OFFTOPIC Re: [Mailman-Users] Archive URL in postings (2.1b3)

Jay Sekora jay at
Tue Oct 29 22:57:53 CET 2002

[Chuq's content reordered somewhat to suit the flow of my replies.]

> > I don't mind the subject-munging that mailman does if the list owner
> > adds an identifying tag because that's added to the existing header
> > the composer typed; the original information is still there.

> OTOH, I *really* hate subject munging. here's why: my research shows 
> that the subject line is the A-number-1 determinator of whether a user 
> opens a piece of email or not. That's THE key item of information for 
> whether it gets deleted out of the summary listing unread or not.

Actually, I shouldn't have said I don't mind it.  I should have said 
I minded it a little bit, but not a lot.  But I'd mind it a lot more 
if the munging actually *removed* some of the text the user put there.
As it is, it's an annoyance, but I can still get the original information 
(although it might be messed up somewhat by line-wrapping).

Something analagous in the To: and Cc: lines would be if Mailman changed:

From: Jay Sekora <jay at>
To: mailman-users at


From: Jay Sekora via mailman-users at <jay at>
To: mailman-users at

or to

From: Jay Sekora <jay at>
To: mailman-users at (for chuqui at

Both of those options would annoy me, but in both cases they add information 
rather than subtracting it.  But my understanding is that the new 
personalization mechanisms will make the following sets of headers 
indistinguishable, if you at is subscribed to list at

From: me at
To: you at
Cc: list at

From: me at
To: list at

To me, that's a *HUGE* distinction in the intent of the author.  If 
I were composing mail for a list that did this sort of rewriting, 
I'd probably eventually feel compelled to paraphrase the header information 
in the body of the message, along the lines of "(This message is for 
<you at>, including the list in case anybody else is interested.)" 
or something like that.

> To me, [subject rewriting is] a much bigger sin than regularizing how
> the To and CC are presented, because if nothing else, that's an
> attempt to make it easier to use that information without depending
> on how the original user presented it. After all, you're dependin on
> them doing the to: list, CC: you, and while that might be true, it's
> not guaranteed true. And MLMs have played with it as well. This is
> just a new take on how to structure it.

In my opinion, the From:, To:, Cc:, and Subject: headings are all equally 
"sacred"; they all contain information chosen by the composer of the 
message.  And if you rewrite the To: and Cc: headers because you assume 
message composers are too stupid to use them properly, you're ruining 
things for the (vast majority in my experience) people who do use 
them properly.

If the theory is that RFC822 headers should be thrown out _in toto_ and we
should start over from scratch, well, that's interesting an interesting
research topic (and I think current Internet email standards may be
nearing the end of their shelf life), but I don't think it's realistic
for existing mailing lists.

> > Do you think it would make sense, on most lists, to *replace* the
> > subject with (eg) "Subject: Mail from $sender to $listname on $date"?
> > That's the same sort of thing.

> No. I argue the opposite, that subject line is one of the headers taht 
> I consider MOST untouchable.

And I see From:, To:, and Cc: in the same category.  If I were forced
to throw away one of those four, it would be Cc:, but if I had to throw
away two of those four, they'd be Cc: and Subject:.

> > I'm assuming that the person who typed in the message put the list
> > address where s/he thought it belonged.  I want to *know* where that
> > person thought it belonged.

> then why don't you care what the person put in the subject line?

I do, and I was using the issue of the subject line to explain how 
I felt about the To: line.  In an ideal world, the list software wouldn't 
mess with either one.  In a pragmatic world, I guess I'd be OK with 
the list adding some commentary to To: or Cc:, the way it does with 
Subject:, as long as it didn't actually move things around from one 
header to another, but I wouldn't be thrilled with it.

> addresses are -- addresses.

Addresses represent people, or groups of people, and humans make
distinctions among people and groups of people.  Who a message is
addressed to is a huge and crucial part of the social context of the

The following two messages are very different:

  To: mailman-users at
  The problem of drug and alcohol abuse in America's youth is a serious
  one, but I think there are few problems that can't be solved by 
  judicious application of pretzels.


  To: president at
  Cc: mailman-users at
  The problem of drug and alcohol abuse in America's youth is a serious
  one, but I think there are few problems that can't be solved by 
  judicious application of pretzels.

Those two messages are significantly different in tone even in the 
unlikely event that <president at> happens to be subscribed 
to mailman-users.

> The subject line is the author's own 
> thought on the piece of email.

And the To: and Cc: headers are the author's own thought about who 
the email is for, and that's very important information.

> To/cc/bcc is really an artificial construct in the email world,
> anyway, a hangover from the paper days.

But those conventions existed in the days of paper memos because people
felt they communicated something important.  We still need to communicate 
the same meaning one way or another, and there's a widespread, widely
accepted means of doing that in email.  If we throw that away, or 
break its usefulness for that purpose, people writing and reading 
email will need to find a new mechanism to accomplish the same thing.

> The subject line is the author's knock on your front door.

I pay much more attention to the From: line, for what it's worth.



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