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ASCII Ribbon Campaign

I generally don't join campaigns all too often. In fact, very rarely. Mainly, just for the fact that most of them are just plain silly. Someone is mad at some organization or practice, and they're trying to make an impact on the web. So, generally, there is a petition to sign, or some image or ad banner to place on your website showing that you belong to the campaign. They are all very nauseating and annoying. However, I don't feel that way with the ASCII Ribbon Campaign. Well, I don't now. I did a few days ago.

The ASCII Ribbon Campaign is a campaign promoting the use of plain text emails and open attachments. They are against HTML email, vCards and proprietary attachments as they limit the audience who can view the email. Here are some of the points mentioned (of course, there could be more reasons not mentioned here):

  • Many email clients do not support HTML email. This means many people will not be able to read your message, but rather see just the raw HTML code or an error message with nothing at all!
  • Some email clients have poor or broken HTML rendering, again making the message difficult to read, or nothing at all.
  • HTML email is bloated, and the size of the message is always considerably larger than it's plain text counterpart. Thus, HTML email requires unnecessary bandwidth, and this can be a pain for those who have slower Internet connections.
  • Email with flashy graphics, images or other annoying displays are completely useless and are a complete waste of bandwidth. Having to download 200KB when only a few lines of text are delivered is unnecessary and literally could be %0.01 the size if delivered in plain text.
  • People who are limited to a text-only terminal, people with disabilities, blind people or just basically anyone who cannot take advantage of a graphical user interface at all are unlikely to read your email.
  • Inline graphics pose a security risk to the recipients. Some images "call home" when the message is downloaded to get a confirmation with your e-mail address, IP address, browser type, operating system, time zone, and even more information, confirming that the e-mail was indeed opened and viewed, all automatically, and with that confirming your address as being read and a good target to send SPAM!

Those points just address the problems with HTML email. Proprietary email is much worse. Sending a proprietary email, or an email with a proprietary attachment imposes the use of certain proprietary software on the recipients. For example, consider composing an email in Microsoft Word and sending it as such. Most email clients will compose the email with the Word document as an attachment, and for the clients receiving the email, it means opening the attachment in an external program, as most email clients lack the functionality to read the attachment internally. This means you suppose the recipients have Microsoft Word installed, or some other software installed, and have the ability to read your email (I don't have Word installed, although I do have installed. With that said, I have always refused proprietary attachments, and will continue to do so).

So, what can you do to help? Obviously, HTML/proprietary email is a problem. Well, there are a few things that you can do:

  • First, configure your email client to send only plain text messages.
  • Secondly, show your support by adding the ASCII Ribbon Campaign signatures to your personal email signature (more can be found at the Campaign site).
()  ascii ribbon campaign - against html e-mail 
/\\   - against proprietary attachments
  • Thirdly, spread the word that plain text email is a very efficient means of communication. It is how the medium was originally designed, and you can still format your messages in plain text. You can still attach images and other files to the message and send them to your friends, just the body of the email is in plain text, which means it will be correctly displayed on any operating system with any email client.

For me, I actually realized that sending a plain text email wasn't that big of a deal. I always digitally sign my email with my personal GPG key. GPG will not allow the signing of HTML email, and if it is in that format, the format is lost, and converted to plain text. Also, looking at my email client Thunderbird, I have it configured to send plain text email anyway. So from the get-go, I'm all set. I just hope that everyone else sees the benefit of plain text email, and does the same.

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