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"Rich Content, My Ass"

I can wax technical with the best of them, you know. Even Lance.

Mr. Turner here gets plenty of e-mail, upwards of 10 to 20 a day. That number is actually somewhat skewed because after posting to Usenet for much longer than I should have, I've been added to every commercial bulk e-mailing list out there. Several times, in fact, because I used several different e-mail accounts to post with until I stuck in that *REMOVE* tag in my address to foil the mailblasters. I know other people on the Web get much, much more e-mail than I do (and real e-mail, not the sort you forward to postmaster and throw away), and I certainly don't envy them.

The spam e-mail I can deal with. It's gotten easy to filter that mail into trash after sending it to the admin (I think the spam abuse units at UUNet and AT&T know me by heart now). The other e-mail I still have a problem with. I know it takes me ages to respond to most e-mails. Sorry about that. It's just that if I respond to you as soon as I get your e-mail, you'll just fire another e-mail right back at me and I'll have to do it again and again. I refuse to do that. So an e-mail each two weeks or once a month! Or else!

But in these days of Webization of everything else that has to do with the Internet, not even textual e-mail is safe. Spearheaded by Netscape and Microsoft, "rich content" is picking up as an acceptable way to send e-mails on the Internet, and this is really pissing me off. Well, not the sort of pissed off where it actually gets to me, but you know...come Soapbox time, Ben needs something to write about and he has to go through the whole riling up process described in an earlier 'Box. But rich content in e-mails is an irritation.

What it is is basically a way of marking up text in e-mails similar to as you would in a word processor or in an HTML editor. Want to use color and bold type? Sure! Go ahead! Use <FONT> to your heart's content and you'll have a beautiful-looking e-mail. Want to center text? Add Javascript? No problem!

Microsoft's and Netscape's e-mail programs make stylizing the text so easy and make it appear so staggeringly commonplace that people who aren't very familiar with the technicalities of the Internet will jump all over using rich content. Even Eudora Pro lets you mess with the text to make it look "nicer". Did you know that people are so blind to what's going on that they've even held me in the wrong for not being able to read their e-mails which used proprietary styles to mess with textual content? "Go download a newer e-mail reader." Eudora Light 3.0.1 with Pretty Good Privacy 5.0. New enough for you? Oh yeah, and the encryption built into Netscape and Microsoft ain't standard, either... ;) Certainly not very popular forms of encryption.

But here's what can happen if you use rich content in your e-mails: your e-mail definitely won't look as it should on other peoples' computers. There is no standard for how rich content should be added for e-mail. Each company has its own way of doing things, so you'd better hope you have the right program. Sometimes, because of the stylized text, you can't even see it in another program. I've had numerous instances where e-mails just omit text, I guess because Eudora Light didn't understand the settings. More often, when I try to reply to these e-mails, bigger chunks of text disappear. If you're using a program that doesn't support stylized text or supports another implementation of it, you'll see strange characters scattered in between words and sentences. The added tagsoup this creates inside an e-mail can really bog things down on the Internet, if everyone starts to use it. Instead of firing off a small 1k e-mail to your best friend, you send off a 5k e-mail with all the settings and preferences and tags. E-mail is still one of the heaviest consumers of bandwidth and the Internet can barely cope as it is. Hell, I'm sometimes too lagged to talk to my girlfriend online because you people are sending so much junk over the 'Net. Sheesh. Give a couple a break. Everyone stop using the 'Net except for the handful of people we know. Too much to ask? I don't think so... I'm Ben Turner, dammit, and I get what I want! <hears a painful silence>

I just don't understand what the drive is to make text look all neatsy in an e-mail. I'm not a purist and I don't look at style on the Internet as a rival, as the frames and Javascript and other breaches of HTML Puritanism will attest, but I just don't see the point. Already, Usenet has become embittered to people who use Netscape, which posts a text version followed by an HTML version in the same message if the user configures it that way. Ugh, it's so disgusting. No one else sees the HTML -- no true Usenetter uses Netscape or Microsoft to get onto Usenet. Get Agent, babe.

Netscape and Microsoft and a lot of people want everything textual to become a desktop publishing target. They want to have ultimate control over anything and everything they want to. They want to be able to make a multi-columned e-mail which says, "Hi, honey. I'm having dinner with the red-headed president of the bank. Will be home...late," if they so feel inclined to. They want to be the first people to make their e-mails and Usenet posts look like works of art.

But look, all of that works much better on the client-end. Netscape and Microsoft have already botched this up in their browsers, usually not allowing the user full control over how he wants the documents he downloads to be displayed. The later versions are better about not allowing certain style changes like font enlargening and font coloring, but you still can't disable frames or tables, or customize the browser as much as would be nice for more advanced users.

When I say e-mail and Usenet posts work better on the client-end, I mean that it is more efficient to just send pure text and let the user's e-mail program decide how to read it. For example, if I wanted quoted lines to be changed to a blue color, I want that set how I think it should be set, not how the author thought it should be. Agent allows you to do this, but unfortunately, Eudora doesn't. Not sure about Netscape and Microsoft. If you want links underlined, you should be able to toggle that setting. If you want a specific text alignment, you should be able to set that too. Headers in bold type and made bigger? Should be customizable.

Bill G. wrote:
> 'Sup, Ben?
> Looking forward to our 1 on 1 basketball
> game. Remember, if you win, you get all
> my assets, including my new house.
> Bill "Sportin' the Microsoft Tee" G.

E-mail and Usenet (and IRC for that matter) are not equal to the Web. They are different beasts. E-mail and Usenet do not require the hypertext markup language. They are not based on a system which demands linking between different documents and presenting information in a published sort of manner. They're just text.

That said, I don't have a problem with attachments and all that, except that the e-mail client should let the user decide whether to accept attachments or not. Me? I get e-mails from people which come from attached style settings with an extension of .p7s. <sigh> I don't get that fancy text, but I do get a nice file in my TEMP directory that I have to delete.

So what is my point? My point is, don't use rich content until there is a standard for it which all the major e-mail programs support. You have no idea how your message will appear to other people at this point, so you're only annoying them and causing them more to worry about. Don't add features and colors and fonts and styles (this goes for the Web too) just because they're c00l. Don't put it in there, or if you have to, do it to add readability and accessibility to the document.

Keep HTML up on the Web, or in HTML documents, where they belong. If you want to tell me how much you hate me or how tired you are of listening to me rant, do it in pure text, and let me decide how I'd best like to read your thought-provoking input.

Your opinions and thoughts are what are you. Being able to read your expressions in the form of words is something you should leave up to me. Let me decide.

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