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Top posting

665 words

This week there has been a bit of hubub about top posting in my feed reader, possibly triggered by John Gruber complaining about Mail’s questionable policy of putting your mouse cursor above the quoted text in an e-mail reply and other opinions on the matter.

Having posted a few dozen, hundred, thousand messages in newsgroups in the past, I obviously know about how touchy people can be when it comes to proper quoting that extracts just what is needed to establish context and weaves that together with replies to a new message. It’s a bit of extra work but it’s very efficient for reading in discussions. And a clean and efficient quoting strategy like that can certainly improve readability and the ability of people to quickly find answers together with their questions in the archives. These advantages may well be wort the mud-fights and zealotry that go along with a ‘proper’ writing policy which some of the regulars are often all too keen to want to force on newcomers.

I think in e-mail the situation is a bit different. Usually you don’t write for a big audience, which arguably means it’s not as bad to not edit as carefully. Secondly, mail applications do a much worse job at the threading of discussions that news readers do (I was using MacSOUP which does excellent graphical threading), meaning that it may just be easier for the recipient to have some text of the preceding messages at hand. Thirdly, newsgroups, just like RSS feeds are frequently consumed by just quickly flicking through messages by pressing the space bar repeatedly. Any extra text at the bottom of a message isn’t welcome in that scenario. On the other hand, Mail often gets more attention, so this is less of an issue.

Together these points hint that the setup is a little different for mail than it is for newsgroups. And that in a few – but not all – situations it can make perfect sense to quote the full preceding message. Be it because you are CC-ing the discussion to a new recipient. Or because you literally refer to points of the whole message but want to do so in one go (rather than being a smart-ass and doing that step by step as newsgroups seem to dictate). In that case you could put the whole text you refer to at the top of the message. But in some way that’d just be more annoying than putting it below the message. In my opinion at least.

All this is not to say that Apple’s Mail is doing the right thing by encouraging top posting. In fact Mail does a number of idiotic things as far as replying to messages is concerned. For example it always inserts a date and sender name in a language not necessarily matching that of the message before the quoted text, even if you are replying to a message of which you are the sole recipient. Personally I always feel sloppy if I don’t delete that line. But once you get into deleting it Mail easily messes up the quote level on the first line of the message which can be quite hard to fix.

But as far as the encouragement of top posting goes, the main question is what the alternatives should be. Should the cursor be inserted beneath the quoted text? Most certainly not. For, if you reply to a long message, that would require a lot of scrolling up to let you insert your first comment after the first paragraph where you’d want it to be. And you’d end up with a freshly created window that is scrolled all the way to the bottom – which would be rather odd. If you have suggestions for a better solution of this problem, let me know. Otherwise I think that – as in many other cases – the person using the e-mail application plays a certain role in creating bad messages as well.

July 15, 2007, 12:57


Comment by Dave2: User icon

I couldn’t care less about where the cursor ends up… I just want an option in Apple’s Mail client to have it STOP PUTTING THAT STUPID-ASS “On Jul 14, 2007, at 6:33 PM, John Smith wrote:”… AT THE TOP OF EVERY FRICKIN’ EMAIL I REPLY TO!!

It’s so condescending and amateurish to assume that the person you are replying to doesn’t know who they are and when they wrote something, and I am getting sick and tired of deleting this line of text any time I compose a reply. Why in the heck would a software company not allow you to alter default behavior of their apps WHEN THEY ARE SPEAKING ON YOUR BEHALF? This is no less stupid than automatically appending somebody’s email with a signature default that they cannot change.

July 15, 2007, 17:09

Comment by ssp: User icon

While I am totally with you on that, my assumption is that this may be due to business situations with their CC-ing hell, where it may help to keep track of who said what.

Just like in newsgroup discussions having such a line makes sense, the same may be true for certains situations in e-mail exchanges. Just not the situations I (or you) encounter most frequently.

I am not a big fan of additional options but with the large number of (hard to understand) options already available in Mail, such an extra checkbox probably wouldn’t hurt too much.

As far as I can tell if you really want to get rid of the attribution label (until the next update or whatever) you could try looking at the string REPLY_ATTRIBUTION in the file


July 15, 2007, 18:15

Comment by Dave2: User icon

Yes, I suppose I could. But it’s truly asinine that I would even have to. This is not some option that controls how the program acts… this is an option that speaks for me in an email reply. Since it is speaking for ME, shouldn’t I be the one in control of what it says? Or even if it appears at all? I can only assume that a bunch of presumptuous asses are in charge of the project, because I am not the only one who has complained about this over the years.

July 16, 2007, 0:26

Comment by ssp: User icon

I wasn’t trying to suggest that such a hack would be a good solution (how could it be?).

For some problems, however, such hacks can reduce the pain until – if ever – Apple manage to get through their phase of denial.

July 16, 2007, 10:43

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