Email, a top posting odyssey

An odyssey of a typical email thread using the top posting style that most email clients default to these days.

Subject: Provide Satan VPN access
To: Frank, Jane, Bill, Zoe, John, Matt

I'm not sure. Nick, do you have any ideas?

-Franky

On Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 2:20 PM, Jane wrote:
>
> Great idea!.
>
> - Jane
> "Jannies got a gun"
>
> On Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 2:15 PM, Frank wrote:
>>
>> Oh, I dont know. I think we should ask somone else. I'll email Nick,
>> give
>> him no context, asking to decipher our previous conversation
>> backwards, and
>> ask for an answer.
>>
>> - Franky
>>
>>> On Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 2:00 PM, Zoe wrote:
>>>
>>> Thanks Bill!
>>>
>>> - Zoe
>>>
>>>> On Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 1:53 PM, Bill wrote:
>>>>
>>>> Hey Zoe,
>>>> I heard you had your baby! Thats great! I saw all the pictures on
>>>> facebook
>>>> What a cutie! You will have to keep a close eye on her when she
>>>> gets
>>>> older!
>>>>
>>>> - Bill Bong
>>>>
>>>>> On Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 1:30 PM, Matt wrote:
>>>>>
>>>>> I will be out of the office Friday Oct 15 between 1:29 PM and 1:31
>>>>> PM for
>>>>> a potty break.
>>>>>
>>>>> - Matt
>>>>> MCSE
>>>>> RHCE
>>>>> Minister ULC
>>>>> Certified Vet Tech
>>>>> Certified Matt
>>>>> linkedin.com/mattsocool
>>>>> 555-555-1234
>>>>> [email protected]
>>>>>
>>>>>> On Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 1:30 PM, Jane wrote:
>>>>>>
>>>>>> I didn't get that last meeting invite, I
>>>>>> think something is busted with my calendar. When try to access
>>>>>> that
>>>>>> webserver
>>>>>>
>>>>>> I get precussion defiled "/". I think my ISP is having problems
>>>>>> again.
>>>>>> I couldnt log into facebok or twiterr ethr!
>>>>>>
>>>>>> - Jane
>>>>>> Sent from my super cool mobile device
>>>>>>
>>>>>>> On Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 1:20 PM, Matt wrote:
>>>>>>>
>>>>>>> OK I created Satan's vpn account.
>>>>>>> username: satan
>>>>>>> password: isevil
>>>>>>>
>>>>>>> - Matt
>>>>>>> MCSE
>>>>>>> RHCE
>>>>>>> Minister ULC
>>>>>>> Certified Vet Tech
>>>>>>> Certified Matt
>>>>>>> linkedin.com/mattsocool
>>>>>>> 555-555-1234
>>>>>>> [email protected]
>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>> On Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 1:00 PM, John wrote:
>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>> Thats, not something I have access to but Matt does.
>>>>>>>> Adding Matt, Matt can you create this
>>>>>>>> account?
>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>> - John
>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>> On Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 12:30 PM, Frank wrote:
>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>> John, can you create a VPN account for Satan? Jane needs to
>>>>>>>>> run some
>>>>>>>>> tests
>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>> against the
>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>> new demo webserver before the client demo at 12:45. I realize
>>>>>>>>> this is
>>>>>>>>> your lunch our but I'm hoping you can get this done before
>>>>>>>>> then.
>>>>>>>>> Thanks! You're a life saver.
>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>> On Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 9:45 AM, Jane wrote:
>>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>> Hey Frank, hope
>>>>>>>>>> you had a good weekend. Satan
>>>>>>>>>> needs a vpn account so
>>>>>>>>>> he can make some changes to permissions on that demo server.
>>>>>>>>>> Can you
>>>>>>>>>> create an account for
>>>>>>>>>> him? I have a
>>>>>>>>>> demo with
>>>>>>>>>> the customer
>>>>>>>>>> this
>>>>>>>>>> friday at 12:45 PM.
>>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>>>>> -Jane
>>>>>>>>>>

What was it that I was supposed to have an idea on? Obviously there are several things from this fictitious email that are bothersome.

  • long signatures with superfluous information
  • credentials sent in email
  • reply all on personal notes

just to name a few.

Things can get even more frustrating as threads diverge (when multiple people reply to the same email and people reply to those emails). One of the most common reasons I hear about people preserving message history like that is to give context to later conversations. But once your thread has diverged  no email contains all of the necessary information. So you are relegated to looking through multiple sub threads looking for something that may be only in one of multiple threads or may be in each of the threads depending on when the thread diverged.

Perhaps I have never learned how to read these emails. one or two words per line as you go back further and further in an email I find exceedingly difficult to decipher.  I try not to rant about top posting too frequently, I just try to trim emails to only the specific information needed and email only those who need to be involved in a conversation.

Whats your take on top posting? Does it drive you nutty? Have you ever found a successful method to help sway users to a more polite email etiquette?

8 Comments

  • to read after the fact.
    It’s so confusing
    with a passion.
    top posting
    I really hate

  • Alas, at work we use Outlook, and I was told when I started that I *had* to top post, and not reply inline or trim the previous messages for clarity or brevity. It sucks. 🙁

  • It seems to me that this is confusing because multiple folks de-railed it, not because of the top replying … if people trimmed out the irrelevant bits it’d be perfectly easy to read, either as a top-reply or a bottom-reply

  • sysadmin1138 Linux Opera 9.80 wrote:

    We use Outlook at work, so I’ve had to learn how to deal with top-posting. As you correctly point out, once an email thread forks (or someone deletes all previous replies along the way) it’s nigh impossible to correctly trace from a single email where a conversation has gone. So yes, having to go through previous messages in a thread is the only way.

    I’ve had no luck convincing others in our Exchange/Outlook environment to embrace quoted-interspersed as a default. The few times it happens they use colored text to indicate interspersed comments, as Outlook doesn’t do “> ” markup. Of course this doesn’t work for those of us who are set to ‘convert to plain before display’. Top-posting is the only broadly consistent way that works with Outlook.

  • Most of your points are correct, except the top posting hate.
    To read a top posted conversation, start at the bottom and move up, one message at a time (not one line at a time).

    Bottom posting sucks if their are many replies, as one has to scroll to the bottom of each message to find the tasty nugget of new.

    The worst is when both top and bottom posting is used. Then the email is just a mess.

  • It’s true, top posting in and of itself isn’t the worst thing. But I believe top posting only contributes to the rest of bad email etiquette. When top posting I believe people tend to ignore what’s below, partially because they cant see past the fold, and it takes no effort to just type a response at the top of a message. So, long signatures that are left in-line, text from several messages back that has become badly mangled and is difficult to read from different peoples email clients can all go safely ignored.
    In the window of time a typical thread lasts it probably usually isn’t an issue. Problems surface later when trying to dig through emails for information. Instead of each exchange having just the relevant information, each exchange has a possible inaccurate portrayal of the entire conversation.
    Bringing a new person into a conversation is really a different issue. Top posting or bottom posting, the polite (and time saving thing) to do is summarize the relevant information for the new person so they don’t have to re-read several messages back.
    I and most people I know were taught to read left to right, top to bottom. Not 50 lines down, left to right top to bottom, then 15 lines up from last starting point, left to right top to bottom, 10 lines from last starting point … you get the picture.
    When I get email threads similar to the above it really just makes me think the sender believes their time is more important than mine. When I analyse the situation further I come to the conclusion that the beloved top posting behaviour that I believes encourages the other poor email etiquette is in reality so frustrating to others they don’t want to take the time to fix something before sending it on.

  • Xavier Nicollet Ubuntu Firefox 3.6.10 wrote:

    Emailing is not ours anymore. How often are we blamed for our “strange” habits ?

    Don’t worry, people use facebook, twitter, gtalk, buzz and msn these days.

    I think this fight is already deprecated. We have to suffer in silence !

  • Diego Windows XP Google Chrome 11.0.696.71 wrote:

    Google Wave made some evolution to solve the problems mentioned in this blog entry. I think it was a good idea, but they failed in the way to introduce it… it seemed to be something too new and innovative.
    I think it would have been more successful if they slightly moved from traditional email, into wave… I find them to be very similar concepts after all.

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