Re: HTML for email

tom petch <daedulus@btconnect.com> Tue, 02 March 2021 10:00 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.
>
> 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.

Going back to the original, having ranted about my number one hate, the 
loss of privacy to anyone else on the list .....

The points you make are all good, and good reason why IETF mailing lists 
should silently discard text/html attachments.

But it gets worse.  Quoting is another disaster area, in at least two 
regards.  The service I am obliged to use (for at least some lists) 
increases the left and right margins for each successive level of quote 
so that after five or so quotes, the space available for message text is 
down to a single character, yes, just one single character, so that a 
message of 300 character is now presented as a column 300 separate 
lines, each with one character.  Can the designer of a presentation 
format really be that stupid?  Yes!

Another presentation format for quoting is to place coloured bars down 
the left hand side of the scree, a different colour for each level of 
quote and initially, there are gaps in the last coloured bar where new 
text has been added so that it is clear what is the response, what is 
original, in the post.  But after five or so levels of quote, that left 
hand bar, yellow I think, becomes continuous so that it is impossible to 
see what is new, what is old, unless one gets the previous post from the 
trash and compares the two (or goes to the IETF archive and waits for it 
to catch up with the thread).

HTML has its uses, but e-mail is not one of them.

Tom Petch

Sent from a real MUA.

> 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
>>
>>
>>
>