A group I’m a part of is preparing to form a number of “working groups” and each group may prepare a number of documents. The proposed format for these documents is plain ASCII text wrapped at 74 characters. It’s not the IETF, and on the whole it seemed like a rather restrictive format to develop documents in, an opinion which I’ve been trying my best to communicate. The discussion is still ongoing, but there was a brief tangent where several people misconstrued my argument as being one for HTML email, which is a totally separate beast.
Anyway it got me thinking about how HTML email is almost universally condemned among tech-savvy email groups. The problem, I think, is not technological but in fact human. HTML email has the potential to be clean, structured markup that can add a number of rich elements that there is no standard way to add in plain ASCII, such as emphasis, links, quotes, and in general represent things in a more meaningful way. The problem is generally not in the receiving client; I can’t think of a client with no HTML reading support (even Pine does some). Also the MIME standard allows and encourages a plain text equivalent of all rich content. It’s a problem, to put it into Spiderman terms, of great power and great responsibility. Someone very near and dear to my heart sends me email with garish background, text that varies between large and red or some purple script font, and any number of images speckled about. To me an ideal solution would be an email composer that enforced strict separation of style and content, and a client which allowed any CSS attributes to be toggled at will. Someday, perhaps?