Version 2 (modified by Daniel Kahn Gillmor, 13 years ago) (diff)


How do I send fancy, formatted email messages?

Most of us have received email with colors, pictures, and other formatted attributes that look really cute and inviting. There are a number of ways these messages are sent, ranging from very vendor specific methods (like Microsoft's rich text format) to more open methods like using html formatting (the same approach used to create web sites). Many May First/People Link members ask how they can send messages like this, either to individuals or to their members through their email lists.

Before going on, there are some good reasons to avoid sending formatted email, which include:

  • Formatted email is harder to forward. Most effective newsletters reach more than the original recipients - they are forwarded way beyond this initial group. Some email programs will not properly forward a formatted message, sending instead a horribly disfigured version or just a lot weird looking computer code.
  • Unpredictable. Every email program interprets formatted email differently (some don't even interpret it at all!) - so unless you view your message in all the email programs available (Outlook, Thunderbird, Yahoo, AOL, Gmail, etc.) it's very hard to know if your formatting will come across the way you think it is coming across.
  • Security policies. Many email programs have security policies that disable things like images to avoid viruses from being sent via the email message. Often these security policies will prevent your formatted email from looking like you expect it to.
  • Bloat. Formatted email will cause your message to double or triple in size.
  • Archiving. Mailman, for security reasons, will archive formatted emails separately (via a download link) so these messages will be more difficult to access.

Despite these limitations, many people still do decide to send formatted email. The choice is up to you!

If you do decide to send formatted email, you do not need any special program or system to work with May First/People Link. All you need is an email program (like Thunderbird) that can compose HTML email. Thunderbird, by default, sends HTML formatted email.

If you go this route, we would make the following reccomendations:

  • Use HTML, rather than rich text format, or any other proprietary format.
  • Use a standards-compliant program (like Thunderbird) to compose the email. Avoid using proprietary programs (like Outlook or Apple Mail) because they are more likely to produce HTML email that will look great if displayed in the mail application that created the message, but will not look great in other mail applications.
  • Do not add any images to the message. If you must, add the images as an attachment to the email as opposed to adding a link to an image on your web site.
  • Keep it simple - avoid fancy layouts, tables, etc.