Fact: 99.9% of you use email the wrong way.

Fact: Most of you are forced to use email the wrong way.

Fact: The reason we use email the wrong way is mainly Microsoft’s fault. I say mainly because Lotus (IBM) is also partially at fault as well.

How email used to work when it was done the right way

Originally, email was designed to be used conversation-style. People see Gmail’s version of “conversation” and think it’s a totally new thing. Nope. It’s just a reinvention of how email used to work almost two decades ago.

Email when used conversation-style works like this:

  1. You send a message.
  2. The recipient receives the message, and replies. Their reply text goes on the bottom of the message and not the top.
  3. You receive the reply, and reply back. Your reply also goes on the bottom of the message.

In addition, whenever you look at a list of emails, the oldest message is at the top and the newest is at the bottom.

You probably consider this way of using email to be completely backwards. It’s not. The way it’s done now is completely backwards.

The proper way to keep track of an email conversation is that the beginning of the conversation is at the top and the end at the bottom. Why? Well, wouldn’t you consider it rather stupid if the paragraph order of this article was reversed? Of course you would. You start at the top and read your way down. Email is not supposed to be any different from that, yet today it is.

How did Microsoft (and Lotus) screw up email so bad?

Mail clients from Microsoft and Lotus were purposely programmed so that email conversations always set the position of reply text to the top instead of the bottom by default. Given Microsoft’s huge popularity with home computer users (and that users almost never changed the default settings), when people used Outlook or Outlook Express from home, they simply became accustomed to composing email convesations backwards.

Microsoft’s backwards way of email conversations became so popular that internet webmail decided to emulate it, and still does to this day.

While true with some webmail systems you can configure the message list to show the proper oldest-to-newest order, the option to reply on the bottom is almost never there. Some people back in the day desperately tried to convince people otherwise, but it was all for naught. If you use webmail, you’re basically stuck using the backwards method.

The only way to use email that lists messages and bottom-replies properly is to use a mail client. For example, even the newest version of Thunderbird still by default will put your reply text on the bottom. Yes, you can change this, but the point is the client is configured to set the position of reply text correctly “out of the box”.

Gmail tried to get us using email the right way again, but even they failed

Google’s idea with Gmail is that instead of forcing people to be bottom-posters, they instead used the Gmail interface directly and forced a “conversation view” by default.

The end result is that there was a huge outcry by Gmail users to the tune of, “Please allow us to turn that sh*t OFF!”. Google relented and allowed the feature to be turned off.

Bottom-posting is a “geek’s way” of using email, but it is the right way

Computer geeks (programmers, specifically) appreciate email conversations where it’s easy to keep track of what’s going on. Well, that obviously can’t happen when dealing with webmail’ers and Outlook users (hence the reason programmer geeks hate Outlook so much). However, my suggestion is this for anyone that receives an email reply where the reply text is on the bottom is to do the following:

First, the person who wrote you expects plain text, so only reply in plain text.

Second, put your reply on the bottom. This will really make the geeky/nerdy email user very happy because you actually replied in the correct way.

Third, don’t be surprised if you find that the bottom-posting way of using email really does make it easier to use when keeping track of conversations instead of it being a convoluted mess.