Where's the evil in top posting?

Where is the evil in top posting when replying to a message on a mailing list? It’s something I’ve never understood, even after reading the many “why top posting is evil” posts and FAQs around the interweb.

Inspired by yet another email complaining about a top post to the GIMP mailing list I briefly searched Google, the source of all information in the world, and found this enlightening page on the evils of top-post complaints.

Regardless, top-posting flame wars are always fun to watch from the sidelines. People on both sides of the arguement will fight for their own side in what is a subjective matter and way of writing. Flame away!


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Donncha

Donncha Ó Caoimh is a software developer at Automattic and WordPress plugin developer. He posts photos at In Photos and can also be found on Google+ and Twitter.

7 thoughts on “Where's the evil in top posting?”


  1. I don’t have a problem with it – in fact I do it myself – when the response is just a one-liner, or something longer that doesn’t need context. However it does drive me nuts when people are replying to several different elements of a previous post. Which is going to happen most often on technical mailing lists, so that’s why the flame wars appear most there.


  2. You must never have received the type of email I get regularly at work. It goes something like:
    (at the top) Mike, can you take a look at this, it’s urgent.
    I then have to scroll down 12 screens full to find the original message.
    Which is 3 screens long.
    So, back up two screens.
    It’s a question from a customer.
    Read down three screens.
    Back up 3 to find the reply. Which is 2 screens, so back up another one.
    Read down two.
    Back up two, to find the reply to that.
    Damn, I accidentally hit end.
    Back up 6, wait no, up another… down a couple, I think…
    Now, am I reading the reply to the reply or the quoted reply to the reply to the reply?
    And so on…
    Add in an ever-growing list of “disclaimers” tacked on the end of each transmission.
    It’s a nightmare!

    When it comes down to it, it’s a conversation in written form. All my instincts scream that I must read it top to bottom in chronological order.
    Anything else requires me to think about how to read it, instead of reading it and understanding the problem I have to respond to.


  3. Interesting. A friend of mine asked why I top-posted, but it seems more logical to do so then not. I receive an email, read through the most recent entries, and I’m able to see if anyone else has replied quickly and easily.

    If I really must read everything, it is very easy to do so.

    Those who talk about netiquette should really just put up with it. To have such a freeform type of communication and then to try and impose a certain way of doing things, seems ridiculous.


  4. I don’t know why people are so rabid about this.

    Top-posting is clearly superior in e-mail conversations. When you’ve been corresponding with Mr. X and suddenly need to include Mr. Y in the conversation, you just include him in the Cc: field, and he gets a copy of the conversation up until that point with your message.

    On a newsgroup, the past history of the conversation is publicly available, so it makes sense to trim to only the parts of the message you are replying to.

    But with e-mail, the history of the conversation is private. You need to include it with the message.

    Either way, with modern tools like Gmail and Google Groups, it doesn’t matter. The messages are sorted and put in chronological order, and the duplicated and already-read text is hidden until you explicitly open it. Top-posting vs bottom-posting was relevant in 1990, maybe. Not today. Do something useful with your time.

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