Tuesday 29 September 2009

Why Bottom Posting Sucks

Throughout the years, posting styles in email lists and in forums have been a point of contention. Essentially, there are three types of posting styles.

  1. Inline posting. In this style, the responder answers queries or provides insight throughout the document.
  2. Top posting. The responder writes his thoughts at the top of the previous discussion. This particular method has long been frowned upon because the dialog is out of order.
  3. Bottom posting. The responder writes at the very bottom of the discussion, leaving the previous dialog intact and creates a sequential order for the discussion.

At first glance, both inline and bottom posting make sense. The logic of each is maintained. In the first case you have essentially an actual dialog. He writes, she responds, the conversation goes back and forth. In bottom-posting, you have all the sequential context of the dialog available.

There is also the issue of what gets clipped out, or doesn’t. But let’s save that rant for another day. The issues with these styles have only been based on preference within the group or organization, and it’s daunting to think how much people argue about something so seemingly simple.

Because I personally find inline posting to make sense, as I am a verbal person and think in dialog anyway, let’s set that one aside. It’s fairly neutral overall. Most people won’t freak out if you use inline posting. Although I’m sure there are some of you out there!

Top-posting puts the sequence out of order. So why am I advocating it over bottom-posting? There are several reasons, all of which have their own logic. First, we’re becoming extremely used to backward sequencing. Blogs do this automatically. Twitter does too. Think of any social network and the way your posts are ordered. They are essentially top-posted.

Not only are we becoming accustomed to this behavior and perhaps prefer it in certain situations, but a second point also reigns true. We have many tools now so as to retrieve and save threads. IMAP, for one. Gmail provides archives. All current, popular mail clients allow some sort of filtering and thread views.

A third and important reason bottom-posting needs to die a fast death is the increasing access of email on small devices. It becomes absolutely senseless to have an entire novel sent when the message is simply “yup, I’m on the task” or what have you.

The final reason that bottom-posting sucks is that long emails that require a user to scroll through what is sometimes pages and pages of information is physically damaging and actually very difficult to do for those of us whose wrists and fingers tire easily. If someone with mobility impairments has to scroll through so much data just to get to “yup, I’m on the task” it just becomes an insult to that user, who suffers through the inconvenience to get to the message.

Two words: Not Accessible.

If there is any reason for everyone to abandon bottom-posting at this point in our evolution, I have to say it’s that alone. And if you’re young and strong and able-bodied and think I’m nuts, that’s okay. I’m probably older than your mother and sticking around to hear you grow up and say “Mom, you were right” will be my goal!

Bottom posting sucks. Let’s abolish it now and get on with the day.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 17:24 | Comments (61)

Comments (61)

  1. Bryan says: “I always prefer to see the oldest comment first and the scroll down to the newer.”

    Probably not when there are 842 comments.

    As for emails. I don’t remember ever seeing a bottom-posted email discussion! I always think that inline posting is easiest to read but takes longer to write, and top posting is quicker to write but takes longer to read (so people don’t usually read them properly.

  2. For some reason, inline posting drives me nuts! A friend of mine always does it; I spend half my time her emails wondering which bit I wrote, and which bit she did… (Senility? … Why do you ask?)

    I prefer top-posting for emails; not sure why – just used to it, I guess. Besides, if someone sends me a bottom-posted email response, there’s an excellent chance I’ll just think “why are they sending me this back?” and ignore it; or worse (as I did for one message an old boss sent me, just delete it. His instructions were below the email… Oops.)

    Blogs I live with whatever is available; bottom posting usually makes sense (the comments might not, but that’s a different problem). Twitter I don’t really care; the conversations there have so little context it’s almost irrelevant. Forums I prefer additional comments below; reading from top to bottom, you do get the feel of a conversation. A stilted conversation, to be sure. (Some things get out of sequence, but you learn to cope with those.)

    Why don’t we go all Talmudic, and have specific comments in the margins? The CSS might be a bit convoluted, but it would be possible. General comments could remain below the post (or above it in email). We’d also get to emulate Fermat and put “I know really good solution to this, but…” And then quit the job. :-)

    Carolyn Ann

    PS Molly, Nigh on 42 thousand miles! Wow. I thought I did well with my 7 week, 11,000 mile motorcycle trip last year! (This year it was 4,000 miles in 4 weeks. On a Vespa. :-)

  3. Surely the point should be that:

    1) A set of comments for a blog is essentially schizophrenic in nature – is a comment just the next line in the dialogue after the previous line, or it is a response to the original article?
    2) They do a really terrible job, currently, at providing a summary for a discussion, quickly giving people ideas of the possible takeaways, links for further reading, etc etc. They become useless cruft. We feel blog comments are necessary and provide value at the time that the comments are being made, but do we value them necessarily in retrospect? Would we take care to archive them, or go back, months or even years later, to read them and extract some value from them? I’d suggest that’s rarely the case. Which is pretty weird if you think about it.

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