When you have an important message to convey (or perhaps a not so important one), it’s all too easy to fire up your
text editor and send out email with fancy fonts and lots of bright colours. Why not attach an illustrative image or PowerPoint presentation for good measure? It just makes the email as interactive as possible.
These type of thoughts are more common than one might think, and it comes as no surprise to us that people often complain bitterly about our plaintext only email policy.
HTML email may be appropiate for one-to-one correspondence but it really has no place when sending email to a mailing list which has subscribers of varying technical savvyness and of which a majority connect via dial-up telephone lines. Let us describe to you some of the reasons behind our absolute adherence to a no HTML and no attachments policy.
First and foremost, plaintext emails are universally accessible. No matter what email client (email software) the recipient is using, it is almost guaranteed that the message will render (display) correctly on their machine. The message you send is the message that will be received. With HTML email, you are betting that the recipient will have a client capable of rendering your emails correctly. More often that not, this bet pays off the person on the other end will see what you intended. However, with thousands of list subscribers we want to make sure that 100% of our users will be able to read all mail sent over our servers without difficulty.
Another problem with HTML is that it is too frequently used inappropriately. On another mailing list that many of us read, there was a post where every single letter of an email was posted in a different colour from the one preceding it and the one after it. Presumably the author thought that this spiced up their email, whereas in actual fact the email was close to seizure-inducing and very difficult to read. Our eyes are used to reading black and white text. When text is in too many colours in such a short amount of space, our eyes just switch off. We don’t want to get in the business of deciding how much HTML is too much, and what usage of HTML is appropriate for two reasons: first that we feel that plaintext email can sufficiently convey any message that needs to be mass distributed, and second, that it is simply less resource intensive not to have to make these decisions.
Our mail server is configured to bounce HTML email with a pointer to a website which explains how to configure various mail user agents (MUA) and webmail clients to send plain text email. Most posters are able to understand the bounce message and make the appropiate changes but for those who find bounce messages intimidating (can’t blame you), we recommend that you visit this site .
Another can of worms, as we mentioned before, are attachments. Users seem to be conditioned due to their usage of attachments in a corporate/personal environment that sending attachments to mailing lists are okay. Each list adminstrator has their own policy guided by what’s appropiate for the majority of their subscribers and whether a viable alternative exists. Given our user demographics we disallow all attachments on our list. A simple alternative, and one more often than not overlooked, is to upload the file to a website and then provide a link to it within the email. This way only people who want to download the file must use their resources to download it.
The mass sending of attachments over email is a colossal waste of resources. Not only for our servers, but also for the thousands of subscribers who are connecting over dial-up modems and have to spend time waiting for mail that they may or may not be interested in to download. Other mailing lists which cater to a similar audience to ours allow attachments, and we know of many people who complain about spending up to four minutes downloading a single email from these lists (and sometimes there are four or five such messages). We don’t want our lists to be a burden for our subscribers. We want them to be able to receive concise information that is quick to download, and then be able to choose if they want to download further materials.
Combine this with the cache-friendly headers we send out for various file-types including PDFs, GIFs, and JPEGs, and this makes for an efficient information delivery system for jamaats who host their mailing lists and websites with us.
We hope that this helps to explain why we allow only plaintext/attachment-free emails. Our motivation for doing so is to force message posters to send mail in a format which makes it easiest for the recipients to view the message. When a link is provided to further content, the reader is able to choose if they want to read it. The most important thing to remember is that if a message is worth reading, people will read it even in plaintext; and if a message is junk, no amount of colouring and formatting will convince readers that it is anything but that.