[Mailman-Developers] Reply-To munging considered *carefully*

Ben Finney ben+bazaar at benfinney.id.au
Wed Oct 14 08:30:26 CEST 2009

On 14-Oct-2009, Michael B. Trausch wrote:
> On Wed, 2009-10-14 at 12:55 +0900, Stephen J. Turnbull wrote:
> > Reply-To still is truly broken.  The author wants personal replies
> > to go to her, but now they go to the list.  The recipient must
> > *specifically avoid reply-to-author* in order to reply to the
> > author. This is so Orwellian.
> Permit me to rephrase so that you understand what I said:
> There are two major uses of email [for actual discussion]:  email
> from one person or to one person or a group of people, and email
> from one person to a mailing list (presumably with people on it).

I can't parse the above into two; I assume there's a mistake, and that
you meant “email from one person to one or more people, and email from
one person to a mailing list”. If you meant something else, I'm not
seeing it.

> However, the primary use-case for a mailing list is _group_
> _discussion_.

Yes. This majority use, though, should not make it more difficult to
use “reply to author”.

As has no doubt already been pointed out in this discussion, the
failure modes are wildly unbalanced:

* “Whoops, I sent a message intended for the whole list instead as a
  reply to the author. Oh well, I'll re-send the reply to the list.”
  Annoying for the two people involved, but no permanent harm done.

* “Whoops, I sent a message intended only for the author instead as a
  reply to the whole list.” Completely the opposite of what “reply to
  author” is supposed to do, and unrecoverable.

>  * I send an email to the mailing list to start a thread of
>  discussion. I send no reply-to header on the message, so the list
>  processing software appends one redirecting replies to the group.

It directs the “reply to author” replies to the group, despite the
intent of the respondent. A recipe for disaster, as has been
demonstrated countless times over the years.

> This facilitates group discussion.  It's not Orwellian, it's common
> sense

The Orwellian behaviour is that “reply to author” has been perverted
to mean something *totally* different.

For “facilitate group discussion”, we have the “reply to list”
operation — implemented in most modern mainstream MUAs, and plenty of
pressure on the few recalcitrant vendors to get it right.

>  * During the course of the thread, it becomes clear that some sensitive
> information must be sent (to address your use case from your Web page
> from earlier in this thread).  That's totally not a problem:  The person
> asking for the sensitive information simply adds a reply-to header to
> their outbound message.

This picture is so contrived I can't think of any situation where it's
actually played out as you portray it. Rather, the *person who wants
to send the private information* is the first one to know that's what
is needed — so they hit “reply to author” to send a reply to the
author of the message they're looking at.

Under your proposal, their intent is betrayed — deliberately, by the
mailing list software. Even though the mailing list software is *also*
making available the standard RFC 2369 information facilitating group

 \        “The greatest tragedy in mankind's entire history may be the |
  `\       hijacking of morality by religion.” —Arthur C. Clarke, 1991 |
_o__)                                                                  |
Ben Finney <ben at benfinney.id.au>
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