Do we really want to send web pages in e-mail?

More about sending web-pages in e-mail

Arguments for and against

Last revision: 22 May 1998

A voice against

To: (usenet-format)
Subject: Re: Content-Type: message/external-body
From: (John Moreno)
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 1998 11:04:08 -0400

HTML in news is nearly useless, it's not a forum where a great deal of
formatting is desirable.  It's much more likely for something completely
different will be accepted than html being adopted - unless it is done
in such a way that it doesn't cause problems for the people who don't
use it.  Brad's OOB (or a alternative using the same idea, i.e. put the
extra info in the headers) has a much better chance of being accepted
simply because it's invisible, it either just works or it's not seen.
It can quietly be adopted and there won't be any messages saying "That's
ugly and rude and if you do it again I'm going to burn your house down".

John Moreno

Another voice against

Date: Tue, 19 May 1998 15:30:57 -0700
From: <Name withheld at request of sender>
Subject: New email format

I just saw a report in IWORLD that you are working on adding new HTML 
features to email.

We do not need or want these features. Email is simple and compact. 
Adding the "web experience" would merely clog the web with useless 
formatting commands, font sizes, graphics, and issues that have little to 
do with communicating information and ideas. SPAM would increase this 
traffic, and is already a severe burden on many ISP's.

If people want me to have a "web experience", they can email me a url to 
a regular web site. I can then chose to ignore it as I wish. Your 
proposals would force me to wait until the entire email message was 
downloaded before I could erase it.

Email should be kept as simple as possible. If you want to enhance email, 
please work on more constructive issues, such as steps against forgery, 
and email receipts guaranteeing that email was delivered.

Reply to the above

From: Jacob Palme <>
Date: Wed, 20 May 1998 10:06:01 +0200
Subject:Re: New email format
Cc: IETF working group on HTML in e-mail <mhtml@SEGATE.SUNET.SE>

You remind me of the famous film director, who said, soon
before the introduction of sound-film: "The film-making
technology is now perfect. No future improvements are possible.".
Or of the lawmakers who proscribed that a man with a red flag
should walk in front of each motorcar, although I do have some
sympathy for those lawmakers.

On a more serious issue: Why would pictures not be useful in
e-mail, when it is useful in most other media?

Why are newspapers using a mixture of different fonts, graphics and
other layout tools if this does not make the newspapers more readable?

Do you not think that collecting information through e-mail forms
would be very useful in many areas?

Do you not think that we need a standard for archiving complete
web documents?

Good use of fonts, images and layout makes text more readable.
Assume that the time to write a message or article is W seconds, and
that the time to read it on average for all readers is R seconds for N
readers of the message or article.

Assume that the time to write a message or article is W seconds, and
that the time to read it on average for all readers is R seconds for N
readers of the message or article.

The total time spent on writing and reading will then be
T = W + N*R

HTML makes W longer, but R shorter, because the text is more readable.
Thus, the larger N is, the more probable that T will be lower with
HTML-formatted messages.

Examples, using reasonable values, partly from studies I have made:
W = 240 seconds for plain text, 480 seconds for HTML
R = 30 seconds for plain text, 27 seconds for HTML

With these values, T will be lower for HTML than for plain text
if N is larger than 80.

Thus, it is probable that using HTML will save time if a message
or article has more than 80 readers. Thus large mailing lists and
all but very small newsgroups will be more efficient with HTML
in messages.

Of course, the figures varies with the content. If a good graphic
can explain something better than text, then the difference
between R for plain text and HTML will be larger than I assumed.

Also, in a heated argument, the sender of a message may want maximum
understandability of his ideas, even if this will cost the sender
some more effort.

--- ---

I do agree with your wishes to get better protection against
forgery and spamming and e-mail-receipts. But there are better
ways to achieve this than to stop use of HTML in e-mail.

Additional comment added later:

If you think MHTML will increase the download time for messages, you can use the FETCH command of IMAP to download messages. With this command, you can ask IMAP to only download the plain text part of your message. IMAP can be used to download from Usenet News, too, if you want this feature.