Kev Quirk

Use Plaintext Email

24 Oct 2023 | ~3 minute read

I recently found this minisite about using plaintext for your email. While I agree that plaintext should be the default, this site takes things way too far and frankly, misses the mark.

I can't remember where I came across useplaintext.email - I think someone linked to it on Mastodon maybe? Anyway, it piqued my interest and I decided to peruse it.

It pitches that plaintext email is the "strongly preferred" choice when sending emails, and within the depths of the site, it tries to convince us why plaintext email is superior and that we should all be using it.

Problem is, it completely misses the mark in my opinion...and I'm someone who uses plaintext email by default.

Who is it for?

The first line of the site says:

There are two main types of emails on the internet: plaintext and HTML. The former is strongly preferred, but often isn't set up by default. We'll get you set up right.

-- useplaintext.email

"Strongly preferred" by whom? By nerds? By your grandma? By everyone? Given the fact that of the 18 email applications they recommend, only 4 of them have a GUI, I'm gonna go with the nerds.

Too opinionated

Then we come on to the really opinionated parts, where it talks about top posting and content width.

I get that conversation doesn't flow as well when top posting, as it's back-to-front. However, the vast majority of email is sent in this way now, and most of us just deal with it. Rightly or wrongly, it's become the default.

Then there's the weird content width piece:

Email writers are encouraged to wrap their text at 72 columns by inserting a newline and resuming your writing on the following line.

WHY?! Why does someone need to wrap their text manually? Most email clients will wrap automatically - my plaintext emails certainly do in Zoho's webmail client.

Future Kev here: I was thinking about this some more and the only reason I can think of for this being required, is people using command line email tools wanting text wrapped so it doesn't scroll off the screen.

The burden of formatting an email so it displays nicely on the edgelord piece of CLI software you decided to use shouldn't fall to people who send you email.

It's not all bad

The frustrating thing is that there's some good advice in there. HTML emails are worse for privacy than plaintext. They can also be a security issue because of things like embedded links in phishing emails.

While this is mentioned, the lion's share of the site is taken up with instructions on setting up plaintext emails and that motherfucking wrapping.

Like I said…completely misses the mark. 🤦‍♂️

Final thoughts

If the writer of this site wants to convince people to stop using HTML for their email, I think they've failed, since the message is basically:

I think all but the 0.0001% nerdiest of nerds are going to bother their arse flipping to plaintext emails, based on this advice.

Shame, really, as plaintext email is better in my opinion, just not for the reasons listed on that site.

Update: Drew DeVault, the creator of Use Plaintext Email, wrote a response to this post. If you're interested in reading it, here's the link.

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