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Re: Can anybody tell me how to send HTML-format mail in gnus

From: Tim X
Subject: Re: Can anybody tell me how to send HTML-format mail in gnus
Date: Fri, 08 Aug 2008 15:54:41 +1000
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/23.0.60 (gnu/linux)

Xah <address@hidden> writes:

> Tim X wrote:
> «In general, HTML in mail messages is a bad thing.»
> HTML in email is a very good thing.
I disagree

> From the technology point of view, it is far more powerful. For
> example, it can contain links, bold text, coloring, embedded images,
> etc. The bulkier than plain text in size, of course, but in today's
> youtube days, this doesn't matter. Also not, if my 10 years old email
> transmission protocol knowledge is not outdated, then email is still
> sent by first converting to a ascii encoding. This is invented by the
> unix folks, which is extremely inefficient.

Nobody can predict the future with any accuracy. When e-mail was firs
implemented, nobody realised how big it would grow and how pervasive it
would become. It is very easy to be critical with the benefit of
hindsight. for example, basing it on 7-bit characters failed to consider
the needs of languages that won't fit within a 7 bit representation, but
rightly or wrongly, internationalisation of software didn't become a
real consideration until much later.. Even worse, nobody had the
foresight to consider the scurge of spam.

There are a lot of things that could be improved concerning e-mail and
its basic infrastructure, but adding HTML to the mess is certainly not
one of them and I'm a long way from being convinced that if we did want
to add additional control over presentation of e-mail messages that HTML
is the answer. 

> From the social point of view, HTMl is also far more useful, and
> people wants the ability to have colored text, embed images, etc. I
> don't have stats on this, but it is my guess that 80%, or perhaps even
> 90% of email traffics today, are in html. Human animals, collectively,
> want it.

You frequently like to quote these bogus percentages. If you don't hae
any real figures, they are completely pointless. You also need to
acknowledge that your subjective experiences are not the same as
the rest of the world. It is these sorts of unfounded claims and bogus
facts that undermines many of your arguements. I suspect it also
diminishes what many think of your opinions and is likely counter
productive to what you want to achieve. 

Up until recently, I administered an e-mail system that processed
gigabytes of mail per day. While there was a fair amount of HTML based
mail, it was less than 50% and nearly 80% of that was just spam. I will
readily admit that this is just what I observed in my small corner of
the world and this only represents a user base of just over 30,000

I disagree with your suggestion that HTML is technically superior. You
can't just make a sweeping statement like that without actually defining 
what it is that e-mail is supposed to provide. As someone else pointed
out, an F16 is technically superior to a bicycle, but if allyou want to
do is go to the corner shop, that technical superiority is not only a
waste, but also a handicap. 

HTML based e-mail has also had the negative tecnical consequence of
increasing the number of security issues and exposing users to more
vulnerabilities. It has also wasted huge amount of resources due to the
huge increase in message sizes, provides extremely difficult spam
detection problems (i.e. using pictures to embed spam text, making it
almost impossible to detect effectively via a scan for known spam text)
all of which resulting in the need for more bandwidth, more mail servers
with more memory and storage and more hardware to perform anti-spam
processes - all of which leads to higher costs for all of us. It also
ignores the fact that there are still millions of people who don't have
broadband and for whom every extra byte of data is an issue. 

My experience has also been that the majority of people who are
insistant on using HTML in the mail have little substance in their
content. If what you write has real substance, the formatting is almost

> Arguably, another format, such as rich text that is espoused by Apple
> computer's email progrm ( ~2002 to ~2006 and no support for html
> mail), is a better tech than HTML for rich text in email. But for
> whatever social reasons it didn't catch on. Html is the de facto
> standard today for rich text in email.

There are lots of things that become defacto standards, but this doesn't
make them necessarily a good thing. Your arguements appear to be very
much of the popularist variety - lots of people do it, therefore it must
be good or the correct way. In reality, most people don't care and don't
even know its going on. 

> Also, as i mentioned before, tools used by tech geekers usually have 5
> or more so years lagging in catching up with any tech that are being
> adapted in the commercial world. For example, HTML email has basically
> became the standard in Microsoft since maybe 2002?, and html is widely
> supported or in fact default format for commercial web based service
> provider since many years ago too.

It is true that Microsoft is very much responsible for the growth in
HTML based e-mail. This is largely due to the fact that it was at one
time the default setting. I have found that often, when I've asked someone not
to send e-mail in HTML format, they are actually surprised to find out
that they were i.e. many people don't even realise their mail is being
formatted in HTML. The point is that just because many people use it
you cannot conclude they are doing so because they want it. In fact, the
number of HTML e-mails that are anything other than a very poor
formatting of just text far outweighs those where the author is actively
formatting their text with features provided by HTML.

My emacs mail client gives me the choice of viewing mail in HTML or
plaiin text. I choose plain text because it is faster and because the
HTML version doesn't give me any added value. Note also that links in my
text messages are clickable and just as convenient as they would be in
HTML, but without all the additional overhead. I can also view image
attachments etc. So, all that HTML can really give me are possibly
different fonts and colours - I prefer to manage those myself and not
have someone else dictate them and as mentioned above, few people
actually use these formatting features anyway. 

If/when I decide to
process my e-mail on my phone, I also want it in plain text because I
don't want to have to have additional software to render HTML for simple
messages that I'm reading on a small screen. I wold rather be using my
limited phone memory, processing power and battery to do things that are
necessary and not waste it on fluff that gives no real added value. 

> Emacs's rmail, should adopt the ability to send HTML mail. It is my
> guess, that it will adopt it eventually. The question is just how many
> more years later?

This may happen. Then again, there is a growing user base for 'markdown'
rather than markup, which is remarkably similar to the concepts of 'rich
text' and has the added benefit of still being quite readable without
being rendered. The growth of things like IM, SMS, Twitter etc could
also see a complete change in the landscape and e-mail as we know it
will begin to morph into a completely different format that is better
suited to smaller personal devices, such as PDAs and mobile phones. 

I'm skeptical we will see much of an adoption of HTML in emacs mail
clients for sending of e-mail. There just isn't any real benefit. There
are also far bigger issues with e-mail that will need to be addressed
and I suspect we will see a complete change in the landscape before we
see much happen with respect to authoring of e-mail in HTML. If we do
see something along the lines of a full markup language, lets hope its
something easier to format and process, such as XML. 


tcross (at) rapttech dot com dot au

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