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RE: Responses to the list (oops)

> From: Steve Lamb [mailto:grey@dmiyu.org]
> Sent: Saturday, September 24, 2005 2:41 PM
> Seth Goodman wrote:
> > Getting back to the reply function, the standards are silent as
> > to how to
> > treat Reply-To: for a redistributed message and the field is optional to
> > start with.  The preferred reply action for a mailing list message is to
> > reply to the list (the actual sender of the message you received) rather
> > than the original poster (a private reply to a public post, not
> > generally
> > appropriate).  It is perfectly within the purview of the list
> > to alter the
> > Reply-To: header so that the most commonly deployed MUA's will
> > perform the
> > preferred action when the recipient hits reply.
> Wrong, wrong, wrong.  How you can cite 2822 as a reference for reply-to
> munging while denouncing 822 is beyond me.  It was 822 that had an
> reference to mailing lists as an acceptable use of 822.  2822 *removed*
> reference on reply-tos just because of the long-standing debate over
> reply-to munging.

Referencing 822 for much of anything these days is not very useful, unless
if you're interested in email history.  As I pointed out in a previous post,
Reply-To: is an optional header that is set by the _sender_ of the message.
When you receive a message that was redistributed by a mailing list, the
_list_ is the current sender.  That is why the list MUST replace the
original return-path with theirs.  The logic behind this is that the poster
has no interest in receiving DSN's resulting from the subsequent
redistribution of their message.  That is for the list to keep track of.
Similarly, being a mailing list and not a private conversation, it is both
inappropriate and cumbersome for the original poster to answer a public post
with a private reply.  The purpose for a public mailing list is to have a
public conversation, with one answer hopefully satisfying many readers with
the same question.  Taking into account how the vast majority of deployed
MUA's operate, it is perfectly reasonable, and not in conflict with the
RFC's, for a mailing list to change Reply-To: in order to have the reply
button do the desired action in the majority of cases.

Now, you can insist that the majority of the mailing lists have it dead
wrong, as do the majority of deployed MUA's around the internet.  If that's
your position, go ahead, you're arguing with a de facto standard that is
incredibly widely deployed.  Your opinion, as well as mine and that of
RFC2822 are quite irrelevant in this respect.  There are millions of
deployed MUA's and tens of thousands of mailing lists that already operate
in a particular way.  In fact, most users of those systems _like_ the way
they operate.  The chances of changing all that infrastructure, that users
actually like, is between slim and none.  After all that work, the payoff
would be what?  Only that mailing lists and MUA's would operate the way
_you_ think they should.  Nothing practical will have been gained.  That is
commonly know as a waste.  Believe me, we've got _much_ bigger fish to fry
in terms of MUA's and email practices, and this one doesn't make it to the
short list.

As an example of another de facto standard, consider the Sendmail interface.
It is not great by today's standards, but people got very used to it when it
was the only game in town.  Looking at Exim, the default MTA for Debian,
there are a large number of options that they went out of their way to
provide so that people used to the Sendmail interface could easily adopt
Exim.  They were rewarded for this foresight by rapidly garnering a
reasonable share of MTA deployments.  They could have insisted that
conforming to an outdated interface was a waste of effort and technically
questionable.  Had they taken that approach, they might have the
satisfaction of having it their way but it probably wouldn't be the Debian
default MTA.  It's perfectly reasonable to argue technical merit in
technical committees and in engineering departments, but when it comes to de
facto standards, you can either recognize them or become a footnote in
technical development.

> The real question is why List-Post was written in such a way as so
> that people could debate it's usefulness as an inidicator of where to
> send replies (it has happened, believe me) and why the head-honchos up
> on high who debate such standards have gone on record as saying that a
> list-reply is not needed.

The answer is simple, it _isn't_ needed for any practical purpose.  There is
already a reply header that the list is allowed to use, and in fact most
lists _do_ use.  There is no purpose for an additional header that the great
majority of deployed MUA's don't use anyway.  Anyone who proposes a solution
to an email problem that requires the majority of the world's MUA's and
mailing lists to change is running straight into a brick wall without a
helmet.  The people who write institutional standards are more aware than
most of the tenacity of de facto standards and they know better than trying
fighting them, unless there is an enormous problem that gives them a mandate
to do so.  That is clearly not the case in this instance.  It would be
damaging to the entire standards process if they put something into a
standard that would be widely ignored.  In other words, don't pass an
unenforceable rule that everyone is going to ignore if you want to be taken


Seth Goodman

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