[Mailman-Users] Reply-to options not working

Jordan Brown mailman at jordan.maileater.net
Mon Feb 5 13:50:42 EST 2018

On 2/5/2018 12:29 AM, Stephen J. Turnbull wrote:
> The question I asked, which you misinterpreted completely IMO, and
> Grant partially agreed with is "Does an algorithm which 1. gives
> overriding precedence to Reply-To, 2. otherwise if List-Post is
> present directs it there, and 3. finally falls back to From, seem
> likely to DTRT most of the time?"
You don't mention what your "smart reply" does with To and CC
addresses.  Discards them, I assume?

I suppose it depends on what "most of the time" means, and how often
cross-posting happens, and how often messages to mailing lists include

Indeed, most of the time I want to continue the conversation in the same
fora that it's happening in.

But:  in my work contexts, it is quite common for somebody to address a
question to a different team, a team that they are not a member of.  A
"reply" that goes to the List-Post address (versus All) won't do the
right thing, because it won't include the original author.  Normal
"Reply All" does the right thing.

But:  in my work contexts, it is quite common for a discussion to span
two teams.  Again, a "reply" that goes to the List-Post address (versus
All) won't do the right thing.  Normal "Reply All" does the right thing.

But:  It's quite common for a discussion to be between an ad-hoc group
of people on the To/CC lines.  A "reply" that doesn't include To and CC
doesn't do the right thing.  Normal "Reply All" does the right thing.

But:  Even in a mailing list context, I think that "To: <author> CC:
<list>" conveys useful context; I'm replying to what *you* said, and
including everybody else in the audience.  Reply All does the right
thing.  (Yes, it's suboptimal in that the To/CC list tends to accumulate
people over time, but the MUA can't get that right because it doesn't
know who is on the mailing list, ref points above.)

And, finally, it isn't uncommon (probably 5% < x < 20%) for me to want
to reply privately, perhaps to criticize, perhaps to try to resolve a
private disagreement, or perhaps simply to pursue a side thread that
isn't of general interest.  Again, a "reply" that goes to List-Post
(versus From) won't do the right thing and may lead to significant
embarrassment, a risk that in my experience outweighs any possible
advantage.  I do *not* want my "Er, did you really mean to say <stupid
mistake>" note to go to the entire audience.  Normal "Reply" does the
right thing (assuming non-munged Reply-To).

So, net, there are many cases where "smart reply" doesn't do what I
think is the right thing, and none where I think it's appreciably better
than Reply or Reply All, as appropriate.  (If you're interested, I'll
see if I can do an analysis of my message traffic to see how often it
would do something that I would consider to be clearly wrong and how
often it would be an improvement.)

On what might be a side note, I think there might be a key difference in
attitude between different camps.  One side wants to keep discussion on
the mailing list when possible; another wants to keep discussion *off*
the mailing list if it isn't of more or less general interest.  There is
nothing quite so annoying, for instance, as a "me too" flood.  95% of my
e-mail is work, so every message costs the company money, times the
number of people who have to pay at least enough attention to it to
delete it.  Ten seconds to scan a message, times a thousand people at
$50 to $100 or more per hour, is $140 to $280 or more per message.

>  > So for the general case where you might have gotten a message
>  > directly, and through list A, and through list B, the result is
>  > random unless you pay careful attention to how you got this
>  > particular copy of the message.
> Yes and no (I partly disagree with Mark here).  It's definitely
> deterministic, and *not* random, but to users it may seem arbitrary.

It is of course completely deterministic.  But note that I said "unless
you pay careful attention to how you got this particular copy of the

>  > I wouldn't use your "smart reply" button, because I think it does the
>  > wrong thing for mailing lists,
> I don't understand why you think that.  So far you have consistently
> responded to this thread on-list AFAICS, and everybody in this thread
> got here by reading it on the mailing list (all first responded to a
> mailing list post, not to one where they were personally addressed).

You don't know about the private conversations :-)

I did have a side conversation with Grant about exactly how I manage my
e-mail addresses (distinct "From" addresses for each mailing list and
each business I deal with).  There were a couple of side comments to Mark.

You also suppose that this style of mailing list dominates my mailing
list usage... it doesn't.  It's easily beaten by my Boy Scout e-mail,
which often goes to both the "parents" and the "Scouts" lists, and at
the moment (for stupid hosting reasons and because of a mailing list
manager with ... suboptimal ... header handling) it's usually going to
two copies of each list.  And *that's* totally dominated by work e-mail.

One might say that different behaviors are appropriate for different
fora, and that wouldn't be totally wrong, but remembering that different
fora will behave differently requires effort, and since Reply/Reply-All
do the right thing in *every* fora, why would I want to spend that
effort (and take the risk of mixing it up)?

>  > My only fear is that in the ongoing simplification (dumbing-down?) 
>  > of this stuff, "smart reply" will become the only option.  And,
>  > actually, if that happens then I *have* lost the "reply to author"
>  > function.
> I don't think that level of paranoia is justified.  Sure, some dev
> organizations will make that kind of mistake, as we've seen with
> Thunderbird.  But all of the MUAs I know that do have specialized
> reply-to-list (mutt, Gnus) have very flexible interfaces for binding
> UI gestures to functions, and far more available functions than
> "one-click" or "one-key" gestures.  If yours doesn't, then yes, you're
> at risk that a whim of the developers you could lose essential
> functionality.  But that's a problem with your MUA and its dev team,
> not with the suggested new functionality.

I do 99%+ of my e-mail with T-bird on a Windows system, but there's
still that <1% that's done with the Mail app on my iPad, which is the
opposite end of the flexibility spectrum.  That's the end that concerns
me.  And even T-bird is not immune to the "remove features to simplify
things" disease.

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