There’s nothing which divides hackers so much as HTML as a format for sending mail. However, a recent discussion on another mailing list makes me think that there is hope for it.

I should state up-front that I’m very much in favour of HTML as a mail format. I outlined a couple of the technical reasons why in my posting on the subject, but it can be summarised mainly to:

  • it’s the sanest way to work in web mail;
  • done right, HTML enables editors and viewers to do much smarter things.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think plain text is going away – in fact, there are many popular examples of it (witness SMS text messaging and, to some extent, instant messaging, Facebook wall posts, etc.). But it’s also not the be-all and end-all of communication: the richer presentation and semantic of well-structured HTML isn’t to be sniffed at.

Interestingly, I found a project online called Email Standards Project which wants to do for e-mail clients what web standards did for browsers. A lot of what they’re saying makes sense, and what I like is that they have this quasi-profile of HTML for e-mail: a kind of “safe baseline”.

Where I would differ from the ESP is their disregard for the plain text component. I think to work properly, at least right now, if you’re sending HTML you also have to send a rendition in text which is pretty decent. I’m very interested in conversion to and from plain text: that’s particularly important in scenarios where you have a mail agent with capabilities different to text terminals, for example, mobile phones.

But it’s an interesting project nonetheless, and probably one we should be in contact with.