[p2p-research] Top Posting - Cardinal Sin

Ryan Lanham rlanham1963 at gmail.com
Thu Aug 13 16:18:54 CEST 2009


I myself am aware of the debate going on since I used a VT-220 terminal over
a 2400 baud modem as an employee at Harvard in 1987 on Usenet.  It was an
issue then.  It will be an issue 50 years from now, I suspect.

Norms are just that...norms, not rules, not laws.  Some people hate that
their own norms aren't everyone else's--in politics we call them dictators.
To my mind, top posting is superior...it gives both persons' messages a
clear and unchanged set.  I have also found inter-line tedious, kludgy and

Responding to a particular line or segment means inter-line is better.  I
wouldn't at all be surprised if PhD dissertations have gone down on the
topic.  Many people strongly prefer inter-line.  Everyday programmers and
technical sorts seem particular rabid about the topic form my 20+ years
experience of it.

The plonking and kill-filing threats are inevitable.  People who have active
and open voices will be disliked, disagreed with, ignored and even libeled
for what they say, how they say it, etc.  So what.  It is a small price to
pay for the ability to give voice to how you feel without a general sense
of danger.

There was a great story recently about an atheism ad, very tasteful in my
view, on buses in Iowa that offended many viewers.  Societies need to go
through that from time to time.  It reminds people how they feel about human

I love civility and wish it reigned supreme, but one person's civility is
often another's pretension or other imbalance.  I'd also arguet that some
rational concept of civility and manners is a useful global capacity.  The
open discussion and adoption of certain norms as "ideals" is also great.
Hurting feelings, making threats, ad hominem attacks, etc. are inevitable,
but not the best we can be.  Some will simply not care.  When it becomes
extreme, groups can and should act to sanction.

Personally as a list administrator, you have no worries from me that you
will be sanctioned for top posting unless there is a repeated and widespread
public outcry against it.  Even then you would be given extensive fair
warning and some concept of due process--probably a note to Michel asking
what he thinks can and should be done.

Beyond that, my suspicion is that you will never realize normative stability
on most of these items.

It is a highly important topic however because it is a microcosm of P2P
governance, human rights, etc.  Some do these things better than others.
While their ethos sometimes drives me crazy, I have come to admire Canadians
as the leaders in a sense of openness and fairness as a national
culture--certainly they are, as a nation, vastly more open and respectful
than Americans (my citizenship).  The Dutch often excel as well, as do New
Zealanders.  But all three of these countries have deep and unsavory
smurches on their records in dealing with minorities or colonies--as do most
peoples who have held any sort of power over others.  The best you do is to
try to do the best you can do...be open about mistakes, hope for the best,
and carry on as it feels most appropriate.  It is when a person has power
over others that their morality is truly in focus.  That's one reason why
P2P is such a great vision of some lucky peoples' futures--it minimizes the
need to hope someone else is moral with their power.

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