[Mailman-Users] Reply-to options not working

Stephen J. Turnbull turnbull.stephen.fw at u.tsukuba.ac.jp
Sun Jan 28 23:40:37 EST 2018

Grant Taylor via Mailman-Users writes:
 > On 01/24/2018 01:50 AM, Stephen J. Turnbull wrote:

 > > 2.  Else if there is a List-Post, address the message to List-Post.
 > I don't think that it's appropriate to always prefer the List-Post over 
 > the From ~> Reply-To.

OK.  But I'm not saying "always."  I'm saying that this would DTRT for
me a very large proportion of the time, and for AOLers, about 100% of
the time to 6 sigmas.  Others have used the word "right".  From the
point of view of the Internet, there's no "right" *off* the Internet,
and MUAs are off the Internet.  The question is *desired* behavior,
and whether that desired behavior can be achieved efficiently (little
information to remember, few keystrokes, etc) and mnemonically for a
given set of users who desire that behavior.

In the end it's an empirical question.  Unfortunately it's hard to get
information about the target population (it's not Mutt users!) without
getting the algorithm into one of the big MUAs.

 > MUAs (are starting to) have separate functions for reply to From / 
 > Reply-To vs reply to list.

Mutt and Gnus have had that for as long as I can remember.  But
there's always a huge constituency for a one-button do-what-I-mean
function.  "It's obvious what I want, why doesn't this stupid software
get it?" ;-)  I think this algorithm provides that function.

Taken out of context because I have no idea what this means:

 > the MLM adds a List-Post header to comply with other standards.

Where is List-Post a conformance issue?  You add it if you want to
inform people and MUAs where to post, and you don't if you don't.  I'm
saying we can exploit a high correlation between "availability" of
posting to the list (the RFC semantics of List-Post) and a desire to
direct discussion (ie, replies) to the list.

 > I feel like a reply to such a message [with Reply-To set] should go
 > to the Reply-To (as set by the author) and not the List-Post as set
 > by the MLM.

It does under this algorithm.  I'm not sure what you're talking about?

 > I can also see a case where a message author might choose to
 > (dynamically) set the Reply-To to something like "Reply-To: Please
 > reply to the Mailman-Users mailing list. <mailman-users at python.org>"

Again, that's where it will go under this algorithm, absent a decision
by the replying user to use a different function.

 > I disagree for a number of reasons.  Some of which are outlined
 > above.

Some of them seem to be misunderstanding of the effect of the
algorithm, though?

 > I see an opportunity for a "List-Reply-To" header that could
 > indicate if /replies/ should go to the list (List-Post) or the
 > author (Reply-To|From).  I suppose that it could also be possible
 > to specify an alternate address for replies to go to, i.e. for
 > thread tracking or something like that.

That's another can of worms.  My older proposal had the literal
strings "author" and "list" as the options, but alternate addresses
are extremely rare in my experience.  Except in the case of
cross-posting, where I feel that (1) cross-posting is generally
extremely deprecated and doesn't happen all that much, (2)
Mail-Followup-To is widely respected even though it's not a standard
for mail, and (3) Reply-To is good enough, though not optimal.

 > This would still leave us in the situation where MUAs need to 
 > differentiate between a generic Reply and a Reply-to-List behavior. 
 > Plus the associated action for the reply keyboard sequence.

I'm not suggesting otherwise.

 > I feel like this is /mostly/ a user education issue.

It has been a user education issue for 40 years in my experience,
though.  At some point we need to accept that users are ineducable.

 > There may be some room for UI / UX improvement.  Ultimately it's up
 > to the MTA to do what the user wans done.  Consider the following:
 > From: Author <author at author.example>
 > To: List <list at list.example>
 > Reply-To: Author <author+list at author.example>
 > List-Post: List <list at list.example>
 > Where should replies to the author go to?  Where should replies to the 
 > list go to?  Where should the (undefined) "reply" go to?

I'm suggesting that there should be four functions (reply to author,
reply to list, reply to all, and "smart" reply).  I suspect that for a
lot of users, "smart" reply will be all they *ever* use.

This may embarrass them occasionally on some lists, but there's
nothing we can do about that.  If muscle memory for using Reply All on
list traffic is strong, you're in the same danger.  At least with
"smart reply" the list can omit List-Post (or set List-Reply-To to
author, if that ever becomes available).

 > I don't think that it's likely for the MTA to automagically know what 
 > needs to be done.

Automagically?  No.  With high probability?  I believe yes.

 > I think it is wrong for us to ascribe frequency of use for other
 > users.

Taken seriously that would mean you believe that UI/UX design is
impossible.  You actually deny you believe that, and I can't go down
that road.  Most users are not willing to design their own UI.
 > Just because I do something some way does not mean that others do so 
 > with the same frequency, or even the same thing.

If I thought this was just me, I wouldn't have posted.  I've been
observing the concerns of mailing list owners for two decades, and I
believe that if this algorithm were used in all major MUAs, there
would be no demand for Reply-To munging.

 > I personally use Reply List more than I use Reply (Author
 > [From|Reply-To]).

Then this algorithm would likely allow you to use the same UI gesture
(keystroke, GUI botton) most of the time.

 > I feel like this is a user education issue.  Sadly, pain of 
 > embarrassment is a good teacher.

Unfortunately, I suspect that most list posts that are regretted later
were sent with malice aforethought, not inadvertantly.  So I don't
think there'd be much reinforcement.  And inadvertant posts typically
have collateral damage.  I think that would be reduced.

 > > I don't understand what Thunderbird thought they were doing. <shrug/>
 > I think they were trying to apply a technological solution to what I 
 > believe is fundamentally a user education issue.

I don't think there's a technological *solution*.  Cf. my belief about
the wrongness of saying "right". ;-)  I do think there's a simpler UI
that does what users want very often.  I believe that many users think
of mailing lists as fundamentally different from personal email, and
they would like their MUAs to distinguish automatically.  This
algorithm, I believe, would do a pretty good job of that.

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