Re: HTML for email

tom petch <daedulus@btconnect.com> Mon, 01 March 2021 17:24 UTC

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Subject: Re: HTML for email
To: Phillip Hallam-Baker <phill@hallambaker.com>, Keith Moore <moore@network-heretics.com>
References: <20210227190200.06ED46F10439@ary.qy> <4064.1614454347@localhost> <s1f0vo$ejp$1@gal.iecc.com> <59240886-320d-fae3-6b98-7b83dacaf5e7@network-heretics.com> <CAMm+LwhWCsG68GOws-Zm9TDcEZ4trGBhq7Dm-_0Ci8Ri7kDK=Q@mail.gmail.com>
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From: tom petch <daedulus@btconnect.com>
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On 01/03/2021 14:22, Phillip Hallam-Baker wrote:
> Yes HTML is a disaster for email. But so is plaintext wrapped at 66
> characters by the server because people didn't know better.
>
> The reasons HTML is a disaster are
>
> 1) There is no standard for HTML in email.
> 2) HTML has been turned into a presentation format.
> 3) Email messages used annotations for a decade before HTML which doesn't
> support them
> 4) The SMTP email infrastructure does not provide a viable means of knowing
> what formats are accepted by a recipient so there is no way to fix this.

And breaks privacy.  I find it ironic that the IETF seems to devote 
forests to combating a slight possibility of privacy being impaired, 
something that I see bordering on an obsession, but actively supports 
HTML e-mail which drives a coach and horses through privacy.

I now find web mail servers which will not let me view e-mail in plain 
text (which I assume is because they want to harvest as much personal 
data from me as possible).

Tom Petch


> One painful side effect of 1 and 2 is that messages come with embedded font
> size specifiers which is beyond stupid. The sender has no idea what device
> I am reading something on. But Gmail will happily chose font size settings
> that are frequently stupid. I have no control over that as a user.
>
> But the last point is the most important because the difficulty of fixing
> the SMTP infrastructure has become greater than the difficulty of replacing
> it with something fit for purpose.
>
> Of course the world is not going to move to something new overnight. But I
> do have a plan.
>
>
>
>
> On Mon, Mar 1, 2021 at 12:06 AM Keith Moore <moore@network-heretics.com>
> wrote:
>
>> 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.
>>
>> Keith
>>
>>
>>
>