HTML Email: The Poll

Reader Kiernan recently contacted me about my old (and apparently much-linked-to) Why HTML in E-Mail A Bad Idea document, saying:

I do not believe HTML email is going to disappear any time now. In fact, I expect we will see an increase in HTML email which suggests we need guidelines, not proscription. I think in the interests of furthering discussion on this subject, a poll would be useful.

Personally, I care a lot less about this subject than I used to. I’m still no fan of HTML email, but it doesn’t bug me the way it once did. Formatting in email can be useful and attractive. The security concerns it raises aren’t very relevant to me since I use a Mac (though I’m still concerned for all the Outlook users out there). Even command-line pine displays the plain-text alternate properly for most HTML emails these days.

At its best, HTML email highlights the strong points in a message. At its worst (for me), HTML email is a minor annoyance, sometimes resulting in tiny font displays — but nothing I can’t get around by punching Cmd-+ on the keyboard. There are a thousand things under heaven and earth more worthy of getting het up about. What about you? Have your feelings about HTML-formatted email changed over the years?

Have your feelings about HTML email changed since 2000?

View Results

50 Replies to “HTML Email: The Poll”

  1. One thing you may want to add to that page is that Spamassassin tests for “spaminess” based on HTML content. If you want to avoid your mail being flagged as a false positive, send plain text.

    And there’s a reason SA tests for that. HTML in e-mail is a bad idea. There is no truly compelling reason why HTML needs to be in e-mail, and yet there are a multitude of reasons why it’s bad.

  2. Good point about SA weightings — just added that. But SA doesn’t test for HTML because HTML email is a bad idea – it tests for it because it’s a red flag that a message is an attention-grabbing advertisement, i.e. spam.

    But I should add that even though SA weights HTML messages differently, I’ve personally never seen a legit message with straightforward HTML formatting actually flagged as spam. Its ranking might go up a but, but not enough to trigger any rules or filters, unless someone has reconfigured the HTML weighting up from the SA defaults.

    There is no truly compelling reason why HTML needs to be in e-mail, and yet there are a multitude of reasons why it’s bad.

    One could argue (OK, I’m arguing) that I’ve come to accept that formatting in email is every bit as compelling as formatting on a web page or in a word processor. And meanwhile, some of its downsides have been diminished over the years. A much wider array of clients handle HTML email consistently, legibly, and safely. There are still lots of reasons not to use it, but I just don’t think it’s the big deal it used to be.

  3. My big annoyance with HTML email is privacy concerns, especially with 1×1 images called webbugs that are individually targeted at people to see if they have opened (and how many times they have opened) an email message.

  4. @Joe: Web bugs are avoidable in most (good) email clients, which these days usually have an option to turn off the loading of images. I know Eudora, Apple Mail, and even Outlook (current version) have this option. Heck, even Gmail does this!

    Anyway, if you haven’t done so, be sure to turn off loading of images to avoid the web bugs.

  5. I’ll give you one specific reason why html email is a good idea: Because subscribers to a visual arts newsletter welcome it as a content-rich preview of website content. Obviously a newsletter announcement describing a work of art e.g. without an accompanying image is less effective communication.
    This is of course a very specific non-spam example.
    I believe that the manner in which the poll question is not objective and by its nature seeks to affirm a majority negative opinion. HTML was not widely in use in 2000. I maintain that the appearance of html email would have met with opposition by the majority as all change is initially met with resistance. Phrasing the question “has your opinion changed” implies for the majority in this case “has your negative opinion changed”.
    HTML email is primarily used to advertise. What is the opinion regarding the use of HTML email for promotional purposes?

  6. Publishing has a long history of WSYIWYG design dating back to early printing presses and the history of typefaces. That desire to control presentation is not going to go away anytime soon and, if anything, it’s only going to evolve more. Like many things related to publishing, publishing HTML mail really comes down to audience, context and personal preferences and peeves.

    Debating it reminds of me of early debates on the web as being something users can flexibly control presentation of vs. WYSIWYG web design. Surely the Web has shown us some lessons as it evolved from user controlled formatting preferences to format centric designs.

    There are valid and not so valid reasons to want to control the way something you post on a web page or send in email is formatted. And there are reasonable arguments why this is bad and causes material not to be displayed the same for everyone else and causes accessibility issues.

    There is no ‘one size fits all’ absolute right or wrong. It’s all about context, individual desires and intent on both ends of any broadcast, and finding best solution for your audience when you publish anything — even an email to mom.

    For personal and professional communication I think it boils down to knowing your audience and designing for them. Not using HTML is certainly a design choice too, and a limiting one for many professional or personal email communications.

    The bottom line is that people tend to want to design for their audience and will. And there are times that this is not appropriate. A large percentage of the people designing web pages or sending HTML email are not going to have a clue that it matters to a small percentage of people out there and won’t care anyway. Authors will chose based on audience or personal preference and will miss some of their audience as a result.

    Millions of users on AOL and in Outlook/Outlook Express probably have no idea what HMTL email is since it’s transparent to them. Being a critical purist won’t change this.

    Personally, I waffle between indifference and liking it more now. I use both, depending on context of whether I have a reason to choose one or the other, and thinking about it little if I don’t have any reason to care whether it’s formatted or not.

    If your mom has the ability to see pictures in email as embedded images she’s probably more likely to see and enjoy the pictures if you send them in a formatted email than if you send tham as attachments. But if you’re mailing someone who you know uses pine or has dialup service then sending a 2 meg email with embedded photos is useless.

    There’s times I want to be able to send inline images instead of as atatchments, or formatting that’s difficult to get across in ASCII such as lists, tables with cells, color formatting to differentiate text.

    And I sure find color coded text in quoted replies a lot easier to read for context to follow two or more voices than any other means of marking quotes. It still amazes me how many ways people can find to quote text in replies and not make it obvious where they added text threaded into my own words sent back to me.

    Good communication is an art form, and bad communicators will continue to misuse presentation formatting. Sleazeballs will find new ways for SPAM to slip by or to abuse security loopholes.

    HTML isn’t inherently evil. It has just been exploited historically. Web browsing has exposed people to security issues too but you don’t see may people arguing about not using scripts in web pages. Spam will increase exponentially once your email address is circulated whether tracking images tell anyone you’re looking at it or not.

  7. Kiernan,

    If you just put a URL in the body of a text message with “Click here to read our most recent newsletter,” not only would it accomplish the exact same goal, but it would also decrease the bandwidth used to send and receive your mail.

  8. I too used to rail against the evils of HTML email, back in the good old days…. :)

    But now I don’t really notice it. For me the line between email inbox and browser window is completely blurred, almost to the point of forgetting about it.

    I get email and RSS feeds in the same client (Thunderbird). When I view my RSS inbox, I see a bunch of HTML pages rendered inline via a Gecko renderer embedded in T-Bird. Ditto for when I read HTML email. Some messages are formatted more nicely than others, just as some RSS feed grabs are nicer than others. But at the end of the day, the distinction between the two classes of messages is growing more and more arcane for me.

    Regarding the issue of privacy violation, however, I totally agree. I don’t like the idea of HTML image bugs tracking the fact that I’ve seen a message in my inbox. But the reality here is that my spam filter is so well trained in T-Bird that I’m very rarely ever rendering spam messages which use this technique. And the few whitelisted sources which do this don’t concern me because I by-and-large approve of their business.

  9. I believe that the manner in which the poll question is not objective and by its nature seeks to affirm a majority negative opinion. HTML was not widely in use in 2000.

    Kiernan – I cannot of course lay claim to any kind of scientific objectivity with informal polls on a weblog frequented by techies and Mac-heads. As for assuming a negative opinion, I’d say that’s true – I and many readers of this site have long been sworn enemies of HTML email (although as you can see my feelings have changed in recent years). From my PoV, we’re talking about something that has been regarded by most techies as a much-hated technology. So, yes, I do assume that most readers here start (or started) with a negative view – the poll only asks whether feelings have changed recently.

    No, HTML email was not in as wide use in 2000 as it is today, and that’s just it – what used to be seen as Microsoft foisting a dangerous and inconvenient system on the Internet is now seen as just part of daily life, and as a cross-platform issue.

    HTML email is primarily used to advertise. What is the opinion regarding the use of HTML email for promotional purposes?

    There is a distinction to be made there, and I think it’s also useful to distinguish between simple bold/italic formatting of text messages vs. sending entire, designed web pages as emails. Both are ultimately HTML, but the latter has more potential for danger.

    Mal: If your mom has the ability to see pictures in email as embedded images she’s probably more likely to see and enjoy the pictures if you send them in a formatted email than if you send tham as attachments.

    The distinctions are further blurred by the fact that even plain text emails often look to the untrained eye like formatted messages. The receiving client renders links as clickable, quotes previous discussion in multiple colors, and often renders image attachments in-line. It’s made it tricky to explain things to general users who ask questions like “How can I make my images appear in the message body?” and “How can I send a clickable link.” It’s all gotten very blurry.

  10. Just out of curiosity, I decided to send two messages to myself, one with and one without bold and colored text, otherwise identical. Here are their SpamAssassin rankings:

    Without formatting:
    X-Spam-Status: No, score=-1.4 required=3.5 tests=ALL_TRUSTED

    With formatting:
    X-Spam-Status: No, score=-1.4 required=3.5 tests=ALL_TRUSTED,HTML_MESSAGE

    So SA did pick up that it was HTML, but didn’t even give it enough of a nudge to raise its ranking 1/10 of a point. That’s with SA’s default weighting configuration, which is indicative of how the open source developers see the likelihood of simple HTML formatting reflecting a message’s spamminess.

    I then dug up a fully HTML-enabled “web page in your email” style message from Allumne Systems and checked its SA header info:

    X-Spam-Status: No, score=0.1 required=3.5 tests=HTML_MESSAGE, HTML_TAG_EXIST_TBODY

    So in this case, the message received two distinct HTML-related flags rather than one, and its score changed accordingly. But still not enough to exceed even my (quite strict) 3.5 SA threshold.

  11. I don’t like the security impact of rendering HTML mail; even lynx has had serious security bugs in the past and when invoked from a mailer (after, say, dumping the message to some temporary file) there are different things to worry about than when browsing online.
    I’m a big fan of the Web, but not of crowbarring the markup from it into niches where it doesn’t add much, and potentially costs plenty.
    It also aids phishing, as making a plain-text link point somewhere strange is quite hard, but confusing folk with full-on markup is a lot easier.

  12. Ok so we have a poll on HTML email as an outcome of an article called “Why HTML in E-Mail A Bad Idea” – I have to say that on the face of it this poll is biased. Where is the fair and balanced approach? Fox News should be doing this.

    IMHO I think you guys are format weenies. The medium is not the message. Just write the damn mail and save your anger for where it counts.

  13. Hey Lee – I’ve already addressed the bias thing above. The poll is not trying to guage whether formatted email is good or bad, but whether there’s a sea-change in opinion about it from five years ago, when I first wrote the article. Given that goal, and given that I know that most readers here have historically hated HTML email, I’m not sure how else I could have phrased the questions in the poll to make it appear unbiased.

    And I’ve never run a poll here that pretended to scientific objectivity. They’re just informal temperature guages, nothing more.

  14. I’m just having a bit of fun (which is lessened by having to explain it). The whole notion that you guys actually take *the underlying display formatting* of electronic notes very seriously is a source of great amusement to me. (3 million people are at risk for freezing to death in pakistan this winter for chrissake…) Too bad there’s no emoticons for dripping sarcasm or deadpan irony.


  15. Sorry Lee! You know, I actually did detect a hint of sarcasm in your first comment, but wasn’t quite sure, so decided to answer it seriously. That’ll teach me.

  16. Lee,

    Maybe you could send an HTML e-mail letting everyone know the desperate plight of Pakistanis. Be sure to include lots of embedded pictures and sounds and fancy text formatting and tons of font tags and web bugs and disguised links to aid websites that actually redirect to Russian phishers.


  17. Not sure quite how to answer this one – Scot, I’m sure we had some sort of disagreement around four years ago, you saying that HTML in email was evil in any circumstances, me saying that HTML in email was mainly evil but that it had its uses. I still feel the same, although a part of me seems to feel a little better about HTML in email nowadays, so that’s the option I chose.

    What really annoys me is that so much email software defaults to HTML. I get very frustrated receiving one-line emails, and thinking about how much extra overhead the HTML adds to that email. But I can live with it. Personally, I send 95% of my emails as text, but if I want, say, a bulleted list then I will send the email to HTML. I’m also more likely to send HTML emails to friends of mine who I know would appreciate me using genuine italics rather than _text equivalents_

    And I almost always subscribe to newsletters in HTML. There is a world of difference between an HTML newsletter (which I will often read, or at least look at) and an email which says “click this URL to read our latest newsletter”, which 90% of the time I’ll delete automatically.

  18. I’ve read these types of comments in various forums. Typically (IMO) the people advocating “HTML E-mail is EVIL” are developers/technical people. I manage the email communication for a large retail business, and I can tell you one thing for sure… users prefer emails with pretty pictures. It’s that simple. For the very same reason you won’t read a plain text print magazine, most users hate reading plain text emails. So while techies are debating amongst themselves over it’s evils, try asking non-tech users for their opinion.

  19. One thing people complaining about HTML in posts seem to have forgotten is that not everyone sends emails in English.

    If you email in Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic or any number of other languages, the 7 bit ASCII just won’t cut it. It is neccessary to use Unicode. This means a document format is neccessary to send Unicode through a 7 bit mail format. There is RTF, but it isn’t very simple and is proprietary of Microsoft. HTML is the one that gets chosen as it is the best known format for doing this.

  20. As of 2006-09-25, almost 50% of the responses indicate that they do not like receiving HTML in email. That should be enough to discourage its use.

    If you use HTML in email, then on average, you will be pissing off half of the people you email (assuming that you email a broad section of the population who responded to this poll).

  21. Ken, keep in mind that readers of this site are skewed heavily toward the geek side. “Normal” users tend not to have nearly as much of a problem with HTML email, and are much more likely to actually prefer it.

  22. I’ve read a few legtimate reasons for preferring plain text (e.g. mail size). Many others seem a little… spurious.

    One possible explanation is that proponents of plain text were trying to objectively justify a viewpoint that has at its heart an unspoken, subjective aspect.

    The whole “HTML vs. plain ASCII” debate was surely as much about defining “us” against “them”, the “cognoscenti” vs. the “ignorant masses”, the “geek “vs. the “non-geek” as any security/bandwidth/ whatever reasons.

    See also Shacker’s Sept 25th comment above plus comments to the effect of “there are more important things to worry about”…

    Have a nice day, now.

  23. PS – to be fair to geeks, all social groups engage in “boundary-defining” behaviours (e.g. political parties, organised religions, etc.) Anthropologists and pyschologists might well identify this email debate as just another method that a particular social group (i.e. geeks) uses to partition the world into “us” and “them”.

    PPS – apologies for capitalising “Shacker” above…

  24. Hi how do I send an entire page in html using email in PHP, can do it in ASP but not PHP.

    Any help would be great!


  25. Hi there

    I used to be disliking HTML in emails, too, but that changed over the years. Currently, I think it is OK to add some personal style to emails as long as the HTML produced is readable by all email clients out there.

    In fact, I use HTML in emails myself. But I use Thunderbird and my settings make sure each email is sent as both HTML and plain text. This way everybody will be able to read the email regardless the client.

    Speaking of bandwidth: What is an email blown to 3kb instead of 1kb going to really change in bandwidth usage compared to the tons of SPAM emails each day, video streamings all over the place and the like the internet has to handle.

    I don’t really get the point in saving those extra 2kb needed for HTML. And additionally, emails are text and as such can be, and most of the time are, compressed when transmitted.


  26. Here is the way I got it to work: LINK or PAGE

    Just the link:

    //$html = "Put your html in this variable";
    $html = "";
    $email = ""; // who it is to
    $subject = "Subject";
    $headers = "MIME-Version: 1.0\r\n";
    $headers .= "Content-type: text/html; charset=iso-8859-1\r\n";
    $headers .= "From: Name \r\n";

    Send an entire page:

    $page = "";
    $buffer = "";
    $handle = fopen($page, "r");
    if ($handle) {
    while (!feof($handle)) {
    $buffer .= fgets($handle, 4096);
    $mail = new PHPMailer();
    $mail->Host = 'localhost';
    $mail->From = '';
    $mail->FromName = 'Name';
    $mail->AddBCC ('', 'Name');
    $mail->AddReplyTo('', 'Name'); // optional name
    $mail->WordWrap = 50; // set word wrap to 50 characters
    //$mail->AddAttachment('image.jpg','Name'); // optional name
    $mail->IsHTML(true); // set email format to HTML
    $mail->Subject = 'HTML Test';
    $mail->Body = $buffer;
    //$mail->AltBody = ''; //this is for text no HTML
    echo 'Message could not be sent. ';
    echo 'Mailer Error: ' . $mail->ErrorInfo;
    echo 'Message has been sent';


  27. I still have no preference as I can emphasize and highlight in any format, Plain, Rich Text or HTML. The biggest issues I have relate to how so many people put elaborate content into their messages that don’t translate well from one format to the other and end up with dozens of attachments (at best).

    One of the biggest beef’s I have is when someone embeds an OLE Object into an Outlook message that neither translates to another format nor does it properly show up as an attachment. They then reference the embedded message as “key” information and you have to request they send the original document just so you can understand what they’re referring to.

    While this may be a handy way to quickly communicate on an excerpt from a project’s workbook or presentation, it doesn’t bode well for multi-platform email readers.

    After all, 99% of the universe uses Outlook don’t they? [rhetorical]

    Don’t get me started on my soapbox – I used to be a messaging specialist in the mid-to-late 90’s (Unix/Banyan mostly) and learned volumes about the intricacies of Microsoft messaging. You know you have problems when your OS platform still refers to LANMan and messaging is still based on the MMF architecture.

  28. If you want to send me email and make any kind of positive contact, send text. HTML emails are highly offensive.

  29. The issue of HTML formatted messages has been around for years and I think the time has come for the oldies, (such as myself), to accept that it’s sadly here to stay. That being said, I found my way to this blog whilst looking for good pages to direct people to when they send me HTML email.

    Whilst it’s (questionably) acceptable to send HTML messages to me personally, I consider it quite unacceptable to use it for sending messages to my ‘special’ addresses, such as abuse@, postmaster@, etc. No doubt my policy will infuriate those who wish to contact my abuse desk, but if they want to complain badly enough, they will no doubt figure it out.

  30. Man, this site is
    /**incredible!**/ stop

    I imagine many of you
    have at some stage
    written (not typed) a
    letter to the local paper
    complaining about
    detoriating English
    standards, and todays
    rude youth. stop.

    It must have been a
    sad for some of you
    when the binary efficiency
    of morse code and
    telegraphs was superceded
    by wastefully verbose
    telephones. stop.

    Trying to restrict how
    people communicate to
    (your personal) text
    protocols is a little
    Orwellian isn’t it?

    full stop.

  31. Hi

    Ok so there are minuses against html but I think fighting it is somewhat like those folks who demonstrated against just about every other innovation in history its like asking for VHS or Betamax back to replace DVDs – it aint going happen!

    It doesnt really matter whether you or I like html email, the point is that the web and email are essentially democratic and most people will tend to gravitate to richer content. Most non-IT people I know would not actually understand this discussion and few would know how to turn on or off html – you guys are talking in a highly rarified forum here – you are probably all in the top 1% in terms of your level of understanding and knowledge.

    The real value of HTML email is it sets a new benchmark for what can be done in terms of email content. If people dont like whats being done at the moment then market forces will create an alternative but it will not be back to plain text it will be something even richer than html.

    Try and live with progress guys! Not every step is a step forwards but even the false or ill judged steps provoke change and ultimately something even better.

    There are reasons for mark up in emails. For instance it helps send one email that can deal with ten second attention span people and yet also give full information for those who want more detail. Some very effective uses out there for subscription passwords to user groups where tables, font types and colours are used to highlight the one thing you really need if you are short attention span or expert “password” and yet provide background information for someone who has never joined anything on the internet and really needs the whole story.

    Regards Jon

  32. It’s all about marketing for most companies that use HTML emails. You have 3 seconds to grab the prospect’s attention. In this day and age, even the best written email may go ignored since it technically looks the same as every other black and white text based email in your in box. Like it or hate it, it is a good tool in today’s market because it gives marketers the added advantage of getting your attention. You may have no use for it, and most people don’t, but to others it is a great B2B or marketing tool. We just may as well get use to it.

  33. Eric – It sounds like you’re saying it’s OK with you if marketers use techniques to make their messages “rise above” the noise. But it’s not OK. A marketing message is much LESS important than almost anything else in my inbox. In fact there’s an almost 100% certainty that I don’t want that message there to begin with. The attempt of marketers to make themselves heard above the din is exactly why they’re so hated. So HTML email is not a good tool for a marketer – it’s a way to make sure their message is (accurately) marked as spam so it can be more effectively ignored by users.

  34. This debate is clouded with a number of delusions.

    1. People don’t want to be marketed to. This is so not true. The reason people are included in a market is because they exemplify the characteristics of someone who wants or is interested in a given product or service. Theoretically, a marketer’s greatest desire is to communicate with people who want to buy what they’re selling. I don’t know why people classify anything involving money as evil, but it’s a tad naive. You don’t think there are loads of people who would rather know about a sale at Target than see pseudo-cute pictures of their 9-year-old brat of a niece? Come on, stop being so altruistic.

    2. Email is private. Sorry. When you sit down at your computer and connect to the Internets, you have officially left the privacy of your own home. I understand the desire for privacy, but the expectation is, again, naive. There’s a reason they call it the World Wide Web and not the Safe At Home And Invisible Web. Sure, there are plenty of things you can do to avoid attempts at being monitored, but the simple fact that so many precautions are necessary reveals just how public electronic communications are. This is something everyone knows, but we feel a constitutional responsibility to argue against it. In reality though (virtual as it may be) electronic communication is no more private than a conversation in a crowded restaurant. No one is guaranteed privacy, but they can work to establish some semblance of it.

    3. It just really seems like there should be a third one.

  35. AK47: Most people never see the ads in magazines, we’ve tuned them out. People with DVRs like Tivo stop watching ads entirely, fulfilling a life-long dream. Ad blocker plugins for web browsers continue to be the most popular plugins out there. Sorry, you can’t tell me people *want* to be marketed to.

    The web may be public, but email is private. It almost sounds like you’re saying “One should expect their physical mailbox to be sifted through, examined, and stuffed with crap. After all, the mailbox is out there on the curb.”

    Get real.

  36. Oh, PLEASE! Of course people want to be marketed to.

    Take it outside of your computer for a second. Picture a family of five in a minivan on a five-hour road trip. It’s noon. The kids are hungry, screaming. Everybody’s got to pee. Are you telling me those people don’t WANT to be marketed to via the sky-high McDonald’s arches, and the “Food Exit” sign? Of course they do!

    Take it back to the computer. The guy who almost forgot his anniversary but got the handy little email from Hallmark telling him he might want to buy a card . . . you think he and his libido aren’t freaking ecstatic that he got marketed to? You bet his naughtily spanked butt he’s picturing HTML this very moment.

    You’re not proving that people don’t want to be marketed to. You’re proving that people don’t want all the ads in the world to show up in their faces. I’ll cede you that point a hundred times over. Sure, the ads in magazines are largely overlooked (especially by the people not interested in what’s being advertised and how it’s advertised). But, as people running those ads will tell you, there are plenty of ways to track with varied levels of accuracy the effectiveness of those magazine ads. They work on a percentage of the MARKET for those products, and the people in that market WANT THOSE PRODUCTS. And somehow you are still aware that there are ads in magazines . . . unless you had to check to make sure. You never look . . . ever? How is it that you ever come to buy anything? Totally on your own volition, sans any marketing, right? Right.

    And no, I don’t watch commercials during the programs I DVR. But I don’t shut my TV off or clap my hands over my ears and scream when I’m watching a show on live TV. Occasionally I do learn about an offer, a product, a service, another show, or a “The More You Know” tidbit I find interesting.

    And I too use pop-up blockers and adware software, but it’s more to prevent the annoyance of interruptions (and the screwing up of my computer) than for the sake of my privacy.

    There are some people out there, perhaps you’ve met one, who actually want the process of finding and buying the things they like to be easier, quicker, and cheaper. In many cases, that’s what marketing does. That’s kind of what markets are for.

    And email is not private. It’s certainly more private than the Internet, but you aren’t guaranteed privacy in all of your email dealings . . . you just aren’t. Physical mail is a completely different scenario because it is strictly regulated by the government. Your physical mailbox is protected by postal laws. You can get your butt fined off by stuffing someone’s mailbox with crap (unless you pay the postal service to do it for you). Your email inbox is warranted no such protection. Sure, there are SPAM laws, but it far from guarantees privacy to your email.

    Here are some ways email privacy is shot to bits every day:

    Blind carbon copies. The message you think is just to you is also being read by five of your co-workers. I actually had a co-worker ask me how to do this . . . to messages she was sending to me and wanted to copy my boss on without my knowing. If I had assumed privacy in that email, I would have been sorely deluded.

    Work email. Again, it’s totally legal (and highly crappy) for employers to read every single email their employees read on their company computers. I’m not saying I’m in love with that notion, but it clearly demonstrates they mythical nature of email privacy.

    The ease with which your email communication can be copied, forwarded, posted, publicized to the entire literate world. I mean, come on. If you email someone something, they can forward it to everyone they know and hate, post it on all eleven of their blogs, facebook it, twitter it 140 characters at a time, youtube it, and sing it in the shower. The saucy text email that girl thought she was sending to just her boyfriend is now being prepped to air on Good Morning America.

    None of this is news to you. I know that. But your call for me to “get real” was misstated. What you want is for me to “Get Ideal.”

    I’m happy to do so, but forgive me if I don’t count “Ridding the world of all marketing” as one of my ideals. Forbidding marketers from attempting to make their messages “rise above the din” ignores the very real, very human benefit of established profitable relationships between buyer and seller.

    So what if they know I opened my email? So what if they know I’m a left-handed golfer from New Mexico (I’m not)? They shouldn’t be able to know these things? It’s a violation of Mozilla/Client privilege? I should be offended later when they offer me something I want to buy? Damn them. But before they’re burnt to a crisp in Circle 3, I hope I can still use that promo code for new contact lenses.

  37. Are you telling me those people don’t WANT to be marketed to via the sky-high McDonald’s arches, and the “Food Exit” sign? Of course they do!

    There’s a world of difference between happy to see a familiar restaurant and having every orifice of your life, every moment of media consumption, even your own inbox, stuffed with marketing message. You don’t honestly think those two things are the same, do you?

    Take it back to the computer. The guy who almost forgot his anniversary but got the handy little email from Hallmark telling him he might want to buy a card

    So you’re going to find one little exception – a minority case in the extreme, where a marketing message turns out to be useful, and try to make the argument that therefore people are willing to be exposed to a constant firehose of marketing information just because every now and then one little scrap turns out to be useful? I think I can speak for most everyone in saying we’d GLADLY give up that occassionally useful message if it meant we could excise all marketing messages from our lives. The overall gain in quality of life for everyone would be immense.

    How is it that you ever come to buy anything? Totally on your own volition, sans any marketing, right? Right.

    I buy things when I have a need, not because some ad or commercial made me aware of the existence of a product. I go to a store and see what’s available, or I look up a product category on cnet or consumer reports or amazon and see what real users are saying. I trust real users. I don’t trust messages that come through marketing. I think I can honestly say that I’ve never in my life bought anything because I learned about it in an ad. The noise is tuned all the way out. Don’t see it, don’t hear it, don’t care.

    but you aren’t guaranteed privacy in all of your email dealings .

    Your examples of ways in which emails may not be private are solid. But let’s keep those externalities separate from the simple requirement of a guarantee that A) No one can get into my inbox and B) My email transmissions are encrypted and C) My email is not being scanned for content, with “relevant” ads being inserted into it.

    forgive me if I don’t count “Ridding the world of all marketing” as one of my ideals.

    Then our ideals are simply different. I believe in working toward a better world, while you apparently believe in a noisier, less peaceful, consumption-driven world.

    Ideals and reality are different. I don’t expect my ideals to become real, but I do think it’s a reality that most people don’t want to be marketed to most of the time.

    So what if they know I opened my email?

    If that thought doesn’t bother you then we’re on different planets.

  38. In our company we have locked down so the default mail type is HTML, Rich Text emails are one of the main reasons why our exchange server disks keep filling up so quickly.

    Send yourself a blank HTML email and it will be about 5KB, now send yourself a Rich Text email and it will be about 9KB, almost double in size without any content. Naturally a blank Plain Text email is the smallest at 3KB.

    Now do the same again, only this time paste/insert a 11KB (jpeg) picture in to the message body. The HTML will be about 17KB and the Rich Text email will be 107KB and six times bigger than HTML.

    Server disk space is cheap but still costs money (especially in current times), more disks create heat and requires more power, more heat requires better cooling, better cooling cost money and so on, you get where I’m going and its also not very Green. Rich Text…don’t do it!

  39. Dredd, I’m confused – I’ve always used “rich text email” and “html email” is interchangeable terms. What do you mean by “rich text” that’s not HTML?

  40. HTML email is awfull when you reply: text formats itself automatically and often in an horrible way.
    Sometimes you loose space on the left side so your paragraph becomes very long vertically.
    Plain text is not enough: you need RTF to send web links so any user can directly click on it.

  41. Halford – You don’t need RTF to send web links. Every email client knows how to make URLs in plain text emails clickable – no rich formatting is needed to create clickable links.

  42. Hey

    i think you should let go :) I agree, there are a lot different and better ways to transmit rich text and hyperlinks than HTML, but maybe, over 20 years after HTML has been introduced, we should admit it’s a standard and can live with it. ;)


  43. I hate html in email more than ever before mostly because of the revolting amount of arrogance exhibited by people who send it without the recepient having asked for it. It’s not so much a matter of technical right or wrong although I still consider it a security issue in addition to being a royal pain, it’s mostly a matter of courtesy and respect of the recepient’s wishes/preferences. In the case of merchants it’s quite simple actually, send me one html messages and you can keep your wares on the shelf, you’ll never sell me a thing but I will nurture an ever deepening hatred for you and your business. There are many, many similar irritants on the net today all of them related to microsoft trying to dominate standards, please do evaluate who puts the food on the table for you and yours; is it your naive and possibly inadvertant free plugging microsoft at the expense of customer goodwill, or is it the customers who sign the cheques?

  44. ‘over 20 years after HTML has been introduced, we should admit it’s a standard and can live with it’

    Except it’s not a standard. There’s no RFC for it. There is no standard. HTML e-mail sent by one client will not necessarily display correctly on another. It’s a hack. It’s always been a hack. And it has no useful purpose.

  45. With havin so much written content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism
    or copyright violation? My blog has a lot of completely unique content I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any ways to help prevent content from being ripped off? I’d certainly appreciate it.

  46. In my assessment, it is not even a point of debate: Sending HTML is the equivalent of sneezing in the face of your friends, and then saying “I hope you enjoyed that.” As to reading HTML email, I liken it to cleaning your toilet with you toothbrush just before you engage in your evening dental hygiene.

    I appreciate all the counter arguments. As someone with ample experience in communications, I recognize the love of typography, design and visual message occasionally embodied in HTML email. However, as a security practitioner, I point out a good many of the incidents over the past two decades have been facilitated by HTML email. If one is looking for the “Just say no to HTML” poster boy, I offer John Podesta, who may have single-handly brought down a political party because the phishing email he received relied on HTML to obfuscate the nefarious nature of its links.

    If you hold any admiration for HTML email, I urge you, for the safety of your employer, family, and the Internet at large, to stop using the medium until you have had the opportunity to seek out a reasoned educational source. If after such experience, you still feel HTML email has its place, I can only advise that you demand your money back because that source obviously didn’t teach you anything.

    This is not to say HTML and the superset of XML do not have their places. They obviously do and credit should be given to Sir Tim Berners-Lee for moving mark-up into the modern lexicon. But integrating HTML into email carries all the offense to reason and taste as does installing a videophone next to grandma and grandpa’s shower stall.

    While any lone technical issue should be ample enough reason to treat HTML email as though it were the bird flu of the Internet, I add this observation: HTML email is a sign of a weak mind. If you must rely on decoration for your message, then your message likely lacks substance. When an email arrives and its text version alerts “if you are having trouble …” then that is a clear sign that not only are you trying to capitalize a technology you don’t understand, but you lack the interpersonal respect to craft a message that is readable by me and the many others who actually understand the medium.

    Quite frankly, the discussion of HTML email is not a debate, but a litmus test. The fact that a good many people fail it does not indicate an error in logic as much the gullibility of human beings for things useless. We can only hope in the final accounting HTML-email ends up on the trash heap alongside platform shoes, jean leisure suits, and new Coke.

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