Tuesday, January 09, 2007

weird wormholes :: set reply-to header to the list, or not to

Recently I asked on a mailing list how come I had to remember to copy the list address to the CC whenever I reply to a post. To my surprise, it turned to a big flame war of sorts. Unwilling to make any changes, the list administrator essentially asked both parties to go away, politely.

In its current form, you need to 'reply-all' to mailing list and the list administrator will make sure the poster's email address is in a special list such that the poster not receive two copies. Occasionally, someone may request his/her email address be added to the special list, yet again. What a hassle! Why the administrator wants all this hassle for nothing?!

It puzzled me in the past. It still puzzles me now. To my simple mind, the benefits of setting reply-to header to the list is so obvious:
  • less keystrokes for the list members. Many modern MUA (Mail User Agent) has default to 'reply' instead of 'reply-to-all', esp. web-mail UI.
  • less unnecessary mental note to reply-to-all instead of reply, or to copy list's address to CC if you already hit 'reply'
  • no missing discussion
  • consistently threaded discussion in archive and in live discussion. A post sent to the poster alone was often seen forwarded to the list, as an after-thought and after-fact good intention efforts. The thread is then broken, making it extreme difficult to follow a discussion you found an interesting excerpts by googling.
  • Some said it is hard to be done.
  • Some insisted that it is philosophically wrong to reply-to the list. <= Hello, the purpose of subscribing to a mailing list is to publish to and read from the list, not to find sensible partners to conduct private conversations!
  • Some insists reply-to-all is great enough and is the only sensible way, so they went ahead to hack their mail clients (MUA) to detect whether a message is post or private message and automate to save the unnecessary keystrokes.
  • Well, maybe some of these people just accept the dysfunctional setting as the inevitable fact of life, and just find a get-around and moved on. If so, it is pretty sad.
Reflecting a bit more today on the observed need for some people to invent convoluted ways to satisfy themselves, I thought of what the agent in Men in Black says in a StarBucks coffee shop. There are people who can't control their own destiny or fate or fortune, and they are well aware of it. Instead, they opt to pay premium to select from a bloated feel-rich selection of lattes, as if they were the master of the universe.

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