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Plain Text vs. HTML Emails

Many people wonder whether it is better to send email as HTML or as plain text.

The short answer is that if you do not care about your privacy, viruses being dumped onto your system or telling spammers you looked at their email, then use HTML email.

The REALLY short answer is use plain text email.

Purpose of Email

Email is a convenient and quick communication tool. Email was never meant to be an artwork masterpiece of the sender.

Upside of HTML Email

HTML email messages can have really cool looking displays and catch the reader's attention, much better than plain text email.

Downside of HTML Email

More Megabytes

HTML email bogs down email. HTML email takes longer to download and takes up more disk space. HTML is meant for web pages - not email.

Do you see what I see?

HTML email may look wonderful on your computer, but on the recipient's computer it could look very bad and be unreadable. Most HTML email writers add in font types and sizes to the message. Differences between your system and the recipient's system can change the layout, font type and size of the message the recipient sees. This means your carefully constructed HTML email masterpiece looks nothing like you think it does on the recipient's system.

HTML Viewed as Source Code

Some people do not accept HTML email at all. HTML email is displayed as plain text. Why would you want to send an email, that looked like this, to someone?

Text version of HTML email

You are trying to communicate to the person - not send him gobbly-gook.

Email Ad Campaigns

Email ad campaigns (spam or even opt-in promotional lists) use HTML email extensively and report good results with it. That is because these campaigns directly target the user with very specific items they are interested in. The sender of these emails has collected large amounts of data (via cookies, tracking images and you guessed it - HTML email) to write an HTML message that will nearly guarantee a sale.

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!!

HTML Email can be downright dangerous to your system. Some HTML email programs preview the first part of an email message. If there is malicious code written in the beginning of an HTML email, it will be run automatically. This may dump a new virus on your system that your virus checker may not catch.

HTML Email invades your privacy

HTML email can be used to surreptitiously gather information about you and send it back to ANY web site. A web bug can be inside the HTML code. The web bug acts just like the FBI's bugs or wire taps. It listens to you, records your actions and reports back to headquarters.

The FBI needs a court order to place bugs or wire taps. Amazingly, anyone, anywhere in the world can send you an email, in HTML, that has a web bug. Information about you can be sent back to any server when you open the email. Cookies can also be set if your email program hooks into your browser. This cookie will tell a web site exactly who you are.

Can you stop this from happening? Yes, there are several things you can do. You can always read your email offline. You can turn off the JavaScript and auto-load of images in your HTML email reader. You can always view email as plain text.

By far the easiest solution is to view email as plain text. This way you can read and answer email while you are still online.

see also Turn Off HTML Email tutorial.

Yeah, but....

If HTML email is so bad, why do all the more popular email readers support it? Doh! That is marketing at it's finest. What better way to track you and your activities by encouraging you to use HTML email. This encouragement allows companies advertising via the free applications to send you HTML email with the great expectations that you will be using HTML email to help them out in their privacy invasion and tracking statistics.

I get it now.

The REALLY short answer is use plain text email.



Books from Amazon
Basics of Design
Basics of Design
by Lisa Graham
HTML for the World Wide Web
HTML for the World Wide Web
by Elizabeth Castro
The Design of Everyday Things
The Design of Everyday Things
by Donald A. Norman

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