HTML email from your groups

OnlineGroups.net is about to introduce email messages formatted using HTML. This will make the messages easier to read, make the online archive easier to find, and improve the identity of your site and groups.

Up to now groups have just send out “plain” text messages, that lack much of the formatting people have come to expect. The new HTML email message is easier to read, because we can enhance the message with headings, bold text, and muted text. We also hide the quoted text that people often post, but just gets in the way.

OnlineGroups.net provides an excellent archive, such as the one for OnlineGroups.net Administrators. The archive will be easier to find because we now can link to different pages, including the topic archive, the web page for your group, and the profile of the person who made the post.

The identity of your site and group will be improved because the new message looks like your site. For example, the email shown below uses the demure style of GroupServer.org. Even with this subtle style you can see the identity of the site in the heading and the footer.

The parts of the message

An HTML email message.

An email message with HTML formatting.

An email message is not a simple thing: there are three distinct parts: the information about the post, the body of the message, and some useful links — as shown in the example email to the right. There have also been some improvements to parts of the message you cannot see.

Email metadata

The HTML email message starts with some information about the post (meatadata). It lists the

  • Site name,
  • Topic name,
  • Image of the author,
  • Author name, and
  • Group name.

This information is deliberately designed to look like the post on the web, with all the names leading to various parts of the archive: the site page, the topic archive, the author’s profile, and the group page.

This information is important because an email from a listserv is more  than a normal message: it relates to a group, the group members, and a site. Some of this information can be found other parts of the email. However, the new design reinforces the information, and the links are very useful.

The body

The body of the message follows the metadata. It is currently just the plain-text version of the message that has been turned into HTML in the following ways.

  • Quoted text (beginning with > characters) is muted. This text is generally less important because people would have seen it before.
  • Text in pairs of *asterisk* characters is bold.
  • Email addresses, site names, and URLs are all turned into links. In long URLs the site-name is made bold because that is more important than the rest of the link.
  • To make the message easier to read the quoted part of the previous message (the bottom quoting) is removed, replaced with a discrete “Rest of post…” link, which links to the online archive where the rest of the message can be read.

Finally, links to the attached files are shown at the bottom, in much the same way that they are in the plain-text version of the email message.

We hope to ship the full HTML version of the message in the future.

Useful links

We have added some useful links to make collaboration easier in your groups. There are links to reply to the post, and start a new topic. There is also a link to view the topic on the web (which goes to the same place as the topic name at the top). The link to leave a group (unsubscribe) is at the bottom, which is standard. There is also a link to switch to a daily digest of topics, rather than getting one email per post. (The digest message has a link to switch back to one email per post.)

What you cannot see

We have also worked on improving the inbox experience. The Subject still lists the topic name, and the short name for the group. However, there is now a preroll, or preheader, that many email programs show in the inbox, just under the the Subject. The preroll lists the number of files attached to the email, the full name of the group, and the site name. We hope that this will make the email messages from your group more compelling.

Future HTML email work

Currently the plain-text version of a message is converted into an HTML email and sent from a group. We are doing this to ensure we get things right, taking things slowly, one step at a time:

  • The overall layout is based on our existing notifications.
  • The design of the message itself is much the same as on the web, it is just the context is different.

We will work on basing the message on the HTML that people send to us once we have feedback and experience with the these new HTML email messages. So please send us your feedback at support@onlinegroups.net, or join the conversation in the GroupServer Development group.

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