I’ve recently read Using Plaintext Email by Kev and completely agreed with his reasoning on why reasons noted on the website are a bit silly, but that also got me thinking, why is Plain-text really better? Why do I personally prefer it?
Although I am one of those nerds preferring to use command line email client (well, not really anymore, because ever since I started using Emacs I ditched mutt for mu4e, but I digress…) I can responsibly state that I would prefer it even if I was using GUI client such as Thunderbird. And after all, I also use mobile phone and the email client there is what you’d call “GUI”.
Original site, useplaintext.email focused a bit too much on how instead of why, the problem most of us engineering folks have with “reasoning with regular people”. That’s obvious by just looking at table of contents and observing order of the topics.
Reasons why I consider Plain-text is objectively more correct way to send out emails are in no particular order:
Content over form
We got into a trend where flashy and attention seeking is cool, we offer less and less good content in our works and focus more on the marketing side of things, grabbing someones attention etc. Behaving like kindergarten kids yelling and trying to get attention.
In the long run, I’m convinced, this will not serve as well as a civilization, but that’s perhaps a topic for some other day.
Plain text emails allow us, nay, force us, to think more about the content of the message, how we structure it in paragraphs and how to get the desired information across. And since we all know (AT LEAST I HOPE) that “caps” text is yelling at the internet, we can use that carefully to steer attention to the relevant bits and pieces and give more emphasis on certain areas.
Think of it as reading a book instead of watching a movie. While reading a book, reader is the one using their imagination, interpreting things and living through the text, while with movies, you just watch at what’s there, without much thinking.
Security and privacy reasons
Since HTML emails are containing various display elements, interpreting code, fetching links etc. sometimes there can be a bug in the email rendering engine which triggers it to perform certain actions which allow exploiting your client machine.
There’s also a matter of privacy. Whenever your email client fetches or displays those elements that are linked to some external website, that request is getting logged somewhere on the web servers and can be used to extract analytics out of you. There are email marketing companies specialized in exploiting this to get more data on you. I know, you don’t have anything to hide, yet, would you allow someone into your home and just move around freely just to observe? No? Why? I mean, you have nothing to hide, right?
Google also played with an idea of “Dynamic emails” since some time back, meaning email contents can change with time. Although convenient to see the tracking status and similar stuff directly in your mailbox, it also means those static things can be changed down the road, so there’s no longer that inherent immutability of the message once you received it (proof of the original delivery estimate etc.) and can not be used for archival purposes with confidence something will not change down the road (I mean, you can still print it 🙄).
Not assuming other’s choice
There are folks using email clients which don’t render HTML emails properly. There’s also a chance certain HTML elements, properties, fonts etc. will be displayed differently on different HTML enabled clients (even the same client on different OS). But every client renders plain text properly. So just on that point alone it makes more sense to default to the plain-text emails.
Sure, there are 1337H4X0R folks, but argument “it’s their own fault” doesn’t really stand there. Everyone has the right to the choice of what email client and setup they’ll use. And yes, they need to bear (🐻) the consequences of their choices, but we can be nice and not over-complicate things.
In the end, reasons stated on the site also have their merit, and recommendations and guides are of top quality. My opinion is that it would go a bit further if it expanded on the objective “Why” reasons and started the whole website with that (order of the information matters).
Whenever I send out email, I use plain-text, even when I reply to the HTML message. It is more convenient for me to edit things that way and I think more about the composition of the email and getting clarity across. Whenever I received HTML email, there’s plenty of scraping, cleaning and readability improvements involved whereas when I receive plain-text email, email client handles that nicely, wraps at proper points etc.
I wouldn’t go as far as to state that person sending email should insert newline at column 72. I mean, are we living in 1970s? At least text wrapping is easy to achieve in any client and inserting newline just breaks things when you have a screen width less than 72 columns for whatever unholy reason one might do that.