[Athen] Best practise for threads in discussions.

Prof Norm Coombs norm.coombs at gmail.com
Sat Feb 7 19:59:38 PST 2009

I prefer the answer at the top. I still recall with frustration a reply to
a question that a colleague sent me. My question required a long
explanation in order to make the question clear. I had though my friend
had returned my mail without a reply. Many screens later, I found one word
answer to my question


At 12:01 AM 2/6/2009, you wrote:

>As usual I have lots of opinions about this, having used all sorts of

>methods. Sometimes I prefer a combination of techniques, depending on the

>context. I agree with both Patrick and Sean. Can I be any more

>schizophrenic? I'll use this e-mail to respond to points made by both

>Patrick and Sean.



>-----Original Message-----

>Patrick Burke (PB) wrote:


>Overall, after much experience & consideration, I give it a big Who

>Cares. ... But then I'm a long-time proponent of top-posting (when

>you open a new message, the newest content is right there, & if you

>need context you can read further down...). So it may not be wise to

>listen to me. ...


>PP: I tend to be an efficiency nut and the top-down method doesn't work well

>in a long thread. One of the main reasons why I love Microsoft Outlook so

>much is that it allows one to sort and group messages many different ways. I

>find myself grouping messages by threads -- something that Outlook calls

>"conversations." Within that thread group, messages are sorted by date and

>time received, allowing me to go through them one after another. I

>recognize that most people use the top-down method to respond; and, as a

>screen reader user, it's often far more efficient to go through each message

>one after another, just reading the top part and ignoring the rest. I

>recognize that this is certainly an adaptation for the current practice.

>But the reality is that getting people to change -- including myself -- on

>how they post message is going to be quite difficult.



>PB: I suppose the "Re7: ..." method is better than "Re: re: re: re: ...",

>if I have to choose a method of showing this.


>If we're talking about an online forum situation, some sites use

>nested lists very effectively to show subthreads. It gets a little

>wordy with all the "nesting level 2" indicators (via Jaws in my

>case). But this method does show very clearly which messages are

>originals & which are follow-ups.


>PP: I agree that some forums do employ the list nesting structure

>effectively. The down side is the unnecessary bit of chatter. Instead, I

>would highly prefer the Gmail method of indicating messages. I think Gmail

>does a fantastic job of grouping and, in turn, using heading navigation to

>allow one to jump from response to response. Within messages, the Gmail

>interface often ends up hiding headers, original messages, responses to

>original, etc. It all depends on what level of nesting we're talking about.

>It allows one to unhide a particular message or hidden section on demand.

>It is very very efficient. If screen readers were more reliable navigating

>through Gmail, I'd abandon Outlook in a heartbeat.


>Sean Keegan (SK) wrote:


>One method that has gained some use on discussion lists is similar to

>what I have done in this message. That is, put either the question or

>main point above and then respond to the message below. If there are

>several points, then separate each point with your response. Delete the

>remainder of the actual message.


>PP: I do like the method that SEAN points out. In long e-mails like this

>one, I often end up using it myself. However I am not fond of the ">" char

>at all. I have always found the > symbol quite annoying when used by

>e-mails. It is often not included in the low-punctuation verbosity levels

>by default. Yes I can customize punctuation levels to have the symbol read;

>but I'm lazy and, more important, having "greater than" said each time I

>encounter a new line is simply annoying.


>SK: Some people simply use the ">" symbol to designate the main topic in the


>previous message that is being responded to, but others put some

>information such as "My reply" to separate who is writing which

>message. If the conversation has gone back and forth and the poster

>wishes to refocus to the original message, then I have also seen the

>convention where the phrase "Original Post" or "Original Message" is

>sometimes used instead of a person's name.


>PP: Instead, I prefer to use a format similar to what I've done here. The

>first time the poster's name is encountered, I take it in whole and put

>his/her initials in parens. Each time she/he is quoted subsequently, I

>preface the quote by using the initials. What I've found people to do is

>quote someone at the beginning without identifying the person, put their

>reply immediately following the quote, interweave another quote from the

>original poster without identifying, and then respond to it. It is the most

>ineffective method. Sometimes the conversation could be clear form the

>context and other times, it takes a little while to understand the context.

>I am forced to go back to the original messages from the thread to pick up

>context and return to the response to gain a better understanding.


>SK: Does this help someone using a screen-reader? I have heard answers all

>over the place, from "yes" to "no" to, as Patrick pointed out, "who

>cares?" What I do like about separating the main points and replying to

>those individually is when checking e-mail via a portable device (e.g.,

>iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) - I get the main points of the message and do

>not have to sift through a bunch of replies to figure out what was the

>original post. Also, it helps to focus the issues in question and can

>make it easier to understand to what part of a message a person is



>PP: I do find the integrated threads quite useful when retrieving e-mail

>messages on a mobile device. I agree that the method is most successful

>when used properly. This again brings me back to Gmail. In situations like

>these, a good user interface can make a huge difference.



>Warm regards,







>Athen mailing list

>Athen at athenpro.org


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Norman Coombs norm.coombs at gmail.com
CEO EASI Equal Access to Software and Information
phone (949) 855-4852 (NOTE pacific time zone)

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