Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Top-Posting vs. Bottom-Posting

If you've been using the Web for quite some time, you've probably come across discussions concerning top-posting style. In brief, top-posting is to write your message above the original text when responding to an email, forum or newsgroup post. In addition, bottom posters support the idea that you should not include the whole message you're answering to in your response rather than just some relevant parts of it.

If you've already read something on the topic, it has most probably been some flaming of top-posting approach. It's called bad, annoying, evil and whatnot. While I'm not a devoted follower to top-posting or bottom-posting style, I find the attempts of bottom-posting intercessors to convict the rest of the world in some kind of crime to be pretty much ridiculous.

You will rarely see a top-posting user to defend his style passionately. While bottom-posting followers are quite fanatic, the top-posting users are just users. Now, someone may say that being "just a user" is the root of the problem itself. Let's say Microsoft has made top-posting a default preference in its applications and "users" just followed it. But in fact, I don't see any problem, let alone an evil one. For me, it doesn't matter which posting style is used as far as the response (and the whole correspondence/thread) is easily understandable. I don't think a particular notation could be universal painkiller. I would say that each of the both approaches might have a good usage.

Now, bottom posting devotees apparently think it's very cool to support that posting style. It's something like being a UNIX user instead of a Windows user. But in reality, their arguments are very weak and often out of context. They say:

- In natural conversations you don't reply to something you haven't heard yet. Well, it's true but obviously online communication is not a standard conversation. It's even not a real-time conversation.

- A book is read from top to bottom. This is fine too as far as we are talking about books. Obviously, emails and forums are not books. The main reason to read a book from top to bottom is because you're usually reading it for the first time. Once you've read a book, you may go directly to any of its pages and read it without re-reading everything from the beginning.

- When answering a message, you should remove all unnecessary parts of it and quote only the relevant parts. It’s a little bit strange. It practically means that when you answer a message you should decide which parts of the original one your recipient would like to read. And this is quite annoying because I might want to read also the rest of the context but I'm already devoid of this option by bottom-posters.

- Top-posting makes it harder for bottom-posters to include just relevant parts of the message, while bottom-posting is not a problem for top-posters. Well, this can't be serious. What about if a top-poster wants to read the whole previous message instead of just a part of it?

There are many other "cool" reasons that a bottom-poster could provide but we are not going to cover them all.

What's my opinion? I think it largely depends... If you're posting on some message board that has established rules about top or bottom-posting then it's naturally to follow them. If there are not such rules and we talk about forums, it's more appropriate to use bottom-posting. Why? Because, usually, when somebody arrives to a forum thread for a first time, the whole content will be new for him, so it will be easier to read everything from top to bottom, just like a book.

Well, when emails are concerned, I think top-posting is better. Emailing is far different from forum posting. First, when we talk about email messages, in most cases, all of the recipients have already read the previous ones. Even if they've forgotten the content of a previous mail, it's not a problem to read it again when every message is included below. Second, if somebody is added to the recipients in the middle of a correspondence what will happen if only parts of the original messages are included? In fact bottom-posters usually include only parts of the last message. This means that a new recipient will be completely unable to follow the whole previous correspondence. Third, including only portions of the last message is also very inconvenient if you want to have everything archived. In the case of bottom-posting, you should keep all of the previous messages. In the case of top-posting, you could keep only one. Indeed, it will be a very long email but also it will be far easier for you to find it and use it at some future point of time.

So, instead of being some fanatic follower of a particular posting style, it's better to decide each case depending on the circumstances. Such approach will help much more for easier and pleasant communication than just being a die-hard fan of anything.

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