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Notes on Plain Text vs. HTML Mail

Contra HTML mail

  • Ecologically expensive due to increased size of messages
  • High complexity
    • Harder to develop, hence more expensive
    • Handling more likely to break (e.g. Kaputte Zitate im Plain-Text von Gmail)
    • Less transparent; errors are harder to debug (for users and developers)
    • Higher hurdle for first time users (e.g. for composing newsletters)
  • Security hazards (cf. security bug fixes of main mail programs such as Security Advisories for Thunderbird; cf. Efail: HTML Mails have no Security Concept and are to blame)
  • Privacy hazards (e.g. HTML is used to track users)
  • Some automated systems (e.g. mailing lists) do not accept HTML and will reject messages, or use only the alternative plain text part, or convert the HTML potentially causing formatting issues.
  • Requires HTML aware software
  • Double effort (HTML and text need to be formatted and checked)
  • Little guarantee that HTML will be shown as intended
  • More distractions when writing (e.g. font selectors, emoji buttons)
  • Harder to write (formatting takes more time)
  • "Angry fruit salad": Every user chooses a different font in a different color and different size.

Pro HTML mail

  • Ability to format and style the message content
  • Ability to create "rich" content (graphs, tables, ...)
  • Ability to use semantic markup (e.g. to mark text as preformatted)

Contra plain text mail

  • Text wrapping issues if lines are hard-wrapped (not format=flowed) (e.g. on mobile devices with small screens)
  • Text formatted for fixed width fonts might get distorted
  • Some content is better sent as attachment (e.g. illustrations)

Pro plain text mail

  • Easy, small, ecologically friendly (compared to HTML mail)
  • Text is shown by all devices and programs
  • Accessibility as good as it gets

Criteria to consider

  • False positive spam: It is unclear whether HTML mails are more likely to be falsely categorized as spam.
  • Accessibility: It is unclear whether HTML mails that include alternative plain text parts are less accessible, for instance for text to speech conversion.


html-mail-vs-plain-text.txt · Last modified: 2019-12-09 12:15 by andreas

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