Writing for others
This page is meant to hold various thoughts on the act of writing for others, would it be sending letters or publishing software. As many other pages of my Web site, this one currently covers only a few topics to start with, but will hold more as I revise and condense miscellaneous notes accumulated here on my disks.
1.1 How to reply
One recurrent and controversial topic in mailing lists is top-posting, considered as harmful by many, and innocuous by others. Onon the SuSE-English mailing list, Doug McGarrett writes: Actually, the most informative are interactive, with the answers interspersed with the questions.
As Doug underlines, best messages are those where the replier first trimmed down the replied-to message to only the necessary context, quoting parsimoniously, and added his comments or remarks just after referred-to quotes, such to give an interactive aspect to the whole.
For untrimmed messages, bottom-posting or top-posting are just equally bad, and that may explain why some people are so reluctant to switching from one bad to the other. Moreover, top-posting has got some new friends recently, after some popular (Microsoft) software invites top-posting while preparing raw replies. Microsoft has never been a leader in good manners ☺.
Why people do not prepare correct (parsimoniously quoted, interactive) replieѕ? Either because they never learned know how to do it yet, or else, because they feel like sparing their own time while replying. But this is rude to the community, and let me try to explain why.
Internet (in various forms) has been there for many decades. A lot of experience has been accumulated over these years, and since it was growing more slowly then than now, newcomers could be educated into that experience as they joined. Despite describing itself as anarchic, the growing Internet was still driven by good horse sense, establishing consensus all along.
It is only recently that Internet became so democratically widespread, and acquiring new members much, much faster than they can be integrated and educated. We, as newcomers, cannot honestly consider ourselves as wise, when dismissing all that experience, hardly gained over a loong period of time, merely because it escapes our ignorant enthusiasm.
Email (and Usenet) have been fundamental to Internet since its inception, and Netiquette grew up on the recognition of what was the most proficient for the community. For example, a message or article is written once, but read by many (this means dozens for small mailing lists, or thousands for international billboards). It soon became clear that within a community, the need of speedy reading far outweighs the need of speedy writing. More deciphering is needed, on the reader side, when the context for a reply fragment is not available with that reply fragment, as handily as possible. This means that overall, reading is slower. Remember, a message is read much more often than it is written. The elementary politeness, formalised into netiquette, then says that the writer should be the one that shall invest the time at properly formatting his/her reply, with the goal of helping all potential readers at faster reading. Raw top-posting or raw bottom-posting may be interpreted as a subliminal message saying: I'm so important that I can expect you all to loose a bit extra of your own time, merely for protecting a bit of mine. When not plain ignorance, it demonstrates haughtiness of rudeness.
When you read netiquette, keep it mind that a lot of experience has been poured in, which you do not necessarily understand at first. This is not a random collection of arbitrary rules made up by a fascist. The netiquette goal is making Internet more useful for the community. It says what individuals ought to yield, for the whole to be happier.
Onon the SuSE-English mailing list, Ѕid Boyce comments: I don't read anything I don't want to, so I skip the lot if I'm uninterested.
When one receives a small amount of email, it does not matter so much being ultra-efficient at reading email, and taking more time to decide how interesting, or not, a particular message may be. Also, it is sometimes hard to imagine, or even believe, the amount of email some of us have to read daily. Because something looks easy to us does not necessarily means it is easy for others.
For those of us handling a lot of email, quickly recovering the context of any email is essential, because it is plain impossible to remember all discussion contexts flying around. Things are much, much quieter for me that they once have been, thanks God! Yet, in my most active times as a maintainer, I remember I was becoming pretty nervous when the number of unread incoming messages was getting near the hundred of thousands. Handling email was an intense effort burning half of my days, every day. A well-written reply from a user was always a blessing for me, and I surely paid attention of returning such politeness.