Friday, August 28, 2009


Thunderbird vs. Yahoo Groups

There are two styles for replying to an email message: respond-below and respond-above. Yahoo Groups makes the respond-below impossible without what I figured out today.

Since at least the 80's people have replied to emails by responding directly below every point they want to address. I'll call this the respond-below style. Thunderbird, the email client that I use, supports this well, as does Gmail. I still think this is the best way to communicate because everything you type can be in the context of something very specific from another person's email message. It has always been considered proper etiquette to trim out everything you're not addressing from a prior email.

When Microsoft released their Outlook mail client, all of a sudden people started replying to email above the original message, and every other message that came before that, in its entirety. I'll call this the respond-above style. I have never been able to convince Outlook to allow me to use the respond-below style. I've seen many people try to emulate the respond-below style by inserting their text in a different color or preceded by [MyName], but that only works for one level of reply and quickly turns into a mess. Why Microsoft won't support the reply-below style is beyond me.

Yahoo Groups works well for the respond-above style, but it doesn't work at all for the respond-below style. They add extra links to the bottom and a side-bar on the right of every email anyone sends, assuming you view your messages in HTML. The problem is that they use a CSS style element that causes anything you intersperse with the original message to show up in the right-hand margin!

For some reason, Thunderbird does not allow you to edit the HTML when you are composing a message, so I've never been able to figure out what the problem was. I would select everything, paste it as plain text, and then insert my reply, but that didn't work very well when the original text was more than a short sentence. When I pasted a longer paragraph as text, only the first word would have a '> ' quotation indicator.

With the help of a Thunderbird add-on called Stationery, I was able to view the source of a message I was replying to and play with the HTML until I figured out the culprit. It turns out there is a "div" element that uses a "float: left;" style. It looks like this:

<div id="ygrp-msg" style="margin: 0pt; padding: 0pt 25px 0pt 0pt; width: 470px; float: left; z-index: 1;">

That's what makes everything I type move to the right!

Now that I know what to look for, I can go into the HTML editor to zap that style and restore the respond-below style of replying to working order!

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