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RE: [WAI-IG] list policies (top posting for vision impairments)

From: Derek Featherstone <feather@wats.ca>
Date: Sat, 28 Feb 2004 23:14:29 -0500
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <002d01c3fe7a$86c94b30$fe01a8c0@faottcan001>

David Poehlman wrote:
> Top posting is the most intelegent way to go but it must be done 
> intelegently.

Derek's response (warning - this gets long):

I don't see this as being the case at all -- to me it doesn't make sense to
top post. This message isn't personally directed at you David, so please
don't take offence to what I'm writing. I believe in *not* top-posting
passionately, so I'm sure to get quite excited as I'm writing this.

I could be wrong, but I'd hazard a guess that the main reason top posting
occurs is use of email clients that don't allow you to fully configure your
replies, or that just top post by default (i.e., Outlook). Outlook also
includes all of the email message by default. Generally when people take the
time to quote first, respond next, they also tend to trim their posts to
only include relevant material from the previous message, keeping things
nice and to the point.

>  I've studied a lot of different methods
> of communicating, and I've seen a lot of them and when email was yong, 
> all we saw was top posting. Anything else is scrambled eggs no matter 
> how good you are at searching or scrolling.

I'll be honest with you - when email was young, my recollection is that top
posting was *never* the norm. Certainly not on email, and definitely not on
Usenet. And that is part of the point really. Interspersing your comments
with my responses to your comments helps to establish context for what I am
saying. It allows me to respond to points one by one, providing a quoted
reference and indicating that I am specifically responding to this point of
your post. Interspersing your comments with my responses means that people
don't *have* to scroll or search because the response is done in a logical
order. By quoting you before my words, it is very clear to what I am
responding. In addition, while you may know what you said, others may not.
Again, its about context.

> The advantages to top posting are that you will usually already know 
> what is in the previous message and if not, you can read the response 
> first or skip down to the original post.

I have to disagree here as well. This thread is a case in point -- I saw
your post, without reading previous posts. I couldn't establish coherence
between posts because there was none. To what, precisely, were you
responding? Your post included one message below it, but it could have been
much worse.

We also have to remember context and user preference. Some people may choose
not to read messages in their email client. Many lists have digest mode
where they receive one post a day. Not everyone will use things the same way
we do -- this is a philosophy we are all familiar with on this list, right?
(grin) We can't assume that people are always going to keep up with the
posting and responses, so why not make it easier for all users that don't
use the mailing lists in the same ways that we do?

One of the powers of the Internet is that we have access to vast sources of
information, and much of that is found in discussion lists such as this one.
The discussion is important -- if it wasn't we wouldn't likely have web
based archives of them. We use the web based archives as references in
articles as we refer to discussions that shape our thinking, or that provide
evidence to support or refute points. Saying that top posting is fine
because "usually you already know what is in the previous message" only
takes into account one scenario where you are actively following a
conversation to know what specific authors have written. In my opinion, this
neglects people in digest mode, people who are busy and haven't been able to
keep up with the list, people that come up on our conversations through
specific references and links to the web based archives, and doesn't take
into account people that arrive in the web based archives from search

Some of the worst cases of this that I've seen are over on the Wrox forums.
As an example, when searching for solutions to programming problems, I
regularly come across messages in my search results that are top posted
where the final post is along the lines of "Thanks Ian, that solved it for
me..." with a string of countless top posted messages after it. Then I have
to wade through the multiple nested originals that all include top posting
to find one of Ian's specific posts, where he suggested a solution, and hope
that I find the one that worked. If however, the last person had included a
simple quote above his thank you message that said "Ian wrote: Make sure you
check your configuration file is pointing at the correct path to the widget
script.", then I or anyone else coming across that specific message would
have a much clearer picture, and would know if the problem was the same,
applied to their situation and if the answer was of any use at all.

We need to make it easier for people to find information, and make that
information more usable and easier for anyone to understand.

> Interleaving stuff is sort of ok, but jumping through the hoops that 
> must be jumpped through in order to pick out the new bits after you 
> have already read the old bits can be tricky

I'd suggest that if everyone top posted, we'd have more hoops to jump
through to determine context. Again, we have to think beyond our own
individual email clients here. Just like our web content, we don't know
where our email messages will be used. They have a life beyond our email

> often, there is a lot of message with no comment that you have to wade 
> through and often, that is at the end of the message so a lot of time 
> gets waisted that way.

Which is why trimming the message to leave just the important bits in is
important. It shows that you've taken the care and the time to consider
everyone that is potentially using your response message in any number of
possible ways. Just like the work we do with accessibility, right? (grin)

I've now just realized that this message has gone on far too long, so I'm
about to head back to the top, and put in a warning to others at the top
that this message is a long response. Why? So that they know that up front,
and they can choose how they want to use the message -- they can read it
now, read it later, or just trash it because they see its "another
long-winded response from Derek". Provide as much context as possible to our
readers (users) so they can make informed decisions about how to proceed
based on their preferences and habits.

Phew. I'm done now. BTW -- for those that are interested, there is a great
tool for fixing quotes in Outlook at

Best regards,
Derek Featherstone  feather@wats.ca
Web Accessibility Specialist / Co-founder of WATS.ca
Web Accessibility Testing and Services
http://www.wats.ca   1.866.932.4878 (North America)
Received on Saturday, 28 February 2004 23:19:09 UTC

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