Email Quotes and Inclusion Conventions
One area where conventions for on-line writing are still in some flux is the marking of included material from earlier messages -- what would be called `block quotations' in ordinary English. From the usual typographic convention employed for these (smaller font at an extra indent), there derived a practice of included text being indented by one ASCII TAB (0001001) character, which under Unix and many other environments gives the appearance of an 8-space indent.
Early mail and netnews readers had no facility for including messages
this way, so people had to paste in copy manually. BSD
The practice of including text from the parent article when posting a followup helped solve what had been a major nuisance on Usenet: the fact that articles do not arrive at different sites in the same order. Careless posters used to post articles that would begin with, or even consist entirely of, "No, that's wrong" or "I agree" or the like. It was hard to see who was responding to what. Consequently, around 1984, new news-posting software evolved a facility to automatically include the text of a previous article, marked with "> " or whatever the poster chose. The poster was expected to delete all but the relevant lines. The result has been that, now, careless posters post articles containing the entire text of a preceding article, followed only by "No, that's wrong" or "I agree".
Many people feel that this cure is worse than the original disease, and there soon appeared newsreader software designed to let the reader skip over included text if desired. Today, some posting software rejects articles containing too high a proportion of lines beginning with `>' -- but this too has led to undesirable workarounds, such as the deliberate inclusion of zero-content filler lines which aren't quoted and thus pull the message below the rejection threshold.
Because the default mailers supplied with Unix and other operating systems haven't evolved as quickly as human usage, the older conventions using a leading TAB or three or four spaces are still alive; however, >-inclusion is now clearly the prevalent form in both netnews and mail.
Inclusion practice is still evolving, and disputes over the `correct' inclusion style occasionally lead to holy wars.
Most netters view an inclusion as a promise that comment on it will
immediately follow. The preferred, conversational style looks like this,
> relevant excerpt 1 response to excerpt > relevant excerpt 2 response to excerpt > relevant excerpt 3 response to excerpt
or for short messages like this:
> entire message response to message
Thanks to poor design of some PC-based mail agents (notably Microsoft
Outlook and Outlook Express), one will occasionally see the entire
quoted message after the response, like this
response to message > entire message
but this practice is strongly deprecated.
Occasionally one sees a