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Re: MoreOn: Re: MoreOn: Attempts at establishing harmful conventions

2004-11-30 19:50:53

I see (at least) two distinct kinds of badness associated with [listname] tags. One is that they get in the way of searches, comparisons, display, etc. so there's a temptation to remove or ignore them just as with Re:, Fwd: and similar tags.

I'm not sure this is a problem. Is it a problem if a search engine builds in a smart spelling algorithm, so that searching for "colour" finds "color" and "collor"? It seems to me that a similarly "smart" email system would build in heuristics based on common human email conventions. Where's the problem?

one man's crisis is another man's opportunity :)

The other is the harm to transparency - these tags alter the message content from what the original author intended. Footers added by lists cause the same kinds of problems. This begs the question - is the purpose of the list to be a transparent multicast channel or is it an original source of content?

As usual, you've asked precisely the right question. I think it points to the fundamentally human element here, which is that some lists have the former purpose and some the latter. One might taxonimize them as "transparent mailing lists," "header-modifying mailing lists," "body-modifying mailing lists," and "non-transparent mailing lists." Any of these might reflect a reasonably legitimate set of needs on the part of the list owner. I think we just have to deal with it. It might be nice, however, if there were a way to tell the difference.

Some lists definitely have a purpose at one or the other of the extremes. But I'm seeing a lot of lists that are mostly transparent, but still want to make minor modifications - usually either to "enhance" the user's experience or to help pay for the list service. Unfortunately, short-term "enhancements" often produce dysfunctional behavior in the long term. As for "legitimate needs" - I'd say there are desires of list owners and desires of list users and they're often in conflict. For that matter, the desire of one list user is often in conflict with the desires of another. But some of these desires are fairly benign, while others, if implemented, impair the ability of the mail system to evolve to better accommodate users.

For instance, the message-id should be changed, in-reply-to and references fields should be cleared or altered, etc.

Or, perhaps, a "List-modifications" field could be defined.

As for the "dog" analogy: we can scarcely prevent any kind of protocol violation. But we can at least point out that some practices are undesirable and try to discourage them.

Perhaps we need the equivalent of a "Curb Your Dog" sign for mail sent to mailing lists? A "please don't screw with this message" flag? Would that be useful in any way?

well, most people understand that it's not acceptable to let their dogs urinate anywhere they want to...that's why they take them outside at regular intervals. so maybe we need the equivalent of designated doggie walks for list owners :)


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