HTML Email Considered Harmful

Email has been acknowledged to be the "killer" Internet application. It is very common for people to send email to people they do not know very well. Very often the email is sent using HTML tags, and worse, as an attachment.

People often prefer to send mail in HTML because they think they can express their thoughts better using the highlight features of HTML. To some, this can, at best, be irritating for the recipient, and at worst, rude (would you, in person speak to another person in a language she does not understand?)

There are a few problems recipients have with HTML email.

  1. Many people read email using powerful software which deliberately use the "less is more" model (e.g.nmh). Unlike Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, or Web mail, one can then read email faster on a normal VT100 terminal, for example, on a secure or even dial up connection. You don't need a bloatware web browser to read your mail when you are travelling! And there is no cache stored if you just read a quick email in somebody else's office. And so on.
  2. You may be unaware that HTML email may contain code. While you yourself may not use such code, unscrupulous spammers are known to include Trojan code along with innocent email. Therefore, many users delete HTML email automatically.
  3. HTML email consume more space than necessary. While you may not care too much of the few extra bytes, the email, including the attachment, is often copied multiple times. If many of the recipients are hosted on the same mail server, the message can put a significant strain on the system. And, yes, even you might want to care about the extra bytes HTML email occupies. Disk space is very cheap, but desktop search programs still take non-trivial time. More important, when you get your results back, you have that much more to sift through.
  4. Some of the arguments mentioned mentioned here also apply (less vigorously) to HTML.

So what's the alternative?

Consider using Plain ASCII text for email. (HTML is fine for web servers). Good old plain ASCII text is your best friend if you write in English. It can't carry viruses, is space efficient, and everybody can read it. Plain ASCII is not only good for text, any decent spreadsheet can read and write tables in tab-delimited ASCII format.

Virtually all email programs out there give you an option to send your email as ASCII (with an option to use HTML in addition). Please take a moment to change your preferences. It is an easy courtesy to follow!

Consider pointing to an online resource . There are several, free online sites that enable people to edit marked up format in a collaborative manner. Point a link to that site! One may argue that the use of such online resources requires power-guzzling data centers. True, no doubt. But are you sure that your servers are not being backed up and guzzling energy locally? How about pooling all the energy and relying on a data center?

Thank you for listening.