14 votes

What's wrong with email?

28 comments

  1. [6]
    Comment deleted by author
    Link
    1. [5]
      freddy
      Link Parent
      The author said in another thread that they come from these three sites: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/how-bad-is-email-for-the-environment-a7555161.html...
      6 votes
      1. [3]
        mightychicken
        Link Parent
        Thank you for providing that detail, but each of these sources seems... not well-sourced. Is it not true that the email server is running whether or not I receive an email? What kind of power...

        Thank you for providing that detail, but each of these sources seems... not well-sourced. Is it not true that the email server is running whether or not I receive an email? What kind of power plant provides electricity to the email server?

        Email seems like the most clear example of an area where an individual's actions should not be overscrutinized, vs. the actions of larger contributors. It seems like the author just doesn't like busy emails and/or google's data collection, and the carbon contribution is more of a throw-in that might stick with some people.

        16 votes
        1. emmanuelle
          Link Parent
          This is definitely what disqualifies those claims. Maybe you can apply them to some area of the world but you definitely can’t make a sweeping statement about it.

          What kind of power plant provides electricity to the email server?

          This is definitely what disqualifies those claims. Maybe you can apply them to some area of the world but you definitely can’t make a sweeping statement about it.

          3 votes
        2. NoblePath
          Link Parent
          I don’t have access to data, but a question to explore would be, how manybservers would spin down if there were no spam? And the energy usage of those servers should be fairly straightforward to...

          I don’t have access to data, but a question to explore would be, how manybservers would spin down if there were no spam? And the energy usage of those servers should be fairly straightforward to calculate.

      2. nothis
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Those all cite the Mike Berners-Lee book. I assume it was reasonably well researched, but you probably need to get creative to arrive at those numbers (which, again, might be a reasonable way of...

        Those all cite the Mike Berners-Lee book. I assume it was reasonably well researched, but you probably need to get creative to arrive at those numbers (which, again, might be a reasonable way of doing it). Maybe it's about production of the hardware parts? Maybe it takes into account the time spent reading/writing the emails (although it specifically says "hitting send")? Or the email server having to run idle to await your request? A CPU can draw quite a bit of energy, probably enough to drive a car for 1km, after a few hours. And honestly, driving a car for 1km isn't much of a thing, I probably need at least a week to get to 65 emails.

        It seems like one of those Drake-equation-esque calculations that heavily depends on factors that are hard to guess, which could make it off by a huge factor (10? 100?) by simply changing, for example, the type of power plant producing the energy to run the server.

        Articles like this also remind me of an interesting political argument that's quite cynical about recycling. While recycling can help (I do it and don't consider it a burden), it kinda delegates responsibility to individual consumers when certain industries' wasteful practices produce something like 1000 times the carbon emission. So if everyone recycled perfectly, that would be but a small dent on the larger problem and regulating, say, the car or oil industry could have a much larger impact. You still have responsibilities, though, this isn't an invitation not to care.

        1 vote
  2. [2]
    mightychicken
    Link
    I too yearn for an earlier era of email and the internet. But there's no going back. Many of the author's wants (including plain text email) are simply never going to happen. The benefits are also...

    I too yearn for an earlier era of email and the internet. But there's no going back. Many of the author's wants (including plain text email) are simply never going to happen. The benefits are also not clearly laid out. While we're at it, should websites be plain text? Think of the carbon savings!

    The carbon numbers seem impossible, and, given the author's decision to not source anything, I will continue to assume the carbon footprint of one HTML email is effectively 0.

    Based on the content and tone of this blog post, it's hard not to read into this person a bit and see a highly inflexible/anal person.

    7 votes
    1. wundumguy
      Link Parent
      But don't forget, he has at least 70 friends

      But don't forget, he has at least 70 friends

      1 vote
  3. [11]
    skybrian
    Link
    It seems like email is largely unfixable and is gradually becoming a legacy mostly-business technology like fax machines and physical letters, but it's likely to be around for business purposes...

    It seems like email is largely unfixable and is gradually becoming a legacy mostly-business technology like fax machines and physical letters, but it's likely to be around for business purposes for a long time due to inertia.

    For a lot of personal discussion, chat systems have taken over, but there are too many and they don't interoperate. They also don't handle business-to-consumer notification.

    The closest thing might be SMS. Maybe it will evolve differently than email did?

    6 votes
    1. pallas
      Link Parent
      To me, the enormously frustrating problem with communication at the moment is that email is a mess, but all work for alternatives appears to be toward entirely different, short-form chat-based...

      To me, the enormously frustrating problem with communication at the moment is that email is a mess, but all work for alternatives appears to be toward entirely different, short-form chat-based communication methods that are centred around rooms or groups. Thus, the supporters of those methods continually push them, and point out the legitimate major problems with email, while people who need a long-form, message- and topic-centred continue to use email, because there is no alternative.

      5 votes
    2. [3]
      emmanuelle
      Link Parent
      honestly, only Americans (or anglophones?) seem to use SMS. very few people in the rest of the world still use it frequently besides stuff like carrier ads and etc. in my experience it’s all...

      The closest thing might be SMS. Maybe it will evolve differently than email did?

      honestly, only Americans (or anglophones?) seem to use SMS. very few people in the rest of the world still use it frequently besides stuff like carrier ads and etc. in my experience it’s all whatsapp, line, …

      4 votes
      1. Algernon_Asimov
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Actually, a lot of Australian companies and organisations use SMS to send correspondence to their customers/members/patients/etc. A LOT. Australia Post sends SMS notifications to let you know when...

        Actually, a lot of Australian companies and organisations use SMS to send correspondence to their customers/members/patients/etc. A LOT. Australia Post sends SMS notifications to let you know when your parcel is on its way. Medical clinics send SMSs to remind you of appointments. Real estate agents send SMS reminders if your rent is late. And so on, ad nauseam.

        It's so annoying that I bought a burner SIM card just to have a "spam" phone number that I give companies and organisations. My phone supports dual SIM cards; I have the "spam" SIM installed in the phone, but switched off. That way, my phone doesn't go off repeatedly for messages that are of no interest to me. The only time my phone notifies me of an SMS is when a friend has taken the time to send me a message. And I switch on my "spam" SIM once a week or so, just to see if anything interesting came through (nope).

        2 votes
      2. ohyran
        Link Parent
        Thats a bit of an oversimplification. I mean sure most here use different providers but to me SMS is the thing. No one bothers you unless they actually want to tell you something. If I have...

        Thats a bit of an oversimplification.

        I mean sure most here use different providers but to me SMS is the thing. No one bothers you unless they actually want to tell you something. If I have various other stuff installed on my phone all it does is ping, the majority of messages are complete nonsense that really isn't relevant.
        So if I have anything like Riot installed its set to quiet and shutdown so I can only see it if I actually open the application - the rest is IRC (when at the computer), email, text messages and phone calls. If Im bored I'll open like Riot and Telegram - but usually I'm not that bored.

    3. [2]
      vord
      Link Parent
      I think SMS has hit its natural peak due to the legacy size limitation (riding as a piggyback on cell signals). I personally would love to see email replaced with a PGP web of trust model, with...

      I think SMS has hit its natural peak due to the legacy size limitation (riding as a piggyback on cell signals).

      I personally would love to see email replaced with a PGP web of trust model, with say Markdown over standard text but shy of full HTML for the messages, encrypted and exchanged via private/public key encryption. Bonus points if an email client is basically just an SCP to push/pull files off your mail provider's server.

      But then I'm an incredible nerd, and can't see how that would easily be tied together for a user-friendly experience.

      1 vote
      1. skybrian
        Link Parent
        SMS is supposed to be replaced by RCS, but Google's the only one really pushing it. It seems like it's actually being replaced by cell phone notifications. Maybe notifications will evolve into the...

        SMS is supposed to be replaced by RCS, but Google's the only one really pushing it.

        It seems like it's actually being replaced by cell phone notifications. Maybe notifications will evolve into the new inbox? The size limitation isn't that big deal since you can link to something that's shown full-screen.

        We probably will want better inbox apps to manage all our notifications, in particular to delay the non-urgent ones and kill spam.

        As a generic notification delivery protocol for business-to-consumer, an SMS containing a link seems okayish.

    4. [2]
      Akir
      Link Parent
      That's honestly not too far what I was thinking. Email is basically being religated as a way to guarantee communications between robots and people. More and more companies are moving to using SMS...

      That's honestly not too far what I was thinking. Email is basically being religated as a way to guarantee communications between robots and people. More and more companies are moving to using SMS instead.

      While I think it's great that they use SMS, which is legitimately text-only, I absolutely hate the idea of having my phone number being given out to random companies. Most of them do not need to know what my cell phone number is; why should I give out yet more private information to these people?

      1 vote
      1. skybrian
        Link Parent
        Suppose there were a different number that you could give out to businesses in case they want to reach you? In the end, would that really be different, or would we end up in the same place?

        Suppose there were a different number that you could give out to businesses in case they want to reach you?

        In the end, would that really be different, or would we end up in the same place?

    5. [2]
      Algernon_Asimov
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Oh, dear gods, please no! I do not want to start receiving business correspondence via SMS! It's already bad enough that Aussie companies want to send me notifications by SMS, but I don't want to...

      The closest thing might be SMS. Maybe it will evolve differently than email did?

      Oh, dear gods, please no! I do not want to start receiving business correspondence via SMS! It's already bad enough that Aussie companies want to send me notifications by SMS, but I don't want to have to write business correspondence at work, using my T9 phone keypad. Please don't wish that on me!

      EDIT: Replaced "email" with "SMS". A silly typo.

      1. skybrian
        Link Parent
        Yeah, I forgot that some people don't have SMS synced to their desktop. (For me it shows up as chat in a Gmail sidebar.)

        Yeah, I forgot that some people don't have SMS synced to their desktop. (For me it shows up as chat in a Gmail sidebar.)

        1 vote
  4. [2]
    pallas
    Link
    These sorts of everyone-who-doesn't-use-a-tool-the-way-I-want-is-WRONG-and-I'll-refuse-to-speak-with-them-if-they-don't-do-exactly-what-I-think-is-best rants don't seem constructive, and commonly...

    These sorts of everyone-who-doesn't-use-a-tool-the-way-I-want-is-WRONG-and-I'll-refuse-to-speak-with-them-if-they-don't-do-exactly-what-I-think-is-best rants don't seem constructive, and commonly come up in discussions about email. Software developers are not the world. Software developers' needs are not the world's needs. Different people have different needs for communication. The continual insistence that plain text emails work best for everyone is ridiculous. They don't: they work well for software developers.

    In one of my pursuits, I frequently need equations and diagrams in my emails. Plain text does not practically allow this: past very simple equations, it's not reasonable to try to have a discussion in TeX source. My choice is not between HTML and plain text emails, it is between an HTML email, or a plain text email with a PDF attached. In another pursuit, I frequently need images, referenced or inline in the text, because those images are either photographs or scans of the topics we're discussing.

    My current standard is to send clean HTML emails that are converted Markdown (and, of course, contain no external content, which shouldn't be allowed). This allows me to include equations and inline images, and to write with reasonable formatting. It also means that my emails are still quite readable as text: in fact, I often use Emacs+mu4e, along with conversions, as an email client. I used to buy into the idea that plain text emails were superior. But with clean HTML emails, my emails look far better, actually support communication in the fields I work in, and are more reliably readable in more ways on more devices.

    Could there be a better middle ground? Yes. Widespread Markdown support, for example, would go a considerable way toward nice, formatted emails. A common standard for clean HTML email content would be nice: HTML is, at its heart, a text markup language that is actually reasonably suited to email-style content. To some extent, there even is a middle ground that is not as described: most HTML email readers I know of block external content and connections by default, so tracking pixels shouldn't be a problem.

    Instead, the discussion about email is often overrun by developers, who insist that, because plain text is usable for them, it should be perfectly usable for everyone, and push discussion in such a ridiculously backward direction that, after decades of discussion, even something as simple as soft text wrapping is not possible in plain text.

    4 votes
    1. creesch
      Link Parent
      While the author raises some valid concerns I do have to agree with you here. Its generally the sort of problem I have with people entrenched in their causes and I suspect it causes them to often...

      These sorts of everyone-who-doesn't-use-a-tool-the-way-I-want-is-WRONG-and-I'll-refuse-to-speak-with-them-if-they-don't-do-exactly-what-I-think-is-best rants don't seem constructive

      While the author raises some valid concerns I do have to agree with you here. Its generally the sort of problem I have with people entrenched in their causes and I suspect it causes them to often lose more people than they'd otherwise gain.

      Not that I am saying they should let go of what they value but they ever so slightly moved out of their trench when writing down the message it would probably land a bit better.

  5. [5]
    Grzmot
    Link
    Man I was going to go on a rant about how this is the second thread in a short time posted on Tildes defending email as a future-proof format to send messages. Boi was I wrong. Anyway, I find this...

    Man I was going to go on a rant about how this is the second thread in a short time posted on Tildes defending email as a future-proof format to send messages.

    Boi was I wrong.

    Anyway, I find this blog post quite valid in it's concerns, but the problem is that you can't sell a reduction in features (i.e a return to plain text emails) to anyone who has used HTML emails in the past and is possibly using more modern ways of communication like mobile messengers (including Signal) or enterprise messaging platforms like MS Teams, Slack or Space. This is just an inherent problem of net security; a more secure platform often means a reduction of features, and people just give that security away because ooh shiney new features.

    Even newer platforms who try to marry ease of use with security like Matrix, XMPP or Signal often aren't quite there yet when it comes to feature parity.

    TL;DR: There's nothing wrong with plain-text emails and in all honesty I prefer some text-based features like Kaomojis as opposed to Emojis because I find them cuter, but the main problem here is that the overwhelming majority if people using technology simply don't understand the problem enough to care, and they probably never will because net sec is the ugly part of IT, the one with all the complicated numbers and ugly interfaces (if you even get one, LOL).

    TLDRTL;DR: pictures pretty, text bad, that's why no one will go back. (ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧ ✧゚・: *ヽ(◕ヮ◕ヽ)

    3 votes
    1. [4]
      johnh865
      Link Parent
      The carbon problem is impossible for normal people to care about. It's impossible to expect people to meticulously calculate the carbon footprint of every action they take, because the vast...

      The carbon problem is impossible for normal people to care about. It's impossible to expect people to meticulously calculate the carbon footprint of every action they take, because the vast majority of people don't have the information to do so. It is impossible to figure out the supply chains of incredibly complex systems to perform the carbon footprint calculations, particularly not by yourself. And how are you so sure that researchers did the calculation correctly either?

      If global warming is a concern, get to the root of the problem. Price the cost of carbon into every possible transaction by taxing carbon at extraction. Tax every fossil fuel mined, dug up, and pumped out. This doesn't take care of imports. Slap a tariff on every single imported resource with unfortunately, an estimated carbon tax, a tax that shall unfairly remain in place until the exporting nation implements their own carbon tax.

      This takes care of the problem. If emails are a problem, then your internet prices & and email prices are going way up. Ecologically unsustainable business models will be destroyed. Free stuff like gmail will disappear.

      5 votes
      1. [3]
        Grzmot
        Link Parent
        I agree. Someone posted the sources in this thread and while I haven't read them, they are supposedly not great. I know we're just speaking in hypotheticals, but the solution is much more...

        The carbon problem is impossible for normal people to care about. It's impossible to expect people to meticulously calculate the carbon footprint of every action they take, because the vast majority of people don't have the information to do so. It is impossible to figure out the supply chains of incredibly complex systems to perform the carbon footprint calculations, particularly not by yourself. And how are you so sure that researchers did the calculation correctly either?

        I agree. Someone posted the sources in this thread and while I haven't read them, they are supposedly not great.

        If global warming is a concern, get to the root of the problem. Price the cost of carbon into every possible transaction by taxing carbon at extraction. Tax every fossil fuel mined, dug up, and pumped out. This doesn't take care of imports. Slap a tariff on every single imported resource with unfortunately, an estimated carbon tax, a tax that shall unfairly remain in place until the exporting nation implements their own carbon tax.

        I know we're just speaking in hypotheticals, but the solution is much more complicated than tax the shit out of it if only because we live in democracies where doing just that will drive your voters away. There's a ton of other reasons but I'm fucking tired of debating from that git thread on Tildes.

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          johnh865
          Link Parent
          A carbon tax doesn't exist because we aren't a democracy. On every single poll I've seen on the issue, carbon taxes are actually enormously popular. Carbon taxes can even be implemented in a...
          • Exemplary

          I know we're just speaking in hypotheticals, but the solution is much more complicated than tax the shit out of it if only because we live in democracies where doing just that will drive your voters away

          A carbon tax doesn't exist because we aren't a democracy. On every single poll I've seen on the issue, carbon taxes are actually enormously popular.

          Carbon taxes can even be implemented in a progressive way. It's called "Carbon Fee and Dividend". The proposal is simple. Slap on a carbon tax at extraction. Redistribute all tax revenue back to all Americans in the form of a monthly dividend. This tax system has bipartisan support among economists and even has two competing liberal/conservative bills (for example HR 763) in Congress. The last poll I checked (too lazy to find it) suggested that a majority of Americans would support such a tax.

          In the few places where direct democracy has been tried (for example in Ireland), Irish Citizens Assemblies ultimately concluded that a tax ought to be imposed on both carbon and meat production. These citizens assemblies are randomly chosen juries of around 100 people, who deliberate on many issues for several days.

          So yes, democracies around the world have already decided that carbon taxes ought to be imposed. The problem is that America is not a democracy. The problem is that special interests oppose carbon taxes, and their special interests supercede the general democratic interest.

          9 votes
          1. Algernon_Asimov
            Link Parent
            This can be done for every natural resource: carbon, iron, gold, oil, water, and so on. If we start with the principle that natural resources are ownable, then it's common sense to assume they're...

            Slap on a carbon tax at extraction.

            This can be done for every natural resource: carbon, iron, gold, oil, water, and so on.

            If we start with the principle that natural resources are ownable, then it's common sense to assume they're owned by the country whose land they're on or under. Applying the user pays principle means that when you take a resource that's owned by a country, you pay that country for the resource you're taking. That money goes into the government's coffers.

            The money from resource extraction doesn't have to be reimbursed to the citizens in cash form. It can be spent on services for the citizens - just like any other government income is spent on services for its citizens.

            Also, a country's government can apply a fee to all activity which despoils the country's resources: air pollution, water pollution, removal of forestation, etc. Again, it's the user pays principle: if you make a mess, you reimburse the people who have to live in your mess. This applies to everything from mining to manufacturing to transport (cars!). You pollute, you pay.

            If we applied these two charges universally, we would cut carbon emissions (and other pollution!) very quickly. If people had to pay for natural resources, they'd be more mindful of what resources they actually need. If people had to pay when they make a mess, they'd make less of a mess.

            1 vote
  6. [2]
    Algernon_Asimov
    Link
    If this was one of my friends, he would never hear from me again. It's all very well for him to have a fetish about how he wants to communicate, but I'm not signing on to a different service just...

    And since that's my main tool to communicate, if they wanted to keep in touch it's Signal or nothing.

    If this was one of my friends, he would never hear from me again. It's all very well for him to have a fetish about how he wants to communicate, but I'm not signing on to a different service just to talk to one person. It's bad enough I currently have two messaging services to deal with: SMS and Facebook Messenger. I'm not adding more services to my life if I don't have to.

    The rest of this blog is just the author saying "The way I like to communicate is The Only Way To Communicate, so it's my way or nothing."

    That said...

    Everyone replies above all the previous mails and the worst part is all of them are included in the current mail. I've seen emails over 1000 lines just to say “Thank you” and Cc:ed more than 20 persons.

    This is annoying. Sometimes someone at work will send an email to everyone, because everyone needs to know something. But we do NOT all need to read the "thank yous" that everyone sends back. 'Reply All' is the devil's work and should be banned from all email services.

    3 votes
    1. DrStone
      Link Parent
      I'll take extra spam "thank you"s over someone accidentally getting dropped from an important email discussion chain. Even with Reply All available, I've still seen some people manage to screw up...

      'Reply All' is the devil's work and should be banned from all email services.

      I'll take extra spam "thank you"s over someone accidentally getting dropped from an important email discussion chain. Even with Reply All available, I've still seen some people manage to screw up (even repeatedly after being alerted) and reply to just the sender when all original recipients need to be involved.

      1 vote
  7. ohyran
    Link
    Email alternatives will be viable if one of them become a standard. Until then we're stuck on email. It doesn't matter that everything from the technical to the expressions are archaic ("spools"),...

    Email alternatives will be viable if one of them become a standard. Until then we're stuck on email. It doesn't matter that everything from the technical to the expressions are archaic ("spools"), its still a standard. Everything can use it, everyone has it.

    The attempts at better solutions have all had to rely on having an IMAP bridge available.

    1 vote