Re: should notmuch handle or generate message responses (RFC 9078) (or, "why can't i 👍 an e-mail message?")

Subject: Re: should notmuch handle or generate message responses (RFC 9078) (or, "why can't i 👍 an e-mail message?")

Date: Mon, 09 Aug 2021 14:32:36 -0400



From: Daniel Kahn Gillmor

On Fri 2021-08-06 09:35:52 +0200, Ralph Seichter wrote:
> Oh my... Are "+1" replies not sufficient anymore for some people, or is
> this a means of allowing the authors to claim having created an RFC, no
> matter how useless it is? ;-)

fwiw, i think this is a little bit ridiculous too. ☺

But in addition to being an e-mail user, i also use instant messaging
platforms.  The targeted emoji feedback feature offered by platforms
like Signal Private Messenger is a real boon to making the conversation
flow -- especially in a fast-moving group discussion.  By contrast,
e-mail threads with a ton of "+1"s, are hard to read, daunting even to
approach (does anyone like opening a thread with a dozen unread messages
in it?), and are especially problematic when it's unclear which
message a given "+1" is approving of.

If we want e-mail to be able to offer a similar cadence and experience
-- if we want a decentralized, federated e-mail system to be able to
*compete* with messaging services, I think we do need to think about
these affordances.

Put another way:

 - for years, e-mail "experts" (including myself, not infrequently) have
   lamented patterns like "+1" or "metoo" threads, top-posting of
   trivial replies with huge quoted/attributed texts blindly
   re-re-re-transmitted, and other "netiquette violations" that do
   really legitimately have negative side effects for other participants
   in the thread.

   But users who generate messages falling into these patterns aren't
   "doing e-mail wrong," they're trying to express themselves, and
   they're relying on the tooling that most MUAs offer, clumsy as they
   may be.

   If we really want to minimize the negative side effects, we need to
   think about how to help people express themselves over e-mail, and
   make it easy/convenient/enjoyable to do so.  Otherwise, e-mail will
   be relegated further and further into an awkward communications
   backwater, used only in certain work environments, and maybe feared
   or loathed by its users. :/

I'll also be clear: i don't like the weakening of public discourse to
single-glyph responses to potentially-thoughtful messages (i also don't
like 280-character limits, fwiw).  But i do use them sometimes, and
sometimes they're appropriate and the most light-weight way to
communicate what's necessary to communicate.  I'd rather have them
available to me in e-mail.

To my mind, there are some interesting wrinkles that come up in trying
to apply the affordance to e-mail, specifically in this way.  for
example, if Alice sends Message-ID: X to Bob and Carol, and Bob sends
Message-ID: Y that is In-Reply-To: X to Alice and Carol and is
Content-Disposition: reaction (following RFC 9078), what would it mean
if Carol sends Message-ID: Z that is In-Reply-To: Y (whether
Content-Disposition: reaction or otherwise)?

Cryptographically, they're also interesting: as formulated, these
responses *cannot* be generated or interpreted responsibly with any of
the current cryptographic e-mail standards that don't ensure that e-mail
headers are protected the same as the message body.  To fix this, we'd
need to invest more work in projects like

I don't have a lot of bandwidth to work on this myself right now, but if
someone wanted to take a stab at figuring out these issues for notmuch,
i would definitely be supportive.

RFC 9078 is marked as experimental.  notmuch development could offer a
chance to contribute data to that experiment, if anyone is of a mind to
do the work.

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