Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

The Email Standards Project

By Kimberly Blessing | November 28th, 2007 | Filed in CSS, Email, General, HTML/XHTML, Outreach

We all know that email clients aren’t consistent in their support of Web standards. Crafting an HTML email that renders correctly on most email clients is a delicate process which typically involves extra coding and a lot of guesswork. Up until now, we’ve begrudgingly accepted life this way… but a new effort aims to change that!

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The Email Standards Project is a new effort whose mission is “to drive the use and support of web standards in email, working with email client developers to ensure that emails render consistently.” Matthew Patterson and Mark Wyner, the leadership team behind this effort, have kicked things off with an acid test and a report on Web standards support in popular email clients.

There’s plenty of work to be done in the area of email and Web standards support, so find out how you can help!

Your Replies

#1 On November 28th, 2007 12:23 pm Brad Wright replied:

Are you kidding? HTML shouldn’t be used in emails at all—they should be plain text. Forget web standards in email—give me back my regular non–spam filled inbox!

#2 On November 28th, 2007 12:39 pm Ben 'Cerbera' Millard replied:

How come they didn’t do this as a group within WaSP?

#3 On November 28th, 2007 12:40 pm John Bradley replied:

You’re right, Brad, it shouldn’t. But it IS being used, and it will be used for a long time to come. The least we can do is try to guide the market in the right direction.

#4 On November 28th, 2007 12:59 pm Sally Carson replied:

From my experience, “crafting an HTML email that renders correctly on most email clients” just means lots of inline styles. But, if some better method comes along, I’d be stoked.

#5 On November 28th, 2007 1:07 pm Vectorpedia replied:

I also agree with Brad. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve gotten email with the HTML attached, and malicious code, worms and viruses attached right next to it. If my email program was configured to “conveniently” display HTML as a web page, then a lot of those attached files would have opened on their own and done who knows what to my system.

#6 On November 28th, 2007 1:22 pm Kelson replied:

Plain-text only email is a lost cause. Perhaps another markup language, less vulnerable to abuses, would be better than HTML, but let’s face it: most people want to be able to use formatting in their messages, and customer demand will keep some form of formatting capability in email applications for a long time.

Better an open standard than some closed proprietary format that can only be read by one company’s clients.

#7 On November 28th, 2007 2:33 pm John Dowdell replied:

If you’re encouraging the creators of email clients for improvement in presentation abilities, could you also encourage them to expose the “received:” headers in their interfaces? The “from:” field in an email can be spoofed, but the message’s chain-of-custody cannot. This could help make anonymous spam less ambiguous, thanks.

(I still think it’s better to let strangers push only simple messages at us, but that’s a separate issue.)

#8 On November 28th, 2007 6:27 pm Matt Robin replied:

Strangely though, even though I’m a firm supporter of Web Standards – I just think trying to do the same thing with HTML e-mails is a nonsense – it’s just not they way e-mails should be used anyway.

Although he’s changed his opinion, I fully agree with everything Jeffrey Zeldman wrote back in June this year about the same subject, it is as correct now as it was then – see:

The best thing for HTML e-mail Standards would be if HTML e-mail was dumped altogether, by ALL of the e-mail clients en-masse! Because hey: if you want to make a colorful document with images and fonts – use a Word Processing program and save it in an already widely-used format like ‘PDF’ (for example) in the first place – I mean: that’s what they are for!

That’s not a criticism of the lovely web site they’ve made for ‘e-mail standards’ or the great amount of effort that the team are pouring in to the matter…I just think they are barking up the wrong tree!

#9 On November 28th, 2007 7:04 pm Mathew Patterson replied:

Thanks for the link – we really do see WaSP as having set a clear path for this kind of project.

While we totally respect the personal preferences people have for plain text email (and everyone should be sending a plain text alternative no matter what), dumping HTML email all together is just not going to happen.

Let’s not take the easy path of equating HTML email with spam either. Yes, a lot of spam is in HTML format, but there’s more than enough text based spam to go around too.

Part of the reason so many bad HTML emails are out there is because designers have not been involved for years, so business people have done it themselves. Instead of pining (email client pun!) for plain text, let’s just accept reality and get on with the job of improving the situation.

Positive action, just like WaSP took, is what is called for here. Check out our page on why web standards matter for email for more.

Thanks to all the people who have been supportive so far!

#10 On November 28th, 2007 8:27 pm Matt Robin replied:

Reply to Mathew’s link to the E-mail-Standards site (‘Why Web Standards matter for email’)….

>>”HTML email is here to stay”

Well, it really shouldn’t be – it was a hideous mistake in the first place and needs to be scrapped!

>>”The use of HTML emails has greatly increased, and there are some very solid reasons for that…”
>>”Every popular email client sends HTML email”

1. Yes, they do – but by your own admission on the web site, quite a bunch of them can’t do that properly!

>>”Businesses sending messages to their customers continually get better results, measured in clicks, interest and actual sales, with HTML than they do with plain text.”

2.They’d get exactly the same results with conventional word-processed documents in already widely-used formats!

>>”HTML emails can be a better experience”

3. They can be, true, but then again, so is just pointing someone to an HTML page on an existing web site! All the typographic controls you refer to are on web sites too!!

>>”Web standards make sense for email”

4. Ditching HTML for e-mail makes even more sense! ‘Give the web back to the web,’ – instead of passing it off on e-mails!

>>”1. It removes the guess work from email design”

5. It’s AN EMAIL – it doesn’t need it!!! Design for a communications method that is best-suited to pure content sent by the quickest means possible shouldn’t be dressed-up as a brochure in the first place – we already have word processed documents for that VERY task! If you want to design HTML pages…do web design – concentrate on that, and stop using HTML e-mails to do what you should be keeping on the Web!

>>”2. Faster loading and reduced bandwidth consumption”

6. Plain text is even faster loading and reduced bandwidth consumption even more – so switch to that!

>>”3. Make your email accessible to all”

7. Plain text is already accessible to all…(without encountering any of the accessibility problems you’re referring to with HTML e-mails).

Any other so-called SOLID reasons for us?

Wow, so solid in fact – that’s it’s taken me under two minutes to successfully counter argument each point! That’s not good. All I see is a bunch of frustrated designers who want to setup a new bandwagon…plain text e-mail work fine, HTML e-mail is pointless (get rid of it). It is as simple as that!

#11 On November 28th, 2007 9:09 pm Dave Greiner replied:

Matt Robin, you wrote:

…it was a hideous mistake in the first place and needs to be scrapped!

The fact that you personally dislike HTML email doesn’t change the fact that every popular email client out there supports HTML and sends in that format out of the box.

This initiative has nothing to do with the HTML vs plain text debate, that debate was over the moment every major email client developer decided to support HTML email. This is about fixing something that’s broken.

#12 On November 28th, 2007 9:27 pm Matt Robin replied:


>>”The fact that you personally dislike HTML email doesn’t change the fact that every popular email client out there supports HTML and sends in that format out of the box.”

Every popular e-mail client does do that, I agree – butI already stated that, and I also stated that some of those clients simply can’t do it well enough. Please read my comments more closely.

>>”This is about fixing something that’s broken.”

Rubbish! It’s not like there isn’t an alternative! Web Standards was sorely needed for the Web – but there is simply no alternative to the Web.

HTML E-mail Standards is needed about as much as a hole in the head! Word Processed documents, used effectively, or even (if you really want to use HTML) web sites themselves (remember those?) – are all viable alternatives to wasting time with HTML E-mail templates.

This is NOT about fixing something that’s broken – this is about making a bandwagon for people too lazy to use existing technologies!

#13 On November 28th, 2007 9:52 pm Mathew Patterson replied:


You are right that there is lots of alternatives to HTML email. You might not agree with their choice, but the market as a whole has chosen to use HTML email, so like it or not, it’s here to stay.

“I also stated that some of those clients simply can’t do it well enough. Please read my comments more closely.”

That’s the whole point of the Email Standards Project! It doesn’t have to be like this.

You can either continue trying to dissuade people from using HTML, you can ignore it completely and let other people deal with it, or you can concentrate on making HTML email better.

Dissuading people has not worked for the last 10 years – maybe it is time to try a new tactic?

#14 On November 28th, 2007 10:40 pm Matt Robin replied:

Mathew: Thanks for the reply.

>>”Dissuading people has not worked for the last 10 years – maybe it is time to try a new tactic?”

That’s raises a whole other point: No one has ACTIVELY been dissuading people (users or e-mail client developers) from using HTML e-mails….not once, in the last 10 years!

That is the new tactic that should rightly be embraced and supported…(not trying to make something of the original mistake that was HTML e-mails!)

Simple to-do:

1. Stop using HTML E-mails

2. Learn to use a Word Processing Software

or 3. Point users, via plain text e-mail, to an Web Standards built web site.

Hey iFrames exist too, are you going to insist we start making better use of those as well?! :D

#15 On November 28th, 2007 10:56 pm Jina Bolton replied:

Matt, you’re being ridiculous.

We get your point. HTML email was a bad idea. Nobody disagrees with that. However, like mentioned many times already, HTML email is not going anywhere. Understand:

People are visual people. Seeing a well-designed email, which shows the product(s) have more impact on the customer clicking through and purchasing, than if they received a text email. It’s been proven.

So do you think all the companies that have realized this fact are going to throw away the potential of making money? No. They want to make that money. No matter what has been deemed right or wrong.

It’s just how it’s going to be. So rather than raising a stink over this, why NOT have an organization like this make it better? I can’t believe you would not be supportive of something like this (personal opinions aside). They’re taking something “hideous” (as you call it) and making it better.

#16 On November 28th, 2007 11:02 pm Matt Robin replied:

Jina: Please refer to point 3 in my previous comment – you seemed to have missed it. Thanks.

#17 On November 28th, 2007 11:17 pm Mathew Patterson replied:

Matt, we’re getting of track here, but

That’s raises a whole other point: No one has ACTIVELY been dissuading people (users or e-mail client developers) from using HTML e-mails….not once, in the last 10 years!

That’s just not true. Many, many web designers have actively dissuaded their clients, friends, bosses from using HTML email. I know, because I’ve done it myself in the past, and I’ve worked with many more.

It clearly has not worked.

#18 On November 28th, 2007 11:27 pm Matt Robin replied:

Mathew: I actually do have a lot of respect for the efforts of you and your team, the pity is – a good working alternative to HTML E-mails already exists (as stated in my previous e-mail)…and that renders the pursuit of reforming the HTML e-mail standards as un-needed really.

Actually, I would love to be proven wrong! ;)

I actually would be the first person to congratulate your team in a year or two from now when HTML e-mails are effectively a better choice than the two options I’ve already mentioned. Go for it! I just think, at the present time, your backing the wrong horse.

#19 On November 28th, 2007 11:29 pm Matt Robin replied:

>>”…(as stated in my previous e-mail)”

I meant ‘previous comment!’ Hahaha

#20 On November 28th, 2007 11:33 pm Jina Bolton replied:

I read point 3. I didn’t miss it. But that involves clicking a link to GET THERE.

I’m all for being an idealist. But you have to realize that in this world, to make any success, you HAVE to be realistic. And you’re not being realistic. That’s all I have to say on this.

#21 On November 28th, 2007 11:40 pm Matt Robin replied:

Presenting not one, but two effective alternatives which exist RIGHT NOW at this very moment is definitely being realistic! I’m hoping (but I doubt it will be) the last thing I need to say on this.

#22 On November 29th, 2007 4:03 am Josh replied:

@ Matt

This effort is about managing something you don’t think should exist (HTML email). Just because it shouldn’t, doesn’t mean it doesn’t.

If you think HTML standards for email will just encourage it’s use then that’s worth discussing, however, this is what I feel would be a better discussion about how to alleviate some of the existing problems rather than enhance them. I think that’s the point.

#23 On November 29th, 2007 6:30 am Dustin Diaz replied:

First off, please disregard my position as a Google employee for my following comments. Albeit Matt’s words are terse, I mostly side with his position. If he’s sounding ridiculous, it’s because he’s fighting a one man battle (within this threadlist). That’s called frustration.

Anyway, I personally dislike ‘HTML (and CSS) emails.’ But more importantly, I dislike the abuse of HTML and CSS in email. An ocassional bolded word here, and the blue underline hyperlink there, I am ok with.

What Jina mentioned about people being visual works both ways. A plain text email is still a ‘design’ by one’s standards. It’s called ‘minimalism’.

Regardless, I don’t see how email clients should hold the same responsibility as browsers. Just because an email program/client is popular (used by many), doesn’t necessarily mean they should be held up against these so-called email standards.

#24 On November 29th, 2007 8:06 am The Email Standards Project — replied:

[...] The Web Standards Project’s post on the Email Standards Project (from which I learned about the Email Standards Project). This post is interesting for the various comments the post attracted. [...]

#25 On November 29th, 2007 9:47 am Email Standards Project — vivaestudio replied:

[...] Siguiendo los pasos de la Web Standards Project, un grupo de trabajo que tiene como objetivo conseguir que todos los navegadores acepten los estándares en la web, se ha creado recientemente el Email Standards Project para transmitir esa misma filosofía a los clientes de e-mail. WaSP: “Todos sabemos que los clientes de e-mail no son consistentes en su soporte de estándares web. Crear un e-mail en HTML que se muestra correctamente en la mayoría de clientes es un proceso delicado que generalmente incluye más tiempo creando código y mucho tanteo. Hasta ahora, nos habíamos resignado a aceptar las cosas tal y como son, ¡pero un nuevo proyecto pretende cambiar eso!” [...]

#26 On November 29th, 2007 12:30 pm Matt Robin replied:

Dustin: Thankyou….(the one man battle was looking a little one-sided for awhile there). Cheers!

#27 On November 29th, 2007 3:18 pm Mathew Patterson replied:

@Dusine Diaz

Regardless, I don’t see how email clients should hold the same responsibility as browsers. Just because an email program/client is popular (used by many), doesn’t necessarily mean they should be held up against these so-called email standards.

They are just the same web standards that browsers are held to – since all the major clients support HTML rendering, they should do it consistently and to some sensible subset of the standard.

I don’t think that is unreasonable. You are totally right that a plain text email is still ‘designed’ too. We’ve all seen punctuation used to *replace needed functionality* like emphasis and _____________ headings.

We all dislike the abuse of HTML and CSS, in email and in web sites. This project is aimed at making it easier for people to do HTML email right, and not abuse it. It’s aimed at getting web designers involved instead of just letting it be done by non-designers.

That’s how the situation will improve, by people accepting the reality of HTML email and working to create a better environment for it.

Thanks for your feedback.

#28 On November 29th, 2007 3:20 pm Tom Finley replied:

@Dustin: Just because Matt is “fighting a one-man battle” doesn’t mean he has to be such a jerk about it.

First, let me clarify that I am speaking, not about how clients generate HTML emails (because I don’t think they should beyond a certain point), but about sending HTML emails to various clients, web-based and software-based, ostensibly through some more robust mailing software.

Second, Jina Bolton makes a great point. Her company, Apple, and my much, much smaller company both utilize HTML emails for marketing materials. To make legitimate sales. THIS IS HOW WE MAKE MONEY. My paycheck is printed by a direct mail company, and though I would one day like a more socially responsible employer, that’s how it is. Now, before the cries of “spammer!” start, know this: We buy targeted lists, so the chance of you receiving my emails are slim, unless you are a geriatric who buys alternative health supplements. Marketing materials, spam, junk mail, call it what you like… We do our homework and operate no differently than say, Sharper Image, Levenger, or Omaha Steaks.

Does spam suck? Yes. Do broken hideous emails suck? Yes. But I believe that companies are just as responsible for doing good work with their email and/or print marketing materials as much they are for making sure their websites, products, etc are up to par. But this is not in your control, nor is it in mine, beyond what I can do at the company I work for.

Expecting otherwise and throwing little tantrums about how HTML email needs to go away does no one any good. It’s like freaking out about how antiquated the internal combustion engine is and that no one drive until we get a different system. Or freaking out about all the bad drivers in the world… Now, constructively attempting to get email clients to conform to standards IS actually a worthwhile endeavour in this regard; just like having rules for the road, rules for driving, and standards for how cars are made.

Finally, you so tersely told Jina to refer to point #3 in the comment above hers. How idiotic are you? Do you grasp the concept that the more you require a person to think and act online, how much less likely they are to act. Realistically, how much more likely is a user to click to a website through a blind link than through an email replete with logos and images of the products they are trying to sell?

Malicious spam is effective in this way because it preys on the same human behavior that innocuous HTML emails rely on to get sales. Blame the clickers! I’m a savvy enough consumer that I don’t buy every piece of cheap, toxic crap that I come across, but there are a lot of people that aren’t. The onus is on still on those types of people to become savvy enough to stop clicking on harmful emails. If harmful spam weren’t profitable (because of idiot users), we wouldn’t be having this argument.

#29 On November 29th, 2007 3:44 pm Graham replied:

I’m not a designer, I don’t run a business that sends HTML emails or spam HTML emails – more often than not, I’m the luckless developer who has to code the beasts up with a hodgepodge of old HTML to work across as many clients as possible.

That said, I like HTML emails! I don’t mind advertising as long as its targeted and relevant to me and not unsolicited. If a company I’ve bought from sends me a sale update, I’m more likely to take notice than if they send me a plain text email with a link to their site. Just like if I were in a cinema, I would be happy to watch previews for new films, but if they just showed some text saying “pick up an upcoming films brochure on your way out”, I wouldn’t bother.

You don’t suggest we should stop online transactions because people get robbed online, do you? You don’t suggest we drop scripting because it can make sites vulnerable, do you? You don’t suggest we switch off the internet because viruses spread over it, do you?
So instead of taking a step backward to before the problem existed, let’s try to step forward and find a solution.

#30 On November 29th, 2007 7:41 pm Gérard Talbot replied:

Hello all,

I agree with Brad Wright, John Bradley,Vectorpedia, and with Matt Robin. I use Thunderbird and the body of all the emails I get are set to be viewed in plain text only. So, I never get to view the emails in their original HTML format.

HTML format has proven to be more bandwidth demanding, more prone to hacks or abuse of all kinds, more demanding of user system resources (CPU, RAM, video graphic, rendering engine, script capabilities, media engine, etc).

Josh: if the effort is about managing something that should not exist (HTML email), then you should act in a consequent manner, in a coherent manner with such premisse.

You don’t suggest we should stop prosecuting thieves, virus makers, phishing hackers, abusers of all kinds (spyware, spams, etc), criminals behind scams and frauds on the web and on internet, do you? You don’t suggest we stop pressurizing browser manufacturers into fixing their own security flaws, security weaknesses, security vulnerabilities, do you? You don’t suggest we terminate website, do you? You don’t suggest that email software support scripting capabilities or XSS capabilties, do you? You don’t suggest we turn off HTML format as the default format in email softwares, do you?

I do support disableing and removing remote script capabilities, Flash capabilities and HTML formating in email reading softwares, in emails, all emails, all the time.

A good product at a reasonable price done by a socially responsible company never needs Flash and HTML format in [unsollicited] emails.


Gérard Talbot

#31 On November 29th, 2007 8:59 pm Michael McCorry replied:

That said, I like HTML emails!

Amen. I happen to find being able to format email to be quite useful. Clients email me with a list of content changes with the sections affected highlighted in bold red making my job easier. I can email my clients a list of requirements, colour-coding them by priority. I can insert a screenshot example of a strange behaviour directly in the flow of an email to give it context.

It’s the misuse of HTML email that needs to be addressed.

#32 On November 29th, 2007 11:02 pm Gérard Talbot replied:

You don’t suggest we should stop online transactions because people get robbed online, do you? (…)

In an article titled “Improve the safety of your browsing and e-mail activities” (2006-09-20), Microsoft gives this recommendation as to “how help increase your e-mail security”.


Gérard Talbot

#33 On November 30th, 2007 9:38 am Chris Hester replied:

There are faulty links on the email standards website. (Eg: the email contact (how apt!) does nothing. And text to view examples on one page wasn’t linked to anywhere, just plain text.) I assume they are still working on it. I like the design of the site though! Great background. Not so keen on the logo, however. It’s the dropped “j” that jars I’m afraid. Just my 2 cents.

#34 On November 30th, 2007 12:09 pm ArtLung Blog » Misc Never Knows replied:

[...] Speaking of madness, The Web Standards Project points to the Email Standards Project. I end up with responsibility to debug and test HTML mail sometimes and it’s a mess dealing with the various email clients. This a good development. As one of the original members of what would become the WSP, I am all for this. I’m glad to see momentum here. [...]

#35 On November 30th, 2007 5:02 pm Dave Greiner replied:

@Chris, thanks for the heads up about the faulty links, I just tried to track them down but had no luck. Which links in particular did you have trouble with? Thanks in advance.

#36 On November 30th, 2007 10:13 pm Dominic Shiells replied:

If HTML email is being used we must use it to its full advantage.
If it is we can use it as a testing ground, what would the companies do to improve their compliance.
If CSS is being used why arent things like SVG being used. You can see in the future maybe AJAX.
An interactive email sounds good it may sell but it may not be able to open in all clients. Which may be a bad thing.
It would be useful if you could open an email and it looks the same in all clients even SPAM. SPAM is a regular occurence if you could stop SPAM because SPAMMER’s say use a certain tag, I know using Mozilla firefox the advantages of having extensions to block out certain features of webpages.
This is what I have a problem with at the moment with web browsers if you write code and then you realise that certain browsers do not do certain things say in javascript or CSS.

The whole point of email is that one person see’s the same message conveyed in the same form that the other person sent it. This would be useful if all the email clients comply with each other.
Chinese Whispers does not work to well with email!!!

Is it not smart to say that HTML mail is here to stay and to standardize it say by the W3 or Wasp or some organisation is the way forward to create a subset of XML and SGML designed specifically for email. As organisations like Microsoft always want to make email more Flashy maybe using Flash or Silverlight. It would be smart for any organisation who wants to standardize email to take into account peoples creativity in languages other than HTML and try and standardize them aswell.

#37 On December 2nd, 2007 6:05 pm » Blog Archive » Support your Independent Thinkers - replied:

[...] Why is this the trendy line? Personality. Or rather the cult of personality. If someone famous says something there tends to be a standardista line of acceptance that asserts it must be true or guru so-and-so wouldn’t have said it. The line between fact and opinion is a mighty blurry world. Matt Robin recently had some issues with other standardistas on a recent WaSP (Web Standards Project) post for being an independent thinker in the flock. I’m not sure where exactly I stand in that conversation but its because Matt stood to question the issue in detail that made me think about it at all. Independent thinkers should be encouraged not rebuked. [...]

#38 On December 3rd, 2007 10:39 am Chris Hester replied:

@Dave Greiner: The links I had problems with are:

1) The “Email Standards Project Blog” link at the bottom of the page. OH FORGIVE ME! I just realised it’s the title. I thought it was a link to EMAIL the standards blog! Ooooops.

2) The acid test page. See the text below the screenshot? Looks like the CMS spat it out without the links.

#39 On December 3rd, 2007 4:10 pm Sander Aarts replied:

Don’t you all hate it when a link in the email you just recieved doesn’t work because it’s plain text? I do.

I really don’t see what the fuzz is all about. When the World Wide Web started there where only text browsers. But I don’t think that any of the standardistas that visit this site will disagree when I say it’s a good thing that we can add presentation and behaviour nowadays. It all just depends on how you use it.
Why should email remain the same as it was decades ago when we all try to promote semantics for the web. Why not for email? Why do we say that for the web it’s better to publish content as an HTML document rather than as a PDF file, but for email we (well some) say just the opposite?

I don’t like horrible HTML emails just as most of you, but I don’t like horrible websites either. I do like the fact that as a user I can turn of CSS/images/JavaScript in my browser, just as I can do in my email client.

If I send an email to my best friend I can add all the visual unsemantic crap I can think off, just for the fun of it and because it looks nice, but most off all because I know it won’t make the message inaccessible to her. But if I send an email to my cousin, who uses assistive technology, I’d like to add some semantics.

I’d say it’s a good thing that there’s a project now that tries to improve/promote standards and best practices for email.

#40 On December 4th, 2007 2:42 pm Jens W replied:

I agree copy and pasting a link from an email into a browser is more then annoying.

I also think we should not blame the format for the miss-use of the emails. It is not a problem in the format of the html-mails it is problem of the content. There are some thinks which you could consider in the format e.g. security-related reglementations and so on.

#41 On December 5th, 2007 5:16 am - Internet Society - New York chapter replied:

[...] [source|Web Standards Project|author:Kimberly Blessing] [...]

#42 On December 5th, 2007 4:50 pm » Blog Archive » HTML Email is a Marketing Conversation - replied:

[...] Reading Roger Johansson’s post this morning – The Email Standards Project launches – its clear to see the Email Standards Project is gaining momentum. Nobody can argue that interoperablity of any technology is a bad thing. They can however argue that HTML email is not necessarily the right thing (read Matt Robin’s comments on the WaSP post). Yes HTML email is here to stay and yes there would be some sanity in having it render across email clients consistently. Yet I’m left with these nagging questions of my own about the marriage of web standards and HTML email. Something just feels uneasy about having the standards movement suddenly condone, even via the back door, the use of HTML email. [...]

#43 On December 7th, 2007 8:19 am Frank Fridlund replied:

Reply to Matt:
In regards to HTML e-mail, if you recall, the original HTML (and I’m talking the internet, not e-mail) was NOT designed to include formatting such as colors, tables for layouts, fonts, etc. In the way you’re thinking, we should all go back to pre-1995 standards, before Netscape (formerly Mosaic) decided to disrupt HTML by adding font, b, i, and u tags. That would put a halt to the entire commercial sector, since there is no room for javascript, AJAX, Java, and other ‘proprietary’ technology. In this perspective, e-mail has morphed along similar lines.

Not everyone likes change, but you have a choice: Either a) reject any e-mail not readable in plain text only (and boycott companies that don’t allow such an option), or b) be a part of the movement to allow a standard set on HTML e-mail that could be readable even if you can only see plain text. It’s your freedom of choice.

#44 On December 7th, 2007 12:57 pm db replied:

Plenty of emails that I receive that use ht,l are not junk. I receive several daily emails from advertising companies that contain useful info so yes it would be great if some standard is used. It is not going to disappear.

#45 On December 7th, 2007 1:39 pm Matt Robin replied:

>>”In the way you’re thinking, we should all go back to pre-1995 standards, before Netscape (formerly Mosaic) decided to disrupt HTML by adding font, b, i, and u tags.”

Frank: Don’t be stupid – I’ve already clearly stated that I support web standards, that’s a separate topic and you haven’t read what I wrote. Go back and read it again!

#46 On December 7th, 2007 6:51 pm Brian Ritchie replied:

I think Matt is frustrated not only because he’s fighting an underdog battle here, but also because he is venting frustration that has evidently been built up for years. I appreciate Matt Robin putting in his two cents, but I think his points are off topic. This isn’t the “ban HTML in email” project. It is the “Email HTML standards” project, and that should not include a discussion on banning HTML in E-mail.

If sending HTML formatted E-mail is possible, then it will happen simply because it provide a more useful feature suitable for message sending… and that is design.

People design paper-based letters today, and there is a reason for it. Businesses place their logos at the top and format the layout, select the font, color, border, and even the paper. So it makes perfect sense that people would want to have some control over the style presentation of electronic messages. I think of it as E-mail evolving and I welcome it.

Matt, not everyone has your preferences. I personally enjoy getting well-formatted e-mails from newsletters of which I have subscribed. it provides a better reading experience than plain text.

The main problem thus far has not been HTML in E-mail, but the lack of standards specifically for presentation of E-mail. There really should be a separate specification for writing HTML for E-mail. Instead, people crammed in some loose support for HTML into some E-mail clients and that resulted in a psuedo-standard. Too often, E-mails formatted in HTML show up broken and sometimes unreadable.

Allow E-mail to evolve, please. Don’t hold back the rest of us just because of your preferences of minimalism.


#47 On December 8th, 2007 3:50 am pseudotecnico:blog » The EMail Standards Project replied:

[...] La notizia è vecchia di un paio di settimane ma non ha avuto particolare diffusione, considerando che nessuna delle fonti “tecniche” che seguo tramite feed l’ha riproposta. We all know that email clients aren’t consistent in their support of Web standards. Crafting an HTML email that renders correctly on most email clients is a delicate process which typically involves extra coding and a lot of guesswork. Up until now, we’ve begrudgingly accepted life this way… but a new effort aims to change that! [...]

#48 On December 8th, 2007 1:53 pm Gérard Talbot replied:

@Brian Ritchie
“I think Matt is frustrated not only because he’s fighting an underdog battle here, but also because he is venting frustration that has evidently been built up for years.”

Name-calling or psycho-ad hominem qualifications are unneeded, sterile, uncalled in this website/topic discussed here.

“I appreciate Matt Robin putting in his two cents, but I think his points are off topic. This isn’t the “ban HTML in email” project. It is the “Email HTML standards” project, and that should not include a discussion on banning HTML in E-mail.”

Accessibility is not off topic here. Reducing load and requirements imposed on the user system resources is not irrelevant topic. Improving safety of email activities as recommended by basic security measures is not off topic either. Emails in HTML format is not without measurable inconvenients and assessable problems. Businesses making money out of it nowadays is a very weak argument: it’s an argument based on conjoncture, not on solid ground.

If “HTML email was a bad idea. Nobody disagrees with that.” is true, then deal with this and proceed from it, otherwise assume your contradictions, incoherences and inconsequences. And be prepared and accept in advance that you will be reminded once in a while that HTML email is a bad idea, prejudiciable, implies an accessibility burden, etc.


#49 On December 10th, 2007 4:49 am Chris Barklem replied:

HTML email standards and market are two very different subjects that I feel should not be mixed up in this discussion. Its like saying that the millions of marketing websites such as Google aDsense projects are the fault of the current and evolving web standards. Their not and to be honest they tend to be crude examples of all forms of design.

As a web architect, I am evolved with the development of both websites and html emails. One of the biggest challenges for a company is how to deliver its brand over email formats. The simple answer is that the email clients lack of standards compliancy leads most business to attach documents intended to be mere email communication instead of employing a web designer to alter and edit their HTML emails. The only real time that this is cost effective is when the email is intended to be for marketing or as everyone seems to be calling SPAM, little to most of the people posting on this site recognise that most of the emails that you receive are solicited by the receiver in one way or another. True SPAM is never normally HTML format due to the expense of production.

Anyway, why should email clients be the only place left on the planet that requires tables for construction? Surely the development of email clients towards the CSS2.1 standards is a step in the right direction. I receive regular emails (Which I have requested) from companies such as SitePoint which to me are perfect examples of why you should use HTML emails. The information is combined with pictures to allow me to quickly scan the content for the information that is of interest to me.

Imagine the media that would start to be developed especially in the areas of new and magazine content. I feel that email clients in general is an area that is ripe for the picking and if Hotmail or Gmail were to develop an email client to go along with their web based mail projects which were CSS2.1 compliant, well the world would be a better and richer environment.

I would relish the chance to contribute to any HTML email workgroup and I believe that there are millions of other web designers and web architects that feel the same.

#50 On December 11th, 2007 1:40 am H5N1 replied:

A standard (X)HTML for emails?
Sure, I see standards-compliant-Browser having problems with old standards, can’t imagine what can email clients do!
Just kiddin’ but, really, I think it will be a real challenge.

#51 On December 14th, 2007 12:35 pm Uhren Tom replied:

What does it look like, when you receive a newsletter in plain text? I always delete it at once. Only if it really looks good with high quality grphics / pictures, there is a chance that I will read it.
I think for proffessional email marketing html is absulutly necessarry….

#52 On December 17th, 2007 1:12 am Dennis jansen replied:


I olso do that. If i get a email in plain text i delete it. Because most times it is spam.

“proffessional email marketing html is absulutly necessarr”

This is a good idee. You see more of this company’s

Dos any one knows good proffessional email marketing company’s?

#53 On January 15th, 2008 5:34 pm AG replied:

This is a great initiative, but unfortunately I doubt that it will have success. There are so many different e-mail programms that it’s difficult to believe that e.g. AOL wants to give up their typical link format, etc.

Clear standards would also lead to a concentration of the market. At the moment people use many different e-mail programmes. In case of a standard there would be only a few programmes that would survive. Microsoft may be interested in that, but all the others?

Here a poll of users of Finanz Nachrichten which e-mail software or which webmail they are using. You can clearly see how fragmentet this market is at the moment:

AOL 8 0,1 %
AOL 9 2,0 %
other AOL version 0,2 %
Apple Mail 3,4 %
Evolution 0,5 %
KMail 0,6 %
Lotus Notes 6 2,1 %
Lotus Notes 7 1,1 %
Lotus Notes 8 0,7 %
other Lotus Notes version 0,2 %
Mozilla Thunderbird 11,7 %
Netscape 0,5 %
Opera Mail 0,8 %
Outlook 2000 3,1 %
Outlook 2003 12,9 %
Outlook 2007 7,2 %
Outlook Express 10,7 %
T-Online-Software 5,0 %
other Software 1,7 %

1&1 Webmail 0,9 %
AOL Webmail 0,2 %
AON Webmail 0,1 %
Arcor Webmail/PIA 1,0 %
Bluewin Webmail 0,4 %
Chello Webmail 0,1 %
Daybyday 0,2 %
ePost 0,2 %
Freenet-Mail 1,8 %
Gmail 2,5 %
GMX Webmail 7,4 %
Hotmail 2,2 %
Lycos/Jubii 1,0 %
T-Online-Webmail 2,7 % Webmail 8,3 %
Windows Live 0,6 %
Yahoo!Mail 3,4 %
other Webmail provider 2,5 %

2104 votes

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