previous message into the editor so it can be trimmed as needed? I mean, whoever thought that just dumping an entire copy at the top/bottom was a good idea, given that if people quote entire messages all that signature and disclaimer rubbish mounts up)

  15. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Devil

    Newsflash!

    Old Man Washed Out to Sea While Quixotically Battling the Tide

  16. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Particularly annoying as all Da Yuff are using things like WotsApp where the message direction *is* downwards. You'd think that havening managed to learn to read sufficiently to using written communication they'd have noticed that time's arrow goes downwards in written media.

  17. Joe Gurman

    And somehow….

    …. Eudora is not even mentioned.

    A Microsoft mail client for the Mac before Outlook? Who needed it?

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: And somehow….

      [Author here]

      > …. Eudora is not even mentioned.

      I had it. I used it. And it was on Windows, too. And Pegasus email, too.

      I started out (meaning, my own paid-for address, on my own paid-for account) on Matrix for DOS, the first shareware program I ever registered.

      They all did quoting just fine.

      The point here is this: it is not relevant to the timeline. It doesn't change the story.

      The reason it didn't is that Eudora, and Pegasus, and Matrix, and the DEC mail client I used in the 1980s, all did proper quoting. Their existence didn't shift the date of quoting going pear-shaped.

      The relevance of Mac OS _not_ having one, and of Microsoft's early ineffectual flailing, is that it demonstrates that these companies did not regard email as a critical tool. Their early OSes didn't include the functionality at all.

      That tells us that they didn't use it heavily. Apple because it was a single-site company, by and large, and people presumably just talked face-to-face in person. It had networking nearly a decade before Windows did; Apple knew that was important, but even so, not that email was.

      *However* C21 Apple was run by NeXT management, and NeXT knew its importance fine. NeXTstep 0.8 in 1988 included an email client and it still does. Every new  NeXTstation came with a welcome email from Steve Jobs in its inbox. NeXT/Apple mail can quote fine, if you know the incantations. NeXTstep was based on Unix and Unix does this right. That's the point here.

      Microsoft, even thought it got big early on, even though it worked with PC vendors all over the world, didn't know email was important. That's why it didn't even write its own. It bought one in, and it was Mac-only. It flopped. It sold it off, and bought a different one, a Windows one. That flopped too, so it started bundling it, and it still flopped, because it didn't talk to the internet. Not in WfWg 3.1, not in WfWg 3.11, not in Win95.

      It didn't realise the internet mattered. _The Road Ahead_ showed that the big boss, the visionary, didn't know the Internet mattered, in 1995, when the Web was 4 and Netscape was getting big, when AOL and Compuserve were getting huge, _even though their clients were bundled with Win95!_

      The point of discussing what was bundled when shows the lack of focus and the lack of understanding.

      Only in the 1997 era of Exchange Server did it finally start to realise, and even Exchange could not retrieve mail over POP3 or IMAP. They thought only big enterprises with leased lines wanted email.

      The point here is simple: MICROSOFT DID NOT GET IT. It did not know what it needed, it didn't write it, it acquired it and didn't know what functionality was important.

      The result was broken clients that can't support Internet standards. Not just for sending or receiving, but for composing and replying.

      And the result broke email.

      The fact that earlier compliant clients were available as bolt-ons is irrelevant to this.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: And somehow….

        "The result was broken clients that can't support Internet standards."

        Remember "The Browser Wars"?

        While it's painfully clear that Microsoft didn't get the internet, their behaviour once they finally realised it was a thing seems to have been along the lines of "we're a juggernaut and the standard is what we say it is".

        We're all poorer for it.

      2. Tim99 Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: And somehow….

        It is possible that your are ignoring MS historic tendency to deliberate bastardry and their standard reply of "Why aren't you using our software? - It's what everybody else is using. These days it doesn't work as well for them with a widespread adoption of mobile phones and webmail.

  18. ChoHag Silver badge

    RE: IBM shows off its sense of humor in not-so-funny letter leak

    Because it winds up the linux nerds.

    > Why is top-posting more fun?

    Thanks guys, it's been great.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: RE: IBM shows off its sense of humor in not-so-funny letter leak

      Unclear on the concept? Or just confused?

  19. Mr Dogshit
    WTF?

    Oh boy

    Epic diatribe from the beards and sandals brigade.

    If you want to compose your emails using vi, be my guest, but the rest of us don't live in 1995.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Oh boy

      I compose most of my email on a 1988 keyboard (Model M) with the editor (vi) that allows me to transfer my thoughts from brain to ASCII faster and with fewer errors than any other combination I've ever tried. And I can assure you that I've tried almost all of them. Somehow you have an issue with this?

      I think I'm OK with you having issues, so I'll carry on.

    2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Oh boy

      [Author here]

      > the rest of us don't live in 1995.

      Translation:

      "Although I've had 28 years, I have not been able to learn this simple task, and I am proud of my inability to do it."

      Weird flex, but you do you, dude.

      1. collinsl

        Re: Oh boy

        One of "the yoof" here.

        Until your article today I had no idea this was a thing. It's not like we were issued with instruction manuals of how to use the internet.

        I've grown up using Outlook in a corporate setting (students didn't have email in school when I was there in the early 2000s) so I'm used to replies going above the previous mail, and using RTF or HTML emails.

        It's unfortunate that a lot of young people don't know about this, but I don't see how we get the blame for not being told how to do it.

      2. Mr Dogshit

        Re: Oh boy

        You are Richard Stallman, and I claim my five pounds.

      3. imanidiot Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Oh boy

        Alternatively:

        "It's been 28 years for me to learn and adapt my way of working, but I refuse to do so and I'm proud of my inability to adjust"

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    While I Agree With Most Of Liam's Article........................

    ...............I wonder if "the format" might just be getting in the way of "the message"?

    Someone who knows nothing about "the format" may still have something useful to say.....

    An analogy -- in the past, speech in a "regional accent" was ignored in favour of "BBC English"...............

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: While I Agree With Most Of Liam's Article........................

      "Someone who knows nothing about "the format" may still have something useful to say....."

      Perhaps. And perhaps they will get paid attention to once they learn the vernacular. Smart people figure it out pretty quickly. Not so smart people ... well, you know.

      "An analogy -- in the past, speech in a "regional accent" was ignored in favour of "BBC English"..............."

      Would you expect a "British Regional Accent" to be understood, automatically, by all English speakers world-wide? How about the BBC announcer?

  21. that one in the corner Silver badge

    I blame the Modern Web

    Back in the 90's, working in tech companies and University, we had little things called "web servers".

    When we wanted to let somebody read complicated materials, with lots of images (graphs) and tables of data, or just carefully formatted text, we would use whatever tools made sense (web designers, gnuplot, LaTeX, hand coded HTML) and put everything onto one or more web pages. Then send a simple email with the URL (yes, as required, access control was set up - but given that sending an email is as private as a postcard...)

    If anyone in the email conversation wanted to access the raw data, we could make the graph an anchor for (another page with) that file (and the plot scripts). No need to drop that into the email and see it (accidentally) resent to everyone.

    Nowadays, the mail clients provide the HTML editing for you - but then all of that, formatted, gets sent inside the email. Anyone asks for the raw data - everybody on the whole chain gets the entire back, now with an another attachment, and everyone's mail box fills up whilst the web server languishes, forgotten.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: I blame the Modern Web

      From an archiving and back-up perspective I'm usually happier that I have things stored locally (and backed up independantly) than having to rely on links to an external webserver that might suddenly and unexpectedly go up in smoke (figuratively or literally).

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surprised no one has mentioned Email Subject Lines. This annoys me more than formatting. So many emails have completely irrelevant subject lines that give no hint of what the content might be. And the worst for me is when some f*kwit replies or forwards a months or years old email with the original subject line that has absolutely nothing to do with the new subject matter. I WOULD hit these people if they were physically reachable.

    1. wegie

      ...the worst for me is when some f*kwit replies or forwards a months or years old email with the original subject line that has absolutely nothing to do with the new subject matter. I WOULD hit these people if they were physically reachable.

      Ah. I see you have corresponded with my husband.

      Please feel free to repeatedly hit him as hard as you can with as many cluebats as you can find.

      And yes, he's a top poster who responds with "yes" to multi-part questions.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Or email messages, or, say, Reg forum posts, with empty subject lines. Madness!

      1. jake Silver badge

        ElReg doesn't have Subject: lines.

        It has Title lines.

        And yes, in my mind this is very, very wrong.

      2. Robert D Bank

        Glad you appreciate the irony hahaha!

    3. Tim99 Silver badge
      Unhappy

      My favourite</sarcasm> subject line reply is "Re: " - Often expanded in the thread to "Re: Re:"

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > Hakuna Muttata, one might say.

    Only if one didn't speak kiswahili.

    "Don't have mutts"

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      [Author here]

      > Only if one didn't speak kiswahili.

      Jambo jambo! Habari ya mchana?

      I enjoyed this comment, but I confess, I do _not_ speak kiSwahili. I grew up in Nigeria, which has about 500 indigenous languages, and all I know is a few phrases of Uhrobo. (We moved a lot.) So, wrong coast for kiSwahili: west, not east. The lingua franca in West Africa is English.

      It might amuse you to know that a few years ago, hiking on a wine trail in southern Moravia, I saw a chap with a T-shirt that said "Jambo mzungu!"

      I am willing to bet I was the only person of the few tens of thousands at the event who could understand the shirt, and I am not sure that the man wearing it could.

      (It roughly means "Hi, whitey!" or "Hello, white man!")

  24. Philo T Farnsworth

    I thought I was the last. . .

    . . . remaining human to use what I've always called USENET-style quoting, since that's where I learned it.

    Even the computer science professionals with whom I work all use "top-posting" style.

    Of course, I'm probably one of the last remaining humans to use BSD mailx as my MUA, mostly because I'm stubborn enough to run my own mail server and don't rely on "new fangled geegaws" like GMail or some other webmail service, being of the old school that believes any system without a power cord within easy reach is not to be fully trusted.

    But that's obviously just me and I don't get worked up about it.

    <peeve_mode>

    My own emai pet peeve, which might be covered above, since I haven't read all the comments, is when someone pulls an old email with an old subject line and content and "replies" to it with an entirely new thread. I understand being busy and maybe not having time to look up an address in a contacts list to start a new email chain but *at least* change the subject line and elide all the irrelevant junk. How difficult is that?

    </peeve_mode>

    Even worse is a forwarded email chain where I'm supposed to figure out what is being discussed by reading call and response sixteen levels deep. But that's probably another peeve for another day.

    No, no, no, nurse, I'm okay. . . perfectly calm. No, you don't need to call the orderly. I'll just close the laptop and. . .

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: I thought I was the last. . .

      Even the computer science professionals with whom I work all use "top-posting" style.

      What can anyone do? This war is over. Nobody rational is going to use a different posting style to the rest of the organisation.

      1. mpi Silver badge

        Re: I thought I was the last. . .

        > Nobody rational is going to use a different posting style to the rest of the organisation.

        I do not feel particularly irrational to be honest ;-)

        My desktop install of the orgs mailsoftware is configured not to include the conversation in my reply. The software is smart enough to figure out conversations by the subject line and timestamp, so why should I burden the mailserver with pointless info?

        I am also writing plaintext emails.

  25. Kurgan
    Unhappy

    Sadly it's too late - proper email etiquette has died

    Email has died, killed by outlook, like linux is dying, killed by systemd.

    Real sysadmins are dying, killed by the "sudo nano" folks.

    Technical information is dead, killed by youtube videos of 10 minutes that could have been 20 rows of text.

    We are people of the past, loving a past that will never come back.

    1. mpi Silver badge

      Re: Sadly it's too late - proper email etiquette has died

      Please read this...

      https://www.reddit.com/r/archlinux/comments/4lzxs3/comment/d3rhxlc/

      ...and then explain how systemd killed Linux. The quintessence of the post is this:

      What most systemd critics consider "bloat", I consider necessary complexity to solve a complex problem generically. You can say what you want about Poettering, but he actually realized what the problems with system initialization were and provided a working solution.

  26. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Hey, let's argue about "original"!

    USENET news, the original pre-web social network

    Um ... USENET was launched in 1980. BBSes arrived on the scene at least seven years prior to that, with Community Memory. USENET has many advantages over BBSes, but BBSes were definitely multi-user public-messaging services that were used for a wide range of communication. I don't think you can reasonably argue they were qualitatively different, as social networks, from today's Facebook and the like. Just better.

    No doubt someone can make an argument for an online (in some sense) "social network" earlier than that.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Hey, let's argue about "original"!

      [Author here]

      > BBSes arrived on the scene at least seven years prior to that

      OK, yes, but with two important caveats.

      [1]

      They were much bigger in the USA than where I grew up in Europe, because Americans had free local calls but Europeans paid by the minute for them.

      [2]

      Mostly, BBSs were standalone and local things. You couldn't talk to people on _other_ BBSes.

      The big services, like Compu$erve and AOL, let you talk to lots of other people in wide communities, but the smaller ones mostly didn't.

      Yes, I do know about FidoNet; that's why I said "mostly."

      I used USENET via dialup to CIX, but with an offline reader: it posted any responses, collected new messages, then hung up, so I could read offline.

  27. jlturriff

    IIRC, Microsoft was also the miscreant who provided embedded HTML in email as a feature, which proved to be an excellent tool for tracking and data mining of its users.

  28. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Email DICKTATORS

    "You MUST use email the way I think that you it should be used! Otherwise you are a Marketing/Sales/Management *Nazi* and are not a REAL techie and I hate you!" <ROTFLMAO>

    There are a great many things that I and many others find just as irritating as many of you seem to find HTML emails or inconvenient ways of answering email threads, etc. However, we don't go around telling people that the fact that they bang on and on about the superiority of such-and-such software is super-ultra-bloody-boring, or that using tech-speak in emails is just as arrogant and arsehole-ish as using manglement-speak when communicating with non-tech people.

    There is a serious "holier than thou" attitude in some techs that needs a good kick in the teeth. Just because you understand SQL commands and can code in Python does NOT make you special or better. That whole us-vs-them attitude is about as shitty as it gets. Get over yourself already!

    I suppose the fact that I am a life long user of Windows, Outlook and HTML email marks me out as inferior scum despite the fact that I frequently write SQL script and was coding in Z80 machine-code before many of you stopped needing nappies. You talk about improving communication and HTML email does just that since it allows links and images and formatting/colour for emphasis, not to mention emojis that don't require a degree in ASCII to decipher. Yes, it has led to security issues, but most of that is due to email itself being insecure because it was never designed to be secure.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Email DICKTATORS

      Cough.

      > However, we don't go around telling people that the fact that they bang on and on about the superiority of such-and-such software is super-ultra-bloody-boring,

      and yet

      > improving communication and HTML email does just that since it allows links and images and formatting/colour for emphasis, not to mention emojis that don't require a degree in ASCII to decipher

      Or

      > There is a serious "holier than thou" attitude in some techs that needs a good kick in the teeth. Just because you understand SQL commands and can code in Python does NOT make you special or better

      and yet

      > the fact that I frequently write SQL script and was coding in Z80 machine-code before many of you stopped needing nappies.

      1. Big_Boomer Silver badge

        Re: Email DICKTATORS

        And yet I never stated that HTML was the ONLY way or tried to make out that anyone who does it different is somehow inferior.

        And yet I have the balls to post under my own account and don't have any of this superiority complex bullshit that so many seem to suffer from.

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Re: Email DICKTATORS

          > And yet I have the balls to post under my own account and don't have any of this superiority complex bullshit that so many seem to suffer from.

          Well, aside from being superior in your great modesty that you are so genteel in expressing.

    2. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: Email DICKTATORS

      > Yes, it has led to security issues, but most of that is due to email itself being insecure because it was never designed to be secure

      True, email is as secure as sending a postcard (oh, if only the big boys and their Outlook etc supported emcryption) but that is nothing compared to the horrors of tracking pixels etc that HTML makes do easy.

  29. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
    Boffin

    Time to revive the ASCII Ribbon Campaign?

    I started supporting this many years ago:

    http://www.asciiribbon.org/

  30. bofh1961

    Email like a pro?

    As a former systems engineer, I realised a long time ago that many developers experience difficulty communicating with the rest of humanity. This article really brought it home to me though just how differently their brains are wired. Ii it safe to assume that Gnome developers write their emails in Klingon?

  31. nautica Silver badge
    Meh

    Perhaps if they had a real degree...

    So, to summarize--

    A lengthy article (the validity of and need for which is highly suspect), and one hundred fifty-six comments is required to instruct and inform people as to how to do something which they should have learned in grammar-school: HOW TO WRITE A SIMPLE LETTER? ‽ ‽

    The need for such an article is nothing short of pathetic.

  32. Grunchy Silver badge

    Word Perfect 5.1

    Along with DOS one of the most pirated programs was good old WP51. It’s main secret weapon was the ability to reveal all the secret control codes inline with the text.

    Because the editor was unpredictable. You might select some text, and underline it, then change the text and remove underlining, add bold, add italics. I found it highly typical to receive someone’s document, then reveal the control characters and find 7 “underline begin” tags in a row, before a tangled mess of on/off tags sprinkled throughout the document.

    To this day I still rely on Microsoft Notepad. Why?

    Because I can select any text from any document, copy it to clipboard (ctrl-c, which used to mean ‘break’), then open up a notepad window and issue command ctrl-vax, that is ctrl-v, ctrl-a, and ctrl-x. What does that do? It automagically removes every single control tag from the clipboard and leaves me with clean, unencumbered ASCII.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Word Perfect 5.1

      "To this day I still rely on Microsoft Notepad. Why?"

      Because you can't kick the Microsoft jones?

  33. Mike_R
    Windows

    Minor nitpick

    <quote>

    Email is older than you might expect; for instance, it predates the internet. CTSS users at the MIT Computation Center were emailing each other via the MAILBOX system in 1965. In 1971, Ray Tomlinson extended TENEX's SENDMSG to send from one computer to another, separating the person and the computer's names with an @ symbol.

    </quote>

    IIRC using MAIL on RSTS/E, and later on VMS in the mid-60's- 70's (that's the previous century, for you whipper-snappers)

    Way before the Internet, way before virii, there were even Mail-bombs that would blank or otherwise frazzle your VT-100 screen.

    ... back to my rocking chair. This place really needs a "Grumpy old geezer" icom.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Minor nitpick

      "virii"

      The word in English is viruses. There is no Latin variation on the theme.

      See the FAQ, section F, question 3.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Minor nitpick

      The first ARPANET email (with the "@") was sent in 1971.

      The first commonly available email-type systems were implemented on the various time-share systems in the early-mid 1960s.

      Probably the first widely used variation on what we would now perceive as "email" was included in a system built by IBM, Western Union and RCA for the US Air Force's parts procurement network. Called AUTODIN (Automatic Digital Network), it had message passing facilities between over 350 air bases world-wide, starting in 1962. Later, it was available to most of the DoD.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like