1 Sep 2002 jeremyw   » (Apprentice)

Email, blogs & clarity

Raph notes, in the blogging age, we could gain some efficiency in the way our email conveys permissions for public excerpt or attribution. I like this idea, however his solution ("+, "-, "?) bothers me, in that we wish to encode what rather has natural domain in concise, but full language.

I remember an early Negroponte column in Wired complaining about superfluous email traffic ("Thanks!", "Appreciate it.", etc.), and suggesting closing emails with "nrn", i.e. no reply necessary. Of course, he was trying to propagate the opposite concept than Raph, one-way comments guilt-free for the recipient.

Nonetheless, it didn't take, and I think the reason was symbology. Email, like blogs, are centered around language. If a message is worth posting, it likely has simple, persuasive verbiage, even when directed towards propeller heads.

Some years ago, after reading a series of papers by Bertrand Meyer, I asked my mother (a history scholar) to read one discussing some aspect of programming langauges. I was struck by Meyer's clarity, particularly that his use of terminology was essentially limited to that which he constructed from first principles, and even these words never strayed far from common understanding (e.g. routine vs function or method). And Mom got through it with a modest, but broad understanding of the topic. This left an impression on me. Resist jargon.

Raph's expressions would be interesting if the majority of email now used html bodies, and stylized, but idiosyncratic features could be linked to personal glossaries. In that absence, "copyleft permission granted" or "no quoting, please" in one's signature makes for simple and universal communication, rather than devolving into geekcode.

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