Snipping signatures and bottom quoting from posts

The cover of the first edition of The Medium is the Massage by t Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore. Snipping is a way that messages are massaged for the medum of group discussion.

Post snipping is one of the way messages are massaged to make them more suitable for the group.

OnlineGroups.net changes the posts that people make to your groups to make them more suitable for the medium of group email. Some changes are subtle, like the modified email headers; others are more obvious, like HTML email. Another way that the message is altered is by post snipping: when parts of the message are automatically hidden, allowing the group members to concentrate on the relevant parts of the message. In this post I will discuss post snipping, and how your groups decide what to snip.

When something is snipped — on both the Web and in email — it is hidden and replaced with the text “Rest of post”. Clicking on this will reveal all of the message. On the Web the rest of the post will appear immediately beneath the text, while email messages link to the Post page page where the full post is shown. Post snipping normally effects two parts of a message: the signature, and any bottom quoting. Sadly, despite our best efforts, we sometimes get snipping wrong.

Snipping signatures

A signature is a block of text at the bottom of an email that tells you something about the author. For example, my signature (which is small, as these things go) includes my name, position, and a link to the homepage of OnlineGroups.net:

--
Michael JasonSmith             https://onlinegroups.net/
Usability Engineer

Signatures should start with one of the following on a line by itself:

  • -- (at least two dashes, which is the most common)
  • == (at least two equal signs)
  • __ (at least two underscores)
  • ~~ (at least two tildes)
  • - - (a dash, a space, and a dash)

These characters tell the email clients and the person reading the email that the main body of the message has stopped. Often the signature is shown in a different font (such as muted). OnlineGroups.net hides the signature on the Topic page and in email messages.

The signature is hidden because we already show the name and photo of the author. The Biography section of the profile page shows the rest of the information, and clicking on either the photo or the name will bring up the profile of the author.

Snipping bottom quoting

Often when people reply to a message they add all other messages in the topic to the bottom of the email (with the most recent post first). This is known as bottom quoting. Bottom quoting is indicated in a few ways.

  • The > (greater-than) character starts all lines at the bottom of the message. (Using a > at the top of the message is interpreted as an inline quote by OnlineGroups.net and these are shown.)
  • The line -----Original Message-----
  • A line ending …wrote:
  • Four or more blank lines.
  • Obscurely, a line starting Post by followed by some text that contains at least colons (:). This indicates that Mozilla Thunderbird has messed up and placed some CSS code in the bottom-quoting.

Bottom quoting is redundant because every email links to the Topic page from both the top or bottom of the email message. The Topic page is far easier to the read than bottom quoting: it is in a better order (from oldest to newest), it is better formatted (partly because the bottom quoting and signatures are hidden), and it is a better record of a discussion because it includes all the messages (not just the ones up to the point the email was written).

Getting snipping wrong

We tend to misinterpret both section headings and tables. Both of these will be fixed once we fully support HTML formatted email.

First, if dashes are used to indicate a section-heading this will be interpreted as the start of a signature. 

Upcoming items
--------------

* Site visit…

To work around this you can use asterisk (*) characters to make text bold, and plus-signs (+) for the underlining:

*Upcoming* *items*
++++++++++++++++++

* Site visit…

Another issue is with tables in text. Sadly there is no good solution for this, as we use a proportional font (like the one you are reading) which makes lining things up very hard.

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