Bob Neill is Alive and Well: A Brief History of Typewriter Art Following the sad death of Bob Cobbing I am in a position to report happier news. But as this is my first post to this group, I'll start by introducing myself. My name is Andrew Belsey and I have been a concrete poet since the 1960s, when I was introduced to the subject at Warwick University by Michael Gibbs and Paul Merchant. They edited the first number of KONTEXTS at the University, and Michael continued as editor for some years. At some point he moved to Amsterdam, where he continues to be active in the art world. A few years later I became acquainted with Alan Riddell, and contributed to his typewriter art exhibitions in Edinburgh (1973) and London (1974), and to the resultant book, TYPEWRITER ART (1975). Unfortunately Alan Riddell died in May 1977, when he was only 50, and the British concrete poetry and typewriter art movements suffered a blow from which they never really recovered. Had Alan lived, I am sure he would have continued to be the centre of activity, inspiration and encouragement for those working in the whole field of concrete poetry. By this time his own typewriter art, which has been exhibited (at the Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, in 1978) but as far as I know never published, was reaching sublime heights, even transcending the fine examples that appeared in his earlier book ECLIPSE (1972). Over the decades I have continued as an (amateur) concrete poet and typewriter artist, while making full use of changes in technology to produce ASCII art and computer verbal/visual graphics of all sorts. (Most of this lies dormant on hard disks or in files, as it is difficult to find outlets these days.) But I was always something of a historian and archivist. In this role I was able to assist Joan Stark with her HISTORY OF ASCII ART website, and Brenda Danet with her book CYBERPL@Y, which includes a chapter on ASCII art and its precursors. One thing that I mentioned to Joan Stark was that the British Library Catalogue listed the following: BOB NEILL'S BOOK OF TYPEWRITER ART BOB NEILL'S SECOND BOOK OF TYPEWRITER ART But I could not find any copies of these books, nor discover any information about the author or publisher. Goudhurst, after all, is not known as a centre of avant-garde publishing: it is a small market town in rural Kent. A version of one of Bob's pictures, a Persian cat, was posted on the Web by a Dutch source, but it gave no further clues. However, after several years of drawing blanks, earlier in 2002 I managed to trace Bob Neill, who it turns out is alive and well and even thinking of bringing out a THIRD book of typewriter art. Bob readily agreed to a visit, so I was able to talk to him about his life and work, examine his two books and take a photograph of him in his study holding the books. (Unfortunately from my point of view, Bob has just one copy of each book, so he was unable to let me have copies. The books sold well and there must be quite a few in circulation but they rarely come on to the second-hand market. Luckily, though, since visiting Bob I have managed to obtain a copy of the SECOND book.) I also learnt from Bob that he had been working almost completely independently, and was unaware of Alan Riddell's TYPEWRITER ART or of other traditions in typewriter art, with one small exception: he had seen an article, without any illustrations, in the STAR newspaper about a Spanish typewriter artist. Though his work has similarities to some of the contributions to TYPEWRITER ART (especially the portraits by Will Hollis and Dennis W.A. Collins), Bob's books are unique because they contain not only the typewriter pictures but also the "program" for producing them . that is, the exact sequence of keys to be pressed for each line of the picture, including overtyping. (The result looks something like a knitting pattern!) Thus anyone with one of Bob's books and an old-fashioned (non-proportionally spaced) typewriter can produce replicas of Bob's pictures. Many of his readers did do their own pictures following Bob's programs, and he has also inspired some professional artists, such as Helen Jones and Kirsty Lyall, who had a collaborative exhibition, WITH THANKS TO BOB NEILL, in Nottingham in December 2000. The subjects of Bob's pictures are portraits of people and animals. Examples of people in the SECOND book include contemporary personalities like Sandi Toksvig, Selina Scott, Benny from CROSSROADS, Miss Elly and J.R. from DALLAS, Barry Manilow and Adam Ant. (The likenesses are excellent.) His technique uses the strict grid format of the typewriter. He uses overtyping, sometimes up to three timeson one row, to produce character units varying in intensity from very dark to white (space bar). Bob's pictures are thus like half-tone photographs, only with much larger "dots." Sometimes, in addition to the black characters, he uses a two-colour ribbon to produce a red background. Given the nature of his technique, it is not surprising that Bob was aware of the possibility of computerising the procedure. The last section of the SECOND book contains a program for one his pictures, written in BASIC for the Commodore PET by Nick Higham. Interestingly, while the typewriter "programs" remain as valid as ever, this section on computerisation is outmoded. (Is there anyone out there still using a Commodore PET?) Now there are plenty of programs available for drawing ASCII art, today's equivalent of typewriter art. But the best ASCII artists, like Joan Stark, will have nothing to do withsuch programs and do it all by hand and eye, and are thus still following the example set by Bob Neill and all the other typewriter artists. This has not really been a history of typewriter art, not even a brief one. It is more like a personal recollection of some typewriter art episodes and events, together with some general thoughts on this strange but fascinating art form. But I hope it will also bring deserved though belated recognition to Bob Neill. And perhaps it will also stimulate some more old-time practitioners of typewriter art (I mean from the 1960s and 1970s) to see if there is anything worth recording in their own memories. APPENDIX The Constant Rediscovery of the Typewriter as an Artistic Medium In the history of science there is the well-known phenomenon of "simultaneous discovery," when two or more scientists working independently and without knowledge of each other come up with the same idea or discovery at roughly the same time. It seems that something similar operates in the history of typewriter art, only without such simultaneity. Or to put it another way, typewriter art has been (re)discovered several times. For example, I doubt whether many of the contemporary contributors to Alan Riddell's TYPEWRITER ART in 1975 were aware of experiments in the 1920s by Bauhaus students or the Dutch typographer H.N. Werkman, with which the book opens. Nor had they come across the work of Guillermo Mendana Olivera round about 1960, now available through Joan Stark's HISTORY OF ASCII ART website. So the fact that Bob Neill was, with the minor exception mentioned above, unaware of other typewriter artists is not surprising. And he has not been the only major typewriter artist outside any group or tradition. A few years ago the work done by Winifred Caldwell in America in the 1940s and 1950s appeared on the Internet (now, unfortunately, it has disappeared). Caldwell's technique was quite different from that of Bob Neill and the main tradition of typewriter art, for she manipulated the paper in the platen and used lines, brackets, dots and a few other characters to draw more "naturalistic" pictures of houses, landscapes and flowers (named "TypEtchings" onthe website). But her results are highly skilled and as appealing as anything in typewriter art. BIBLIOGRAPHY Brenda Danet, Cyberpl@y: Communicating Online (Berg, 2001) Michael Gibbs and Paul Merchant (eds), Kontexts [1], 1969 Alex Hamilton, "Key Industry," The Guardian, 12 December 1975 (article about Riddell's Typewriter Art book) Neil Hanson, "Alan Riddell," The Guardian, 27 April 1978 (review of the Hull exhibition) Bob Neill's Book of Typewriter Art (Goudhurst: Weavers Press, 1982) Bob Neill's Second Book of Typewriter Art (Goudhurst: Weavers Press, 1984) Alan Riddell, Compositions: A Retrospective Exhibition of Work by Alan Riddell (1927-1977), Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, 8-30 April 1978, foreword by June Road (unillustrated exhibition catalogue) Alan Riddell, Eclipse (Calder and Boyars, 1972) Alan Riddell, Typewriter Art: Half a Century of Experiment, New 57 Gallery, 105 Rose Street Edinburgh, 17 November-6 December 1973 (illustrated exhibition catalogue) Alan Riddell, Typewriter Art: Half a Century of Experiment, Concourse Gallery, Polytechnic of Central London, 35 Marylebone Road, NW1, 25 February-13 March 1974 (illustrated exhibition catalogue, with some additions since the Edinburgh exhibition) Alan Riddell, "Typewriter Art," London Magazine 13(4), October-November 1973, pp. 63-67 (illustrated article about the Edinburgh exhibition) Alan Riddell (ed), Typewriter Art (London Magazine Editions, 1975) (major source of typewriter art from 1898 to 1974; 118 images by 65 artists from 18 countries) WEBSITES Winifred Caldwell, TypEtchings (no longer accessible: produces "a connection failure has occurred" alert. But at the last minute I discover that some TypEtchings are now displayed at ) Mobile Cube, Typewriter Art (contains examples from Riddell's Typewriter Art book) Brenda Danet, Cyberpl@y (information about and extracts from her book) Michael Gibbs, Nondescript Productions (includes information on Kontexts Publications, 1968-1983) Helen Jones Kirsty Lyall Bob Neill, Persian Cat (no longer accessible: produces "not found" response) Joan Stark, Gallery of Original ASCII Art (superb work by the undisputed Queen of ASCII ART. Joan Stark's website is difficult to access: normally produces "temporarily unavailable" response) Joan Stark, History of ASCII Art (highly informative survey from hieroglyphs to ASCII art, via typewriters and radio teleprinters) Andrew Belsey 12 November 2002
I made these robots as illustrations for a wellness journal to be published by a local non-profit health centre.
Start from the Introduction and read the entire Beginner's Guide to Effective Email by Kaitlin Duck Sherwood. A Beginner's Guide to Effective Email Greetings and Signatures Kaitlin Duck Sherwood Every new medium develops its own protocols for opening and closing. Telephone conversations start with "Hello" and end with "Goodbye". Letters open with "Dear" and end with "Sincerely". Because email is so new, there aren't firm customs on how to open and close. Many people do not give either a salutation or a signature. After all, while a letter can get separated from its envelope easily, it is difficult to separate an email message's body from its addressing information. The email message itself says who it is to and from. However, that information might not be adequate for your needs. It might be difficult to find with some email reading software. It might be unclear or ambiguous. It might be inadequate for telling the receivers just why they are getting that message. Or, it might not convey the proper formality or status cues for your purposes. I will give you my thoughts on openers and closers, but you need to think carefully about what you are trying to convey both explicitly and implicitly. You also need to take the culture and customs of all parties into consideration. Greetings Salutations Salutations are tricky, especially if you are crossing cultures. Frequently, titles are different for men and women, and you may not be able to tell which you are addressing. The family name is first in some cultures and last in others. Honorifics may vary based on status or age. So don't feel bad if you have trouble figuring out which salutation to use: it is a difficult problem. In the United States, it is a bad idea to use "Sir" or "Mr." unless you are absolutely certain that your correspondent is male. Similarly, it is probably safer to use "Ms." instead of "Miss" or "Mrs." unless you know the preference of the woman in question. In the United States, using someone's first name is usually ok. Thus, you can usually get away with a "Dear" and the first name. Dear Chris: Here you are covered regardless of whether Chris is male or female. (Beware of using a diminutive if you aren't certain your correspondent uses it. It might rankle Judith to be called Judy; Robert might hate being called Bob.) If you are addressing a group of people, you can say "Dear" plus the unifying attribute. For example: Dear Project Managers: Or: Dear San Jose Lasers Fans: Do You Even Need A Salutation? Given that email is relatively informal, frequently (in the United States) there isn't a problem with dispensing with names and titles altogether, especially if you are in a higher status position than your correspondent: Hello - I saw your web site and wanted to mention that I invented the thromblemeister on Feb 29, 2403, *not* on Feb 28, 2402. I usually use a simple "Hi" for people that I already know: Hi - Are you interested in getting together for sushi next week? I can bring all my wedding pictures and bore you to death. ;-) "Good Morning" and "Good Afternoon" don't make a lot of sense with email, as the sun may have moved significantly by the time your correspondent gets around to it. "Good Day" sounds stilted to American ears (although it is common in other parts of the former British Empire). You may want to avoid "Greetings" in the United States: it reminds many people of the draft notices young men got during the Vietnam War. Again, you must be careful about cultural differences. The East Coast of the United States is more formal than the West Coast (where I live). Germans are even more formal; they can work side-by-side for years and never get around to a first-name basis. Starting a message to Germany with Dear Hans might be a bad idea. Identification When I get email from strangers, I care more about what connection they have with me than how they address me. When you send email, particularly someone who doesn't know you, it would be good if you would immediately answer these questions: How did you learn of your correspondent? What do you want from your correspondent? Who are you? Why should your correspondent pay attention to you? (If you can't answer this question, you should wonder if you should even send the email.) Putting some of that information in a signature is better than nowhere at all, but putting it at the top is better for several reasons: If there is a problem with the transmission of the email, the end is much more likely to get lost than the beginning. A lot of people get more than twenty messages per day, and so read them quickly. If you don't establish quickly who you are, your correspondent may delete your message before they get to the bottom. Your identity is an important clue to the context of the message. Good answers to the questions can take several forms: Dear Ms. Sherwood: I am an editor at Very Large Publishing Company, Inc. I sat next to your husband on United last week, and he mentioned that you are interested in publishing a book based on your email guide. I have read your guide, and would be very interested in receiving a proposal from you. Or: My name is Dave Wilcox and I'm the legal counsel for Thromblemeisters Direct, Inc. We are deeply disturbed at the aspersions you cast upon us and on thromblemeisters in your email guide. Therefore, we order you to immediately cease and desist using any reference to thromblemeisters in your email guide. If you do not, we will be forced to file suit against you or your descendants if and when we and/or thromblemeisters come into existence. Or even: Hi - I am a novice email user and just read your email guide. I don't know if you are the right person to ask or not, but do you know what the French word for "Mister" is? If you can tell me the answer, I'll send you a funny postcard. Some good friends of mine recently got email from my cousin for the first time. Unfortunately, not all of the email made it through. The message they got said only: Dear Rich and Chris: I met you at Jim and Ducky's wedding. But, because he identified where he knew Rich and Chris from immediately, it was enough information that they knew he was someone to pay attention to. They replied to him and communication is now going smoothly between them. Signatures Many email programs allow you to set up a default signature to be included at the end of every message. Many people use these signatures as an easy way to give their name and alternate ways of reaching them. For example: Hi - when did you want to go to lunch? Rebecca P. Snodwhistle Thromblemeisters Direct, Inc. 666 Beast Street Styx, HI 77340 +1 (959) 123-4567 voice +1 (959) 123-4568 FAX This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. W This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (personal) Such an extensive amount of signature information in contrast to such a short question looks silly to me. I think much of the above signature is extraneous. If they got the email from you, they can reply by email, so don't need your FAX number or street address. (If they have to send a FAX or package, they can ask for addressing information.) They already have one email address in the message you sent, and don't need your other email address. The name is perfectly reasonable to include, especially if Your email messages don't include your full name in the From: line. (Send yourself email to see if your name is there or not.) The name in the From: line doesn't match the name you actually use. (Christina might actually go by Chris, but her company might insist on using her full name as her email name.) The email account is shared by multiple people. (My husband and I have a joint email account, for example.) The telephone number is also a reasonable thing to include - if you are willing to be interrupted by a phone call. Emotions are easier to convey over the phone, and some people prefer phone to email for all circumstances. If the message is business related, including the company name is a reasonable thing to do - even if the message is going to someone else in the same company. One thing that is missing from Rebecca P. Snodwhistle's signature, above, that I would like to see is her job title. Is she the vice-president of sales or the shipping clerk? That may have more of an influence on the correspondent than anything else. So I would rewrite the above signature to be: Rebecca P. Snodwhistle Chief Executive Officer, Thromblemeisters Direct, Inc. +1 (959) 123-4567 voice That signature is still overkill for arranging lunch, but it isn't always convenient to switch between having your signature included or not. Some people put things purely for entertainment in their signature: artwork, philosophical sayings, jokes, and/or quotations in their signature. This can be ok, but don't overdo it. A good heuristic is to keep your signature at or under five lines long. After setting up a signature that is included automatically, it is easy to forget about it. (After all, your email software might not show it to you, or it might be so routine that you never look at it again.) So whenever a piece of contact information changes, make sure to revisit your signature to make sure that it is still up-to-date. And, if you have an entertainment piece in your signature, change it every once in a while. It wasn't as funny the fiftieth time your coworker saw it as it was the first time. One final note on signatures: they are a good way to let your correspondent know that all of the message got transmitted properly. There is no body language to signal that you are "done talking" and, unfortunately, email transmissions sometimes get interrupted. Separators Many people put pretty separators - lines, horizontal bars, and so on - around their signatures. For example: ----------------------------------------------------------------- Rebecca P. Snodwhistle | CEO, Thromblemeisters Direct, Inc. +1 (959) 123-4567 voice | +1 (959) 123-4567 fax ----------------------------------------------------------------- These are very pretty to sighted people, but imagine what it would be like for people who are so visually challenged that they have their computer read their email to them: "hyphen hyphen hyphen hyphen hyphen hyphen..." That said, some email programs recognize "-- " as a signature separator, and so can process the signature differently. (For example, some programs don't include the signature in quotes.) Technically, the signature is supposed to be two hyphens plus a space, but it's very common to see just two hyphens without the space. Summary If you are well-known to your correspondent, you can probably get away without including extra identification. In other cases, you should provide your correspondent with enough clues to figure out who you are, why you are writing, and why he or she should pay attention to you. Preferably, this information will be at the top of the message. Greetings are difficult to do well, especially if you are crossing cultures and/or languages. In the United States, you can be pretty informal, but even in the U.S., you need to be careful that you aren't either making assumptions or using sensitive words. Go on to Summary Go back to the beginning Go back to Formality Created 30 Oct 1998 Slight modification 28 Dec 1998 Added caution about using lots of dashes 1 Mar 1999 Fixed typo 24 Feb 2000 Beautified page 23 May 2001 Added info about "-- " separator 13 June 2002
Original page from George Dillon.

7 reasons why HTML e-mail is EVIL!!!

This page summarises a longer article, now called HTML email is STILL evil!!!


I originally wrote this article in 2000 for friends, the tongue-in-cheek title inspired by objections to HTML mail expressed in the web designer's list. By 2002 some big sites had linked to it, traffic (and abusive responses) to the page had increased and the internet had changed significantly, so I decided to update it. The internet is now cheaper, faster and bigger than ever - and it's also more hazardous than ever. While HTML mail is being employed more and more, particularly for mass-marketting, it is and always will be true that: HTML email can be dangerous, is not always readable, wastes bandwidth and is simply not necessary. This article does not aim to present a balanced argument about the merits or otherwise of HTML mail. Nor am I suggesting that sending HTML mail will hurt you - it may even boost your company sales. However receiving HTML email can cause problems, so if you care at all about the people you send mail to, read on...  

The 7 sins

1. HTML e-mail is dangerous

Nearly all viruses are transmitted by email. Both plain text and HTML mail may carry malware attachments but with HTML there is a significantly greater risk since some malware can exploit vulnerabilities in the HTML parser to automatically execute code as soon as the message is viewed in the preview pane (i.e. without the attachment having to be 'opened'.)

2. HTML e-mail wastes bandwidth

Look at the source code of any HTML message and after the headers you'll see the message body is duplicated, once in plain text and once in HTML. So most HTML messages are at least twice as big as plain text only, and they can be many time larger.

3. HTML e-mail doesn't always work

Some popular e-mail readers (e.g. Pegasus) simply don't read HTML mail, others (Pocomail and even AOL) have difficulties displaying it properly.

4. HTML e-mail can connect to the internet by itself

If you're off-line, opening an HTML email cantaining images may (by default) open a connection to the internet.

5. HTML e-mail renders slowly

Some mail apps (e.g. Outlook) can slow down considerably when rendering HTML. The need for an HTML parser has also led to code-bloat in email apps generally.

6. HTML e-mail is not always reader-friendly

HTML allows the sender to use unreadably small or non-standard fonts, clashing colours, badly formatted images and sometimes there is no quick or easy way for the reader to adjust the appearance to THEIR choice.

7. Digested lists hate HTML mail

Subscriber lists, particularly those with a digest, discourage and sometimes block HTML (since it appears in the digest as a mess of code).  

What to do...

Sending HTML-formatted email is just not necessary. If the appearance of your message is important either put it on a website and mail the URL, or save it as an .rtf (or even a .pdf) document, zip that up and send it as an attachment to a plain text mail So.. check in your email client's options for how to set 'Mail Sending Format' to 'Plain Text'... ...and how to turn OFF 'Reply to messages in the format in which they were sent'. With these settings you will still be able to send images and other attachments. And images attached to plain text mail will be displayed by most popular email clients.  


Here are some related pages. The links may have gone bad since I wrote this article.

(Note: These links are repeated below in the updated version of this post. I have checked the links. The link rot has been given a strikethrough). --

HTML e-mail is STILL evil!!!


(or "Comment: RE: Your "Seven reasons..." site, a question. Just who the hell do you think you are?")

In late 1999 I subscribed to the web designer's list. I was struck by the vehemence of opposition to HTML email expressed by many on the list, with some half-seriously describing it as 'evil'. A year later I understood their reasoning, but many of my newbie friends didn't, and after a particularly nasty month in which I became a telephone help-line for several virus-infected acquaintances I decided to write this and the accompanying articles - Netiquette, Spam Fighting and Basic Online Security - so that I didn't have to keep repeating the same advice. My intention was to have some URLs I could send to my errant friends, instead of wasting hours on the 'phone or typing out the same advice in emails. However all those articles have been found and linked to by bigger (and better) sites than mine and as a result general traffic to this page has soared... and so has the number of anonymous abusive responses! OK I can take abuse - after all, in my real life I'm a provocative performer and you should read some of my bad reviews - but the recent sudden surge in referrals (and abuse - e.g. the above) has prompted me to rethink this article and after doing so my conclusion was that...

HTML email is still EVIL and it's getting worse!!!

The internet is a dangerous place for the unwary, the trusting and the naive but a safe haven for the lazy, the spiteful, the self-centered and the cowardly. One such individual sent me this:
SUBJECT: HTML email doesn't workGee, that's funny. The week my company (name withheld for privacy) switched to using HTML emails instead of plain-text for our marketing campaign offers our revenues took a dramatic leap and have pretty much tripled over the last year and half. I guess you just have to know what you're doing, or at least have some experience in these things. Your comments and ideas are very outdated. Sincerely, B. D. Satterfield Online Creative Director for above unmamed software company
This message was carefully typed into my contact form, without a valid email address being entered, so there was no way I could return it or even reply to it, though I did trace the I.P. no of the sender to a known spammer. The 'know what you're doing' jibe missed its mark since B.D. Satterfield (oh yes!) had clearly missed the purpose of my article and simple truth of my statement that 'HTML e-mail doesn't always work'. However the 'outdated' accusation WAS fair comment. Two years ago I wrote that "it is hardly professional to ignore (or to be ignorant of) the negative impact of that message on the more informed members of your audience or the fact that a significant percentage will choose to instantly consign it to the waste basket or may never even receive it." OK that was clearly wrong. But hey, I hadn't revised the page for more than a year and in that time the internet had changed radically... and not all to the good. On the positive side, the internet is now cheaper, faster and bigger than ever. Unmetered access and widely available broadband, which were both 'a fantasy' in early 2000 are now becoming the norm, even here in the backwards UK. So the bandwidth issue, though still true, is of less concern than it was. But that is the only positive. Unfortunately the cloud to that silver lining is that HTML mail is now more accepted, since fewer users will immediately notice the difference between a 5kb plain text or a 50kb HTML message. So... fewer notice... so fewer object... so more companies resort to HTML mail... HTML email is now everywhere. But just because it is more accepted doesn't mean it's more acceptable. On the negative side... the internet is now more dangerous than ever due to the increase in always-on connections in combination with the ignorance/complacency of new users of vulnerable systems (like the hacker-friendly WindowsXP) which can be hijacked for use as spam of DOS 'bots', PLUS the exponential growth in viral ingenuity and reproductivity, PLUS the refinement and ubiquity of user-tracking web-marketing technology (read 'spyware').  

So what's wrong with HTML mail?

Before I list the 7 points, I want one make one thing as clear as I can. It's RECEIVING HTML mail that's the problem. SENDING HTML mail will not hurt you (unless you are still using a metered dial up connection) - it may even boost your company sales - but it also may hurt the people to whom you send it. So if you are happy to be ignorant, lazy, spiteful, self-centred and/or cowardly you can ignore the rest of this article and go and bask in you supercillious smugness. OTOH if you care at all about the people you send mail to, read on...

HTML email can be dangerous, HTML email is not always readable, HTML email wastes bandwidth and HTML email is simply not necessary.

These 4 points are as true now as they were 3 years ago and indeed they will ALWAYS be true while plain text exists as an alternative to HTML mail. (I hereby predict that M$ are designing Outlook Express 9 to ONLY accept HTML email - remember you read it here first!) So here are the same seven points I made before, all still true though some details have been updated and expanded:  

1. HTML e-mail is dangerous

If for no other reason, you should not send e-mail in HTML format because by doing so you are exposing your intended recipient(s) to the risk of catching a virus - a virus which you yourself may be unaware you have until you are told about it by someone you have infected (or until it alerts you to its presence by unleashing its payload). Most of the fast-spreading internet-borne viruses propagate by automatically forwarding themselves to every address which they can find in your address book, and some even seek out every address in the body of every message in your inbox. Of course, they don't stop to ask your permission before doing this - the first symptom you'll spot is someone you've infected sending you an angry message saying you've given them a virus. Unfortunatley the latest popular virus at the time of writing (k l e z) fakes the from address too, so you cannot warn (or accuse) unknowing senders of viruses, and you may also find yourself falsely accused. But what has this to do with HTML mail? For at least 3 years there have been viruses (namely Bubbleboy and kak.worm) which are triggered simply by viewing an HTML message in the preview pane of unpatched versions of Outlook Express. There are other ways of getting html functional email to automatically run code, by exploiting a vulnerability in the way the Internet Explorer engine (which Outlook and OE use to display HTML mail) handles IFRAMEs for example. Since HTML can include scripts, HTML email is obviously more of a security risk than plain text, and the most recent viruses have made full use of this flaw.

2. HTML e-mail always wastes bandwidth

HTML e-mails are always at least twice the size of plain text mail, since they include both the plain text version and the same thing with embedded html markup tags. Don't believe me? Just look at the source code of any html mail you have received (in Outlook Express click File > Properties > Details > Message Source). So YOU may have a big fat connection, but if you're sending your HTML mail to 5000+ addresses, some of your users will probably be on 56k or less metered dial-up connections, and your bloated message will cost them money.

3. HTML e-mail doesn't always work

Some popular e-mail readers (Pegasus Mail for one example) simply don't read HTML mail and others (such as Pocomail and even AOL) have difficulties displaying it properly. The irony is that the applications which do read HTML well are precisely the ones which have the security holes. Why? ...because they render HTML... To do so they need to use some form of HTML rendering engine, usually one that is already resident on your system rather than one that is inbuilt. i.e. they use I.E. and Internet Explorer is so closely connected to the heart of the Windows OS that a security hole in it can be an open door to hard-drive trashing scripts.

4. HTML e-mail can connect to the internet by itself

If an HTML e-mail includes references to online images then (by default) Dial-Up Networking will try to connect to the internet to download those images. These images can also be used to set and retrieve cookies. O.K. So neither of these are your problem if you're the sender... but they can be very annoying if you're on the receiving end.

5. HTML e-mail renders slowly

Some mail apps (e.g. Outlook) can slow down considerably when rendering HTML. The need for an HTML parser has also led to code-bloat in email apps generally.

6. HTML usually looks like it has been designed by stoned amateur chimpanzees using Front Page Express with their feet

HTML e-mail offers the sender the opportunity to really go to town with their lack of design skills - unreadably small fonts, fonts that no-one else is likely to have, clashing colors, badly formatted image files etc. etc. By taking control of the appearance of e-mail away from the recipient they can prevent the sight-impaired from applying necessary user-accessability options...

7. Digested lists hate HTML mail

OK, this one's a little specific, but if you send an HTML email to a subscriber list which has a digested version (i.e. which bundles several postings together into a single longer email) then your message may well appear in the digested version with all its html tags - i.e. virtually unreadable... that is if the list administrator hasn't configured their server to automatically filter your offending format to oblivion.

What to do...

Sending HTML-formatted email is just not necessary. If the appearance of your message is important either put it on a website and mail the URL, or save it as an .rtf (or even a .pdf) document, zip that up and send it as an attachment to a plain text mail So.. check in your email client's options for how to set 'Mail Sending Format' to 'Plain Text'... ...and how to turn OFF 'Reply to messages in the format in which they were sent'. Here's how to stop sending (EVIL) HTML e-mail from Outlook Express. With these settings you will still be able to send images and other attachments. And images attached to plain text mail will be displayed by most popular email clients.  


Here are some related pages. The links may have gone bad since I wrote this article.

ASCII Ribbon Campaign against HTML mail, vCards and proprietary formats online since 2000 »this trend, on the web at least, has resulted a glut of graphics heavy, worthless pages, that take a million years to download and once you have them, you wish you hadn't wasted the time.« gabriel helman - the semi-official, semi-serious ascii ribbon campaign against gratuitous graphics on the web! idea - well i'm not that strict and completely anti-graphic (to be seen on this page, for instance) as gabriel helman, but anyway i think that a lot of pages have too much graphics on them. i feel still able to protect myself from these pages by simply not browsing them. BUT! it's pretty hard to prevent yourself from receiving such formatted email. the only things they are good for is to raise my online costs, to delay their own displaying and to bloat my mail folders. signatures - if you agree, feel free to join the movement and show this by adding it to your signature. anyway, if you like to alter the proposed signatures, feel free to do that, again. chisseled version (4 lines) /" / ASCII Ribbon Campaign X against HTML email & vCards / smooth version (4 lines) _ ASCII ribbon campaign ( ) - against HTML email X & vCards / corpulent version (7 lines) sent in by retnek _ /o // The ASCII // Ribbon Campaign V/ Against HTML /A eMail! // brief version (2 lines) sent in by sergio gutiérrez santos () ascii ribbon campaign - against html mail / - against microsoft attachments monstrous version (10 lines) sent in by scott l. ~^~ // " / // // ------------------- @ // ///=SCII Ribbon Campaign X /=---=gainst HTML E- Mail X /// // ---------------------------- // // undo - as a matter of stupidity (or something else - who knows), some big email programs seem to be shipped with html set to be the default mailing method. however, this (mostly) is no dogma! you can easily turn off that annoying feature. harley hahn sent in this tutorial for outlook and netscape. others may follow soon. origin - to put this straight: i did not invent the ascii ribbon campaign, but i highly support it. i searches the web quite long, but as i did not find any pages offering signatures along with reasons and the special focus on emails, i decided to create this page. godfather - i received a mail from dario dariol, who tried to help tracking down the origin of the signature. currently it seems to go back to mr. teixeira from brazil, but as he has changed his email address since then, we were not able to completely reveal the mystery. for the time being let's accept this as the first appearance of the ribbon: Date: Wed, 17 Jun 1998 10:20:01 +0300 (GMT-3) From: Mauricio Teixeira To: redhat Subject: Re: Space problem? Message-ID: Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII On Wed, 17 Jun 1998, wward wrote: > the filesystem still shows no space available. Where is the space > I freed-up? Sometimes the space freed-up os shown only after a reboot... I dunno why... __________________________________________________________________ Mauricio Teixeira - Amazonline Internet Provider - Belem/PA/Brazil This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (soon!) /" / CAMPANHA DA FITA ASCII - CONTRA MAIL HTML X ASCII RIBBON CAMPAIGN - AGAINST HTML MAIL / brothers - fortunately this page is no longer alone in the world wide web: *the semi-official, semi-serious ascii ribbon campaign against gratuitous graphics on the web! (english, 1998) *7 reasons why html e-mail is evil (english, 2000/2002) *no html mail (english, 2003?) * (dutch, 2003) *ascii ribbon campaign (german, 2004) *ascii ribbon campaign (english, basically a mirror of my page) -- Another very similar page. Possibly updated from this first page. ASCII Ribbon Campaign against HTML e-mail and proprietary formats "...this trend, on the web at least, has resulted a glut of graphics heavy, worthless pages, that take a million years to download and once you have them, you wish you hadn't wasted the time." gabriel helman - the semi-official, semi-serious ascii ribbon campaign against gratuitous graphics on the web "There are many people who prefer not to receive HTML email, some who find it to be a personal inconvenience, and others who must literally pay for the greater bandwidth consumed by HTML email. All of these considerations become particularly strong on newsgroups and mailing lists (with their great variety of participants from around the world), where the use of HTML email is often considered ignorant or rude." Alan G. Isaac - HTML Email: Whenever Possible, Turn It Off! the concept - simply put, HTML e-mail is gets in the way of effective communication. There's a time and a place for everything, and the time and place for graphics, animation, and fancy fonts is the web (although Gabriel Helman would disagree with me on that score!). E-mail is -- and should remain -- a plaintext medium. Why? Because e-mail is a communication medium, and a good one. In order for a communication medium to work effectively, it has to be understood. All e-mail programs can display plaintext in a readable fashion, but they can't all display HTML meaningfully. Chances are at least 50/50 that any HTML e-mail I receive gets deleted before it's opened, so, if you really want to get my attention, send me plaintext. what's more - some people extend this to the Web and to vCards. I don't. The Web can do what it likes, and I find vCards useful. signatures - if you agree, feel free to join the movement and show this by adding an ASCII ribbon to your signature, or come up with your own (if you do, drop me a line, I'd love to see it). chisseled version (4 lines) /" / ASCII Ribbon Campaign X against HTML e-mail / smooth version (4 lines) _ ASCII ribbon campaign ( ) against HTML e-mail X / brief version (2 lines) () ascii ribbon campaign - against html e-mail / - against microsoft attachments Scott L.'s BIG version (10 lines) ~^~ // " / // // ------------------- @ // ///=SCII Ribbon Campaign X /=---=gainst HTML E- Mail X /// // ---------------------------- // // oops - Some poplar e-mail programs seem to be shipped with html set to be the default mailing method. This means that some people don't even realize they're participating in this heinous act (which, by the way, makes you look like an Internet newbie!) You can easily turn off that annoying feature. Here is a tutorial for Outlook and Netscape. Copyright ©2005 Ben Steeves. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".
This is the old link. Still up, but no updates in a long time. The spelling, punctuation and grammar as all unchanged from the original site. However, the list of connecting sites (2 of them) were dead links.  






I have noticed a disturbing trend in software of late, a trend exemplified in the Web. This is the tendency to decide that if you have enough cool looking graphics, you don't have to have any real content. This trend, on the web at least, has resulted a glut of graphics heavy, worthless pages, that take a million years to download and once you have them, you wish you hadn't wasted the time, and don't even get me started on PC games!


This is the ASCII ribbon campaign against gratuitous graphics on the internet! If you are interested in joining the crusade, put the following messsage on you page (or something like it, you get the idea): - - - -  

This page supports the ASCII ribbon campaign!

As a protest to the current trend towards all flash and no substance in modern software, this page will remain graphics free and concentrate only on content. Thank you. - - - - Since we don't have a lot of graphics, and I can't get a ribbon made out of text charicters to appear right on the page, this will have to do. Suggestions that we make a jpeg file of a ribbon made from ascii charicters were given the silent distain they deserved. We ask that anyone supporting the campaign place minimal graphics, or none at all. however, I must reinforce that useful, intelligent use of graphics are okay, and are actually really cool. So, support the campaign, my fridends! We will prevail yet! NEW DEVELOPMENTS: It has come to the attention of the campaign that imbedded sound files and frames can seriosusly slow page load times. These things, less common when the campaign was started, are slowly becoming mre prevalent. While the campaign is not against them just yet, it does preach serious caution when implementing these features. Pass the word!