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Should mail and news converge or diverge?

1999-01-10 02:39:58
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Should we try to make e-mail and news
standards as close as possible?

Some previous comments on this issue:

At 02.26 +0100 99-01-07, Keith Moore wrote:
While I'd like to keep the two formats as similar as
possible (and thus maximize the amount of sharable code)
it's far too late to insist that Usenet and email use the
same message format. Fundamental protocol elements like
From and Reply-To have always had significant differences
between email and usenet. Heck, usenet doesn't even
separate the delivery envelope from content.

At 19.38 +0100 99-01-04, Ned Freed wrote:
BTW, one argument I suspect to hear is that this is news,
not mail, and what applies to news doesn't apply to mail.
But all you have to do is look at the number of news to
email gateways to see how this doesn't wash.

At 20.12 +0100 99-01-07, Ned Freed wrote:
But there is a formal rule that things have to
interoperate. You cannot proceed down the standards track
in the presence of interoperability problems and you
cannot even get on the track if it can be shown that your
proposal is guaranteed to cause interoperability problems.
Now, we all know that mail and news are gatewayed all the
time. Messages pass from news to mail and from mail to
news, sometimes multiple times.

Arguments for divergence:

- Different needs for different applications.

- Established base.

- Restrictions needed in one protocol not need
  in another (Examples: news does not need
  content-transfer-encoding, mail does maybe not
  need mandatory Message-ID and Subject).

- Easier to get results in standards work.

Arguments for convergence:

- Messages are often moved through mail-news
  gateways, and these will work better, the less
  difference there is between the formats.

- The same message is sometimes sent to both mail
  and news at the same time.

- Replies to news messages are sometimes sent via mail.

- Combined news and mail agents are becoming more common.

- User filtering needs, see below.

User filtering needs

E-mail and netnews differ from most other Internet
applications in that there is a continuos stream of new
information, and that users want to be told when there is
new items for them. At the same time, this causes a risk of
information overload.

Users find it difficult to have to regularly connect to
several different systems in order to check for news. It is
easier for them to use a unified system, where all new
items are available with the same user interface.

Common counterargument: The separation between mail and
news is user-friendly, because it allows users to give mail
higher priority.

Counter-counterargument: Certainly users need filtering,
sorting and prioritizing of the incoming message flow. But
it is not always true that for a particular user all mail
messages are always more important than all news articles.
Some mailing lists may for example have lower priority than
some newsgroups for a particular user. So filtering,
sorting and prioritizing should not be restricted by an
arbitrary rule putting all mail at higher priority than all


Since there are arguments both for and against convergence
between mail and news, we cannot conclude that we should
strive for full integration, or that we should disregard
the integration needs entirely. But we should strive for as
much convergence as possible, and we should have good
reason in cases where we intentionally define things
differently for mail and news.
Jacob Palme <jpalme(_at_)dsv(_dot_)su(_dot_)se> (Stockholm University and KTH)
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