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I've always blamed Microsoft Outlook for the top posting nightmare that has become email standard.

I just use stock Apple mail client and always bottom post (and snip as appropriate) and I get so many non tech people who approach me in the hall and ask "how do you do your emails the way you do? can you show me?"

My narrative has always been that Gmail simply followed the trend that Microsoft's tools set in motion with their monopoly^H^H^H^H^H^Hy^H^Hpopularity amongst business users.

Of course, I'm not even sure how many modern/younger readers will understand why "^H". I'm getting too old for this.




I like top posting. My experience has been that snippet-and-reply sometimes leads to an argumentative and confrontational style of discussion, perhaps more than top posting.

My theory is that snippet and reply may lead to taking quotes out of context and replying with an uncharitable interpretation of the snippet.

So while top posting may be less logical and efficient, I believe it may be more conducive to a friendly discussion.

Of course I could be completely mistaken about this, and it was just a coincidence that the communities I was involved in where top posting was heavily criticized had cranky people in them who would have found something to get upset about regardless of posting style.

Edit: I don't mean to imply that you are one of those cranky people just because you like bottom posting or snippet and reply! :-) Just observing something I noticed in online forums many years ago.


> My theory is that snippet and reply may lead to taking quotes out of context and replying with an uncharitable interpretation of the snippet.

Whenever you start to see multiple quote snippets appear in an HN (or any forum) comment thread, it's basically guaranteed to have died and splintered into a bunch of uncharitable nit picks.

It encourages https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gish_gallop.


Maybe this is just my innate pedantry talking, but I think the opposite pathology is common too: some people are great at writing convincing but illogical/weakly-supported arguments that only fail when broken down and looked at in a granular, nitpicky way. Strong norms against that sort of response might make discussion threads less annoying on average, but they are also a boon to sophists, charismatic charlatans and sincere but overconfident bullshitters.


A nice thing about bottom-posting, and even more so inline-posting, is that is a weak certificate that the person replying has actually read the whole message.


>Whenever you start to see multiple quote snippets appear in an HN (or any forum) comment thread, it's basically guaranteed to have died and splintered into a bunch of uncharitable nit picks

Citation needed.

>It encourages https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gish_gallop

[Insert smarmy HN-stlye dismissal here]

</sarcasm>


You could argue though, that the post that gets a reply like that was itself Gish galloping. Somebody just took the time to try to address all the points.


As an aside, Gush galloping is eerily similar to amplification attacks.


Broad generalization: if there are three questions in an email, top posters will answer one, maybe two if the planets align. Someone who takes the time to inline quotes is more likely to recognize that three answers are required.


That does fit my personal experience, which has been that when comparing old-school open-source communities where people know how to do proper quoting on mailing lists vs. internal e-mail communication at an Outlook-centric company that does a lot of remote work by virtue of being geographically spread over the world, the quality of technical discussion is much higher in the open-source communities. A large part of that is indeed that sub-points and/or nuance of earlier e-mails is simply dropped on the floor in the Outlook culture.

I suspect that it's not just about taking time to inline quotes, but also simply about seeing what you're replying to directly next to your answer, as opposed to having it be separated by at least a large message header and likely by much more.

Another sad fact is that people re-invent inline quoting in Outlook culture all the time, badly: they manually copy relevant parts into their top-posted response, or they use some sort of color coding to write their own response inline.


I find it makes things unnatural to read.

> I like top posting.


If you've already been following a conversation, it should make it easier. If you haven't been following the convo, you should probably start at the first message instead of jumping in the middle.

I find top posting with inline, contextual comments when necessary, most useful.


So? ;-)

> I find it makes things unnatural to read.

>> I like top posting.


> My theory is that snippet and reply may lead to taking quotes out of context and replying with an uncharitable interpretation of the snippet.

My theory is that we're all so used to internet debates unfolding in snippet-and-reply-like formats that we associate snippet-and-reply with argumentative discussion by default.


I have an interesting story to tell closely related to this. I used to work as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate computer networking course at UBC. As part of the course, we would usually ask the students to write a simple POP email server, in order to practice their socket programming skills. This was an assignment designed by a professor in the early 2000s, when being able to set up an email client was considered a basic computer skill.

Fast forward to 2019, and I can say that roughly 80% of students in the class didn't know what POP, IMAP or SMTP were. Before being able to get started on the assignment, we would have to provide them with additional material explaining how emails are delivered and what an email client does to retrieve them. The majority of students just grew up using the Gmail app or whatever self-configuring email clients they had on their phone/laptop, so they had no idea of what we were asking them to build.


I think this is now related to the democratization of programming than it is to Gmail in particular. CS as a major used to be limited to people who were already self taught and had a solid understanding of how computers and networks worked. It has become not just acceptable, but common, for CS majors not to have grown up programming. I think that's overall a good thing.


Oh yes, it surely is, and I didn’t mean to hit at Gmail or any particular player. Additionally, I think it also speaks a lot about how industry did a very good job in constructing easy-to-use abstractions on top of tech that used to be hard to configure for a first-time user back in the days.


I used to work as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate computer networking course at UBC. As part of the course, we would usually ask the students to write a simple line editor, in order to practice their IO programming skills. This was an assignment designed by a professor in the early 1980s, when being able to work ed was considered a basic computer skill.

Fast forward to 1999, and I can say that roughly 80% of students in the class didn't know what ed was. Before being able to get started on the assignment, we would have to provide them with additional material explaining how to use a line editor and why you need one. The majority of students just grew up using Emacs, VI, Notepad or whatever visual editor they had on their computer, so they had no idea of what we were asking them to build.


Email is still widely used by billions of people whereas line editors never were.


Email is still widely used, but POP is not. Text editors are still widely used but ed is not.


Maybe, but SMTP and IMAP are still widely used. It seems reasonable for a computer science student to implement these protocols.


You'd expect a CS student to at least know what SMTP and IMAP are, even if they don't know how they work.

Just as you'd expect a CS student to know what Emacs is, even if they've never used it.

Relying on gmail horrifies me, because it's a classic political enclosure pattern.


Top posting is the proper place for new content in an email chain to go. It means the new message is prioritized over the history, with the option to have the history of the email chain available if you really want/need it.

MS Office was designed to fit business processes, and it does that well.

It's not a surprise that Apple's mail client falls over attempting to support business functions.


Top posting is completely worthless. All it does is include the message you replied to, which any sane email client can show immediately without having to copy it all.


I’m not defending top posting here. I’ve noticed a couple of practices in companies (not sure about other environments). One is doing a Reply All, adding a reply body and copying some new people into that thread after several back and forth messages have already been exchanged. Those new people (can) now have the full context of what they’ve received without the person composing the reply having to add context. The second is when people send mails to several others and miss copying some. Then one of the receivers or the sender themselves would do a Reply All and add a “+<person forgotten before>” (or sometimes even use ++ and the name).


Say someone gets added to an email thread some time after it got started—is there an easier way to get them all of the emails in the thread than having all of the emails as part of the one they were sent?


RFC 2046 multipart/digest

A standardized method of sending a set of email messages as messages, rather than copied into body text, predates Microsoft Outlook.


It's funny that this is a suggestion because top-posting was a reaction to the unfriendliness of keeping message history in MIME attachments rather than the body of the message.

MIME may be the technically superior solution...But like Betamax and MiniDiscs, it lost out to the easier-to-use solution.


Message history wouldn't use that; it uses headers (metadata) like 'In-Reply-To:' and 'References:', which are in… well, I was going to say RFC 822, but it turns out they go back to RFC 724 from 1977.

A MIME digest would be used for the case that you want to provide someone a bunch of messages they don't already have. In that case, this brings up another reason this is superior to including the thing as text: it preserves all the threading and other metadata.


Oh yes of course! Actually, multipart/mixed really seems like it should be the way that all clients do things, and that quoting at the bottom is an abuse of the quote button.


Sure, do something between an article a wiki and a forum.

Insert your cursor in their message, press enter and respond to every part worth responding to - inline. (you may want to sign your entry)

Remove all parts of the previous message(s) that do not directly build towards the current conversation.

It should look so organized that the new participant immediately adopts the format. If they fail, do it for them. (preserve the sane part of their signature)

Doing it like this really feels like you are talking with serious people who would never waste your time. That said, you can now ask how their weekend was. That part of the conversation is simply removed later on.


Top posting is extremely valuable to people who need to weigh in on parts of a discussion without participating in the entire thing from the beginning, like lawyers, accountants, engineers, and doctors, who may get added on late into the discussion but may need the message history so they can make informed statements/decisions.

Also, the suggested alternative, MIME attachments, simply doesn't work well in most mail readers. It's barely usable in Gmail and not at all usable on iPhone or Android. (Ironically, it works quite well in Outlook.)


Not if you are added to a thread.


> MS Office was designed to fit business processes

Microsoft Outlook made sense once you (or at least me) realized it was designed to send memo's not email.


It doesn’t “fall over.” It gives you the option to choose.


> Of course, I'm not even sure how many modern/younger readers will understand why "^H". I'm getting too old for this.

For all the other modern readers: http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/386870.html


Excerpt from Hacker Writing Style (http://www.catb.org/~esr/jargon/html/writing-style.html):

There is also an accepted convention for ‘writing under erasure’; the text>

    Be nice to this fool^H^H^H^Hgentleman, he's visiting from corporate HQ.
reads roughly as “Be nice to this fool, er, gentleman...”, with irony emphasized. The digraph ^H is often used as a print representation for a backspace, and was actually very visible on old-style printing terminals. As the text was being composed the characters would be echoed and printed immediately, and when a correction was made the backspace keystrokes would be echoed with the string ‘^H’. Of course, the final composed text would have no trace of the backspace characters (or the original erroneous text).

Accidental writing under erasure occurs when using the Unix talk program to chat interactively to another user. On a PC-style keyboard most users instinctively press the backspace key to delete mistakes, but this may not achieve the desired effect, and merely displays a ^H symbol. The user typically presses backspace a few times before their brain realises the problem — especially likely if the user is a touch-typist — and since each character is transmitted as soon as it is typed, Freudian slips and other inadvertent admissions are (barring network delays) clearly visible for the other user to see.

Deliberate use of ^H for writing under erasure parallels (and may have been influenced by) the ironic use of ‘slashouts’ in science-fiction fanzines.


Can you explain why top-posting is bad/why people care about what IMV is a really irrelevant distinction?


I’ve seen this quip before on why top posting is bad.

> A: Because it messes up the order in which people normally read text.

> Q: Why is top-posting such a bad thing?

In longer threads, top posting makes it cumbersome to understand which points a responder is replying to. Most top posters (a generalization) tend to avoid point-to-point quotes and answers to establish context. Top posting is easy for a lazy writer, and transfers cognitive load to the readers.


The quip is stupid, and I don't understand why it's so popular. In reality, top posting looks like this:

--

Message 1:

Q: Why is top-posting such a bad thing?

Message 2:

A: Because it messes up the order in which people normally read text.

> Q: Why is top-posting such a bad thing?

--

My point is that you almost never read a single message in isolation, so bottom-posting makes you re-read everything you've just read all over again. If you happened to be reading an individual e-mail from the middle of a chain, bottom-posting would be slightly more convenient (and inline-quoting would lose information). Top posting gives you reverse chronological order, prioritizing what is important, and is friendly for discussions with changing number of recipients.


Top posting is fine for really shallow conversations.

As soon as you attempt to have more complex conversations, say about subtle technical issues, it falls flat on its face and inline quoting becomes far preferable.

In a way, this is a culture issue similar to the whole maker schedule vs. manager schedule discussion. A lot of management types engage primarily in shallow conversations[0], and so they may think relying on Outlook is fine, while being totally unaware of the damage it does to the engineering part of the organization (and possibly to themselves).

[0] In part this is inherent to a manager's role. For example, in many cases a manager's email may simply be the message "yes, dear direct report, you have formal permission to proceed with your plan". There's just inherently less deep thinking in a management role, when compared to engineering roles. Of course, deep thinking should occur in management as well in plenty of places, and the best managers do recognize that. But unless they come from an engineering culture, they're probably not even aware what they're missing with top posting.


I was never a corporate manager, but my impression is that "deep thinking" in management happens in Word documents.

Personally, I am a fan of inline-quoting, but only when I know I'm talking 1:1 or with a fixed group of people. If new people are expected to be included down the line - as is frequent with conversations that seek approval or feedback in a company - then I default to top-post to preserve the history of the conversation.

I don't know how a deep engineering conversation looks when written down, because I'm yet to see any in a work setting; whenever a problem approaches any interesting complexity, someone can't handle the complexity and calls for video or IRL meeting.

If there's a culture problem, I think the "maker" group is much smaller than the group of engineers. I personally blame webmail (GMail and others), which by virtue of popularity essentially set the rules for how e-mail is supposed to work, and more importantly than defaulting to top-posting, popular webmail clients don't handle tree structure. Inline-quoting makes sense when your discussion forms a tree, and not a stream of messages.


top posting is absolutely fine for the type of low content email generally used by 90% of businesses.

always bottom posting is nearly as awful as always top posting.

email is for the reader, not the writer. write to your reader’s expectations and to maximize their understanding, not to appease your own sense of what is “correct”


I just wish email clients would pick a direction and stick with it. The default on an iPhone is to have the most recent messages at the top. But if you open a thread of messages the most recent within the thread is at the bottom. But inside the individual message, the most recent text is at the top.


If it makes you feel better, I'm in my early 30s, and switched careers to software dev just last year, and I definitely understand "^H." Although I understood it because a veteran guy passed on the story to me a while ago. So I guess the moral is, keep that oral history alive!


get off my lawn^W^W^W^W

I'm getting old, aren't I.


Oh look at you and your fancy vt100

the lot of us are stuck on vt52s


lol, I'm not old enough to have ever actually encounter ^W. I learned about it from /.era who made fun of my 5-digit uid


Try it at your bash prompt someday.


I will top post unless I know the recipients are familiar with quoting conventions. I have run into far too many people who become confused otherwise.


[flagged]


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