Please, no HTML!

For the first time ever (I think), on one day during the past week every email I received was coded in HTML. For those who don’t know what that is (and I’m sure there won’t be many), HTML is Hyper-Text-Markup-Language, and in short it’s the code that produces the formatting for web pages or other hypertext documents. It allows the author to introduce font formatting, font and background colour, bold and italics, images, and so forth. These are of course all things that we expect to see on a website.

Over the past few years, however, it has become more and more common for emails also to be written and received in this way. The original concept behind email was to have everything in text only – i.e. in ASCII characters without any formatting, images or the like. This meant that there was maximum compatibility between people and email clients (programs), and email messages would be small in terms of bytes. But then, perhaps in the desire to differentiate different email clients, users were offered formatting opportunities, and these were implemented through HTML. Emails got bigger (not in terms of words, but in terms of file size) and more complex, and there was always a slight fear that they would be more easily used as carriers of viruses once they were more than just text. Furthermore, the most prolific users of HTML in emails tended to be spammers.

Maybe I’m being unrealistic, but I don’t like formatted emails, and my email client (Mulberry, which by the way is the best there is) has been set by me to reject all HTML and other formatting in emails. If you send me a formatted email, then if that is possible my program will present me with the text only, stripping out all formatting before I open it; and if it cannot do that, it may just present me with a blank email the latter tends to happen in particular with emails from Apple, oddly enough). Just very occasionally I reformat it manually to HTML or whatever if I feel I need to be able to see the email as written. And when I do that, I mutter under my breath about the sender.

Why am I so pedantic? For me, email is a communication and information tool, and I just don’t want to be distracted by fancy formatting; I want to minimise the risk of emails being carriers for stuff I don’t want; I keep every email ever sent to me, and I want to avoid it taking up unnecessary space (the HTML version of an email typically is three times as big as the text-only version); and because email was never supposed to be formatted, and I am holding out for that original purity.

So there it is. If you are sending me emails, do send them text-only; your formatting does not impress me. I shall be very grateful!

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3 Comments on “Please, no HTML!”

  1. Jason Ruane Says:

    I didn’t even like it when the world moved from monospace or fixed-width font systems. I preferred it when sending a mail from a fixed width system, such as a VAX terminal would probably arrive in a similar machine at the destination. There was a subtle comfort in its simplicity; lowly whitespace characters could be used for things akin to comedic timing in speech.
    I guess I am the arche-TYPE-al fan of Courier 10, appreciative of ASCII art and bandwidth efficiency.

  2. Ultan Says:

    ASCII characters won’t give you maximum compatability in terms of communication at all, but exclude most people from communicating in their native language.

    However, I’m not a fan of HTML formatted emails either – they’re annoying, the formatting adds no value, and it can also play havoc for users with visual disabilities. That said, we are moving towards a scenario of richer user experiences, way beyond HTML capability. Furthermore, some HTML syntax – for links – is definitely preferable in e-mail instead of attaching huge files to the e-mail when they should really be referenced on a server.

    From a user experience viewpoint your device should render the text the way you want it, if it can’t, then maybe it’s the *device* that’s being pedantic. You can’t expect senders to know….

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