Mailing lists should "reply to all" by default

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Issue #50 closed
Erik Schnetter created an issue

I'm currently helping someone debug an issue on the Einstein Users' mailing list. Since the mailing list is set to "reply to sender" instead of "reply to all", the discussion has separated into three threads at the moment:

  • an incomplete, public discussion on the list
  • a private discussion between the user and Frank Löffler, about which I only learned by change (and where I don't know what was actually said)
  • a private discussion between the user and myself, so that all the help I'm offering won't be logged and won't help anybody else.

Please set the lists to "reply to all". I'm aware of all the discussions and arguments about whether this is a legal or moral thing to do, but it would undoubtedly be a very helpful thing for us.

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Comments (13)

  1. Erik Schnetter reporter
    • removed comment

    Do you have another suggestion to address the issues I raised above?

  2. Eric Seidel
    • removed comment

    If we changed the reply-to field, would that make it impossible to reply directly to the author without knowing their email? In that case I would be against the change. That being said, I would prefer to have the default be to reply to the entire mailing list, with an easy option to reply only to the sender.

  3. Frank Löffler
    • removed comment

    Replying to [comment:2 eschnett]:

    Do you have another suggestion to address the issues I raised above?

    I guess the best solution would be to teach people how to use their clients properly. Are there really clients which do not offer both reply possibilities (all and sender)? Even google mail has this, and you can also make it the default.

  4. Frank Löffler
    • removed comment

    There is one case where of course reply-to is the right solution: mailing lists like commits or trac. They don't have valid senders in most cases, and discussions should not happen on those lists. Here a forced reply-to is the best way to move a possible discussion to another place.

  5. Ian Hinder
    • removed comment

    In my email client, I can either click Reply or Reply All. Neither of these do what I want when the Reply-To is set to the original sender.

    Reply: Sends the email to the original sender - in the vast majority of cases I want to send to the list (and we want to encourage discussion on the list)

    Reply-All: Sends the email to the list AND the original sender. I don't know if this is just an Apple Mail quirk, but it means that when I receive such emails, they do not have the List-ID header and so don't get filtered into the right folder, meaning they stay in my inbox and are separated from the main thread.

    If Reply-To is set to the list, I can just click Reply and all is well. If I want to send just to the original sender, it means a bit of copy and paste, but that is the rarer case.

  6. Frank Löffler
    • removed comment

    Setting reply-to to the sender wasn't proposed. I can see that reply-all creates the problem that the sender is also CCed. Sometimes this is good because the sender doesn't have to be on the mailing list. This can especially be the case for the users mailing list. I guess your email client doesn't have a list-reply option (mine does), which does exactly what you want: it replies, to the list only?

    Regardless - those two mails have the same message-id. An email client should be smart enough to connect the two, don't you think?

  7. Ian Hinder
    • removed comment

    As far as I know, the mail server at the ISP will recognise that the message ids are the same and won't deliver it twice. I certainly don't get the message twice, and a little googling reveals that this is a known problem. I agree that a Reply-To-List option in all email clients would be good, but since not all email clients have that, I don't think we can make it part of the solution. Apple Mail does not have it.

    Setting Reply-To to the mailing list would solve this problem, encourage discussion on the mailing list, won't need us to "educate" users about an obscure feature of their mail client, won't need people to change their mail client in order to use the list conveniently, and will work for everyone.

  8. Frank Löffler
    • removed comment

    Setting reply-to would limit users that actually know how to use their clients. Not setting it seems to limit (in the sense that some learning is required) not that experienced users. No solution is right for everyone. Understanding the difference between 'reply to' and 'reply to all' cannot be that hard, and I don't know of a mail client which doesn't have both options.

    As to reply-to-list - that can actually be a problem if not used in the right way. Lists like users are open also for non-members (moderated because of spam, but open). Replying only to the list would leave the original sender without reply. Reply-to-all id probably the best fit for our needs.

  9. Frank Löffler
    • removed comment

    What should we do with this ticket? We obviously are not agreeing and probably will not even after discussing this here further. Should we move the discussion to the mailing list? Should we force the issue in one or the other way?

  10. Ian Hinder
    • removed comment

    Actually, after re-reading the old "munging" arguments and reading through this discussion here, I now agree with you (Frank). I think the root of the problem is that email was never designed for mailing lists, and it is impossible for the mail client to say "reply to the list, and any other recipients or senders who are not on the list" because it doesn't know the list membership. I now think that setting Reply-To to the list is an abuse, because it modifies the sensible and expected behaviour when you click on Reply to an email that you have received, which is that it goes to the original author only. The fact that there is no good way to reply to the list is a failure of the system. As you said, Reply-To-List (when available) doesn't solve the problem, as the original sender or any people CC'd on the mail might not be on the list. So Reply-All is the only solution, and it leads to multiple emails, and over time all contributors to the thread appearing in the CC line of every message (and receiving every message twice).

    To address Erik's original concerns that users reply to the original author and fragment the discussion, I'm afraid that this isn't a problem which should be solved in this way. Perhaps it should be generally made known on the list that it is best to reply to the whole list if possible, and if you receive a reply by private message that you think should go to the list, politely ask the user concerned if they would mind the discussion moving back to the list so that everyone can benefit.

    According to everything I read on the subject, I should be receiving mailing list postings in reply to something I wrote twice: once to the list and once to me. For some reason I'm not, and I haven't figured out whether this is due to mailman, a mail server, fetchmail, procmail or Apple Mail.

    In summary: I vote that the list is left as it is. Of course this is very confusing in an ecosystem where some lists (Cactus, Carpet) behave one way, and others (einsteintoolkit) behave another. So it will still be a game of Russian roulette when I click the Reply button. ll

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