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Posting Style

Top-posting vs. Inline posting

One remark I often see on mailing lists that I frequent and/or run is how stupid it is to disallow top-posting. Whether you like it or not, it isn't allowed in these places so you have to refrain from doing so if you want your posts to be published there and if you want the long-time members who are most likely to be able to help you not to ignore you altogether. Put it this way: if you were visiting a home in Japan and didn't take off your shoes, because it's not the way you do things, while they might not say anything, you'd probably never be invited there again.

In a business enviromnent, top-posting can be desireable in that it's a convenient way of quickly adding information to a debate while leaving the rest below for reference for those who want to read it and refresh their memories. Regardless of any justification, the practice stems from badly-designed mail clients that encourage this lazy behaviour. The badly-designed mail clients in question are ubiquitous on x86 architecture machines and there's a whole generation of users who have never known anything else.

Mailing list traffic is completely different from business e-mail. On a mailing list there are potentially thousands of participants with differing skillsets who are going to join in on the conversation at different stages. The key word here is "conversation". A message on a mailing list should read like one, with one speaker and the respondent alternating. The best way to describe this is by example.

Let's start out with this example post that could be sent to a mailing list that deals with mobile phones:

From: "Jim" <jim@example.net>
To: "Mobile phone mailing list" <mplist@example.net>
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2008 10:17:06 -0500
Subject: "secret" codes on a Nokia N95

Hi all,

I read somewhere that there are codes I can use to reset my phone and find
out things like its WLAN MAC address. There's nothing in my manual and
there's conflicting information out there on the web. Can anyone shed any
light on this? I have a Nokia N95.

Also, do these codes work on other phones?

Thanks in advance,

-- 
Jim - jim@example.net

Now, let's suppose Derek replies to this mail. If he opted for the lazy path and top-posted a reply, that reply would probably look something like this:

From: "Derek" <derek@example.net>
To: "Mobile phone mailing list" <mplist@example.net>
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2008 10:24:46 -0500
Subject: Re: "secret" codes on a Nokia N95

Hi Jim,

Here's a list of the codes I know about:

*#06# : Show IMEI mumber
*#0000# : Show firmware version
*#7780# : (*#rst0#) Restore factory default settings
*#7370# : (*#res0#) Soft reset
*#2820# : (*#bta0#) Show bluetooth BD address
*#62209526# : (*#mac0wlan#) Show WLAN MAC address

*#06# is part of the GSM standard and works on all GSM phones.

*#0000# works on all Nokia phones.

*#7780# and *#7370# only work on Nokia phones running S60 2nd edition and
later.

The others might also work on S40 phones with BT/WLAN capabilities.

On 12/29/2008 at 10:17, "Jim" <jim@example.net> wrote:

> Hi all,
>
> I read somewhere that there are codes I can use to reset my phone and
find
> out things like its WLAN MAC address. There's nothing in my manual and
> there's conflicting information out there on the web. Can anyone shed any
> light on this? I have a Nokia N95.
>
> Also, do these codes work on other phones?
>
> Thanks in advance,
>
> -- 
> Jim - jim@example.net

Now Tom adds a note of his own:

From: "Tom" <tom@example.net>
To: "Mobile phone mailing list" <mplist@example.net>
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2008 10:38:34 -0500
Subject: Re: "secret" codes on a Nokia N95

*#7780# also works on S40 phones.

You can change the PIN on your SIM with:
**04*ABCD*EFGH*EFGH#
Where ABCD is the current PIN and EFGH is the new PIN you want to use.

On 29/12/2008 at 10:24, "Derek" <derek@example.net> wrote:

> Hi Jim,
>
> Here's a list of the codes I know about:
>
> *#06# : Show IMEI mumber
> *#0000# : Show firmware version
> *#7780# : (*#rst0#) Restore factory default settings
> *#7370# : (*#res0#) Soft reset
> *#2820# : (*#bta0#) Show bluetooth BD address
> *#62209526# : (*#mac0wlan#) Show WLAN MAC address
>
> *#06# is part of the GSM standard and works on all GSM phones.
>
> *#0000# works on all Nokia phones.
>
> *#7780# and *#7370# only work on Nokia phones running S60 2nd edition and
> later.
>
> The others might also work on S40 phones with BT/WLAN capabilities.
> 
> On 12/29/2008 at 10:17, "Jim" <jim@example.net> wrote:
>
> > Hi all,
> >
> > I read somewhere that there are codes I can use to reset my phone and
> find
> > out things like its WLAN MAC address. There's nothing in my manual and
> > there's conflicting information out there on the web. Can anyone shed
any
> > light on this? I have a Nokia N95.
> >
> > Also, do these codes work on other phones?
> >
> > Thanks in advance,
> >
> > -- 
> > Jim - jim@example.net

-- 
Tom - <tom@example.net>

"So, what's wrong with this?" you ask.

First of all the line wrapping. Once the quote indentation ("> ") has been added on the left of the quoted text, that line may be long enough to wrap, so the mailer pushes the last word onto the next line. This is seen in Derek's reply to Jim and the line that ends with "find" is split up. However, the word "find" is still part of the quoted text, but the mailer has not added the indentation that allows us humans (or other mailers!) to identify it as such. Most mailers color quoted text differently to the new text. Assuming Tom's message is being viewed on such a mailer, this is what would be seen:

From: "Tom" <tom@example.net>
To: "Mobile phone mailing list" <mplist@example.net>
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2008 10:38:34 -0500
Subject: Re: "secret" codes on a Nokia N95

*#7780# also works on S40 phones.

You can change the PIN on your SIM with:
**04*ABCD*EFGH*EFGH#
Where ABCD is the current PIN and EFGH is the new PIN you want to use.

On 29/12/2008 at 10:24, "Derek" <derek@example.net> wrote:

> Hi Jim,
>
> Here's a list of the codes I know about:
>
> *#06# : Show IMEI mumber
> *#0000# : Show firmware version
> *#7780# : (*#rst0#) Restore factory default settings
> *#7370# : (*#res0#) Soft reset
> *#2820# : (*#bta0#) Show bluetooth BD address
> *#62209526# : (*#mac0wlan#) Show WLAN MAC address
>
> *#06# is part of the GSM standard and works on all GSM phones.
>
> *#0000# works on all Nokia phones.
>
> *#7780# and *#7370# only work on Nokia phones running S60 2nd edition and
> later.
>
> The others might also work on S40 phones with BT/WLAN capabilities.
> 
> On 12/29/2008 at 10:17, "Jim" <jim@example.net> wrote:
>
> > Hi all,
> >
> > I read somewhere that there are codes I can use to reset my phone and
> find
> > out things like its WLAN MAC address. There's nothing in my manual and
> > there's conflicting information out there on the web. Can anyone shed
any
> > light on this? I have a Nokia N95.
> >
> > Also, do these codes work on other phones?
> >
> > Thanks in advance,
> >
> > -- 
> > Jim - jim@example.net

-- 
Tom - <tom@example.net>

If David, who bottom-posts, now adds a comment to Tom's mail, we're going to get this mess:

From: "David" <david@example.net>
To: "Mobile phone mailing list" <mplist@example.net>
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2008 11:24:14 -0500
Subject: Re: "secret" codes on a Nokia N95

On 12/29/2008 at 10:38, "Tom" <tom@example.net> wrote:

> *#7780# also works on S40 phones.
>
> You can change the PIN on your SIM with:
> **04*ABCD*EFGH*EFGH#
> Where ABCD is the current PIN and EFGH is the new PIN you want to use.
> 
> On 29/12/2008 at 10:24, "Derek" <derek@example.net> wrote:
> 
> > Hi Jim,
> >
> > Here's a list of the codes I know about:
> >
> > *#06# : Show IMEI mumber
> > *#0000# : Show firmware version
> > *#7780# : (*#rst0#) Restore factory default settings
> > *#7370# : (*#res0#) Soft reset
> > *#2820# : (*#bta0#) Show bluetooth BD address
> > *#62209526# : (*#mac0wlan#) Show WLAN MAC address
> >
> > *#06# is part of the GSM standard and works on all GSM phones.
> >
> > *#0000# works on all Nokia phones.
> >
> > *#7780# and *#7370# only work on Nokia phones running S60 2nd edition
> and
> > later.
> >
> > The others might also work on S40 phones with BT/WLAN capabilities.
> > 
> > On 12/29/2008 at 10:17, "Jim" <jim@example.net> wrote:
> >
> > > Hi all,
> > >
> > > I read somewhere that there are codes I can use to reset my phone
> and
> > find
> > > out things like its WLAN MAC address. There's nothing in my manual
> and
> > > there's conflicting information out there on the web. Can anyone
> shed
> any
> > > light on this? I have a Nokia N95.
> > >
> > > Also, do these codes work on other phones?
> > >
> > > Thanks in advance,
> > >
> > > -- 
> > > Jim - jim@example.net
>
> -- 
> Tom - <tom@example.net>

The old **04... trick is also part of the GSM standard and should work on all
GSM phones.

The wrapping problem, which seems to be specific to MS-Outlook and Outlook Express, can be fixed with pieces of software called Outlook-Quotefix and OE-Quotefix respectively. This will fix the wrapping so that Tom's reply to Derek would now look like this:

From: "Tom" <tom@example.net>
To: "Mobile phone mailing list" <mplist@example.net>
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2008 10:38:34 -0500
Subject: Re: "secret" codes on a Nokia N95

*#7780# also works on S40 phones.

You can change the PIN on your SIM with:
**04*ABCD*EFGH*EFGH#
Where ABCD is the current PIN and EFGH is the new PIN you want to use.

On 29/12/2008 at 10:24, "Derek" <derek@example.net> wrote:

> Hi Jim,
>
> Here's a list of the codes I know about:
>
> *#06# : Show IMEI mumber
> *#0000# : Show firmware version
> *#7780# : (*#rst0#) Restore factory default settings
> *#7370# : (*#res0#) Soft reset
> *#2820# : (*#bta0#) Show bluetooth BD address
> *#62209526# : (*#mac0wlan#) Show WLAN MAC address
>
> *#06# is part of the GSM standard and works on all GSM phones.
>
> *#0000# works on all Nokia phones.
>
> *#7780# and *#7370# only work on Nokia phones running S60 2nd edition and
> later.
>
> The others might also work on S40 phones with BT/WLAN capabilities.
> 
> On 12/29/2008 at 10:17, "Jim" <jim@example.net> wrote:
>
> > Hi all,
> >
> > I read somewhere that there are codes I can use to reset my phone and
> > find out things like its WLAN MAC address. There's nothing in my
> > manual and there's conflicting information out there on the web. Can
> > anyone shed any light on this? I have a Nokia N95.
> >
> > Also, do these codes work on other phones?
> >
> > Thanks in advance,
> >
> > -- 
> > Jim - jim@example.net

-- 
Tom - <tom@example.net>

The second problem with this chain of events was introduced by Derek's mailer ignoring the signature in Jim's original mail.

A line with "-- " (dash-dash-space) on its own is known as a signature delimiter. It and everything following it should be stripped when composing a reply to a message signed this way. Jim's signature should not have made it into Derek's reply. Derek's reply, if top-posted, should have looked like this had his mailer wrapped the quoted text properly and stripped Jim's signature:

From: "Derek" <derek@example.net>
To: "Mobile phone mailing list" <mplist@example.net>
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2008 10:24:46 -0500
Subject: Re: "secret" codes on a Nokia N95

Hi Jim,

Here's a list of the codes I know about:

*#06# : Show IMEI mumber
*#0000# : Show firmware version
*#7780# : (*#rst0#) Restore factory default settings
*#7370# : (*#res0#) Soft reset
*#2820# : (*#bta0#) Show bluetooth BD address
*#62209526# : (*#mac0wlan#) Show WLAN MAC address

*#06# is part of the GSM standard and works on all GSM phones.

*#0000# works on all Nokia phones.

*#7780# and *#7370# only work on Nokia phones running S60 2nd edition and
later.

The others might also work on S40 phones with BT/WLAN capabilities.

On 12/29/2008 at 10:17, "Jim" <jim@example.net> wrote:

> Hi all,
>
> I read somewhere that there are codes I can use to reset my phone and
> find out things like its WLAN MAC address. There's nothing in my manual
> and there's conflicting information out there on the web. Can anyone
> shed any light on this? I have a Nokia N95.
>
> Also, do these codes work on other phones?
>
> Thanks in advance,
>

We're getting closer to the desired result, but there's still some reorganisation required.

Think of this conversation:

Or this one:

Why do neither of these conversations make any sense? Because you have to read them backwards, bottom to top.

The idea on a mailing list is to strip out stuff that isn't necessary in order to maintain context, and also to have your reply to each point follow that point directly. Thus, Derek's reply to Jim really should have looked like this:

From: "Derek" <derek@example.net>
To: "Mobile phone mailing list" <mplist@example.net>
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2008 10:24:46 -0500
Subject: Re: "secret" codes on a Nokia N95

On 12/29/2008 at 10:17, "Jim" <jim@example.net> wrote:

> I read somewhere that there are codes I can use to reset my phone and
> find out things like its WLAN MAC address. [...] Can anyone shed any
> light on this? I have a Nokia N95.

Hi Jim,

Here's a list of the codes I know about:

*#06# : Show IMEI mumber
*#0000# : Show firmware version
*#7780# : (*#rst0#) Restore factory default settings
*#7370# : (*#res0#) Soft reset
*#2820# : (*#bta0#) Show bluetooth BD address
*#62209526# : (*#mac0wlan#) Show WLAN MAC address

> Also, do these codes work on other phones?

*#06# is part of the GSM standard and works on all GSM phones.

*#0000# works on all Nokia phones.

*#7780# and *#7370# only work on Nokia phones running S60 2nd edition and
later.

The others might also work on S40 phones with BT/WLAN capabilities.

By doing this, we still have the bare minimum, yet enough, needed for anyone reading Derek's reply to Jim but not having read Jim's original post to know:

  1. what this is about
  2. what parts Jim wrote and what parts Derek wrote
  3. which parts are replies to which questions

If we now give Tom's reply to Derek similar treatment, we should get something like this:

From: "Tom" <tom@example.net>
To: "Mobile phone mailing list" <mplist@example.net>
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2008 10:38:34 -0500
Subject: Re: "secret" codes on a Nokia N95

On 29/12/2008 at 10:24, "Derek" <derek@example.net> wrote:

> *#7780# and *#7370# only work on Nokia phones running S60 2nd edition and
> later.

*#7780# also works on S40 phones.

You can change the PIN on your SIM with:
**04*ABCD*EFGH*EFGH#
Where ABCD is the current PIN and EFGH is the new PIN you want to use.

-- 
Tom - <tom@example.net>

Everything written by Jim was stripped out here beceause Tom was commenting on Derek's (incorrect) comment that *#7780# only works on certain types of phone. He then added another code that can be used.

Using similar techniques, David's reply to Tom should look like this:

From: "David" <david@example.net>
To: "Mobile phone mailing list" <mplist@example.net>
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2008 11:24:14 -0500
Subject: Re: "secret" codes on a Nokia N95

On 12/29/2008 at 10:38, "Tom" <tom@example.net> wrote:

> You can change the PIN on your SIM with:
> **04*ABCD*EFGH*EFGH#
> Where ABCD is the current PIN and EFGH is the new PIN you want to use.

The old **04... trick is also part of the GSM standard and should work on all
GSM phones.

Given that David was adding detail to Tom's comment on a code, there was no need to include anything else.

Note that the posts that have been formatted correctly are far more concise and easier to read than the "rough" posts as posted using no care or consideration for fellow readers.

This is the posting style required on the "Linux" Yahoo! group and on the Tokyo Linux User Group mailing lists.

Another peeve of many mailing list users is the assumptions that some people make about threading. These assumptions are often reinforced by the technically incorrect behavior of some mail clients and webmail interfaces (such as gmail in particular).

Many people think that in order to start a new conversation, or "thread" in e-mail and USENET parlance, all they have to do is reply to a message (their reply will be directed to the mailing list or newsgroup in question) and put in a different subject field. While the afore-mentioned mail software may behave like this, it is not compliant with the standards upon which the Internet is built, the so-called RFC documents, in particular section 3.6.4 of RFC2822.

By simply replying to a message and changing the subject field, you're sending in a new message which still, however, contains the "In-Reply-To:" and "References:" headers as described in RFC2822, and standards-compliant thread-aware software will display your message as a continuation of the thread that the original message was in. You have not started a new thread at all, even if your (defective) software wants you to think that you have. You are now guilty of what's called "thread hijacking", which will certainly make you unpopular and even earn you a place in people's killfiles. Is that what you wanted?

If mailing list moderators ask you not to top-post or hijack threads, you now know what they mean.

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