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Mailing lists vs. tags

Or, why "Subject" lines aren't tagged

Some people have asked "Why not arrange for the 'Subject' lines on these messages to have an identifying string in them?" In other words, why not arrange for a string like "NWSC" to be the first thing on ever subject line?

The ostenible reason for doing this would be to assist people who get a lot of mail in sorting their messages. My response to that is that if you really do get that much mail -- and I have, for many years -- then you need to use an intelligent filtering agent, such as procmail. Intelligent filters use a set of rules that indicate how incoming mail should be sorted/filed, e.g.

and so on.

The reason for directing people to such filters is that anyone who's getting a lot of mail is going to need them anyway -- regardless of whether or not mailing list traffic gets tagged. This sort of software is now widely available for all platforms, so if you plan on handling a lot of mail -- get it.

There are other reasons as well; one is that tags are by no means unique; given that there are thousands of mailing lists, the chances of an overlap -- which renders them useless for anyone on both lists -- are getting larger all the time.

Another is that since tags appear at the beginning of the line, they reduce the amount of text visible to end users.

Another reason is that some mailers don't correctly reformat the "Subject" line on replies, leading to nonsense like

which is a really ugly thing to find in your incoming mail.

And finally, when a message from one mailing list using tags is forwarded to another mailing list using tags (a common occurence), then BOTH tags show up in the result...making it difficult to figure out where it really came from and how.

In short, the practice of tagging was invented by people who didn't understand filtering and why it's necessary; it's really the wrong solution to the problem.


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