HTML for email (was: Re: document writing/editing tools used by IETF)

Keith Moore <> Mon, 01 March 2021 05:05 UTC

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Subject: HTML for email (was: Re: document writing/editing tools used by IETF)
References: <20210227190200.06ED46F10439@ary.qy> <4064.1614454347@localhost> <s1f0vo$ejp$>
From: Keith Moore <>
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Date: Mon, 1 Mar 2021 00:05:49 -0500
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On 2/27/21 10:00 PM, John Levine wrote:

> Indeed, but that was many decades ago. There are some ways in which the
> IETF is cutting edge, some in which we are amusingly backward. Most
> of the people I deal with can send an e-mail that says "I highlighted
> the changes in yellow" and all of their correspondents see the yellow
> text. Try that here. Remember that MIME was invented in the IETF and
> HTML down the virtual hall from here, both about 30 years ago.
Ok, but to be fair: HTML is a disaster for email.   Way back in the 
mid-1990s most of us thought it would work out ok, and more likely to 
succeed than text/richtext.   But we didn't really take the time to 
understand the nature of the problem in either case.    It's hard to 
write a good html editor for email, especially one that handles inline 
replies properly, and every single HTML editor for email I know of 
botches this.    Accidentally delete the line or invisible space before 
or after a change in format and it's likely to completely mess up your 
formatting, say by merging one correspondent's text with another.  HTML 
doesn't handle annotations well either because (gasp) text messages are 
not naturally hierarchical like HTML (and its *ML predecessors) expect 
them to be.   HTML hasn't exactly been a stable target either, and 
there's lots of variation among MUAs regarding which features are 
supported. It's hard to send an email message that looks more-or-less 
the same to every recipient.

(And, IMO unfortunately, a lot of MUAs take liberties with presentation 
of email messages, which only exacerbates the above problems.)

At the same time HTML is so widely deployed that it's very hard to 
deploy something that works better.

The specific behavior you cite above is actually due to a failure of 
standardization, because the vast majority of Big Corporate environments 
have settled on 1 of about 2 email products overall.   Highlighting text 
in yellow doesn't work as well in IETF because IETF participants are 
(fortunately) still more diverse than Big Corporate employees.