W3C HTML Mail Workshop 24 May 2007, Paris, France

Workshop Minutes


See also: IRC log


See the table of attendees
Daniel Glazman



Introduction by Daniel Glazman

Daniel is introducing the workshop and the outcomes of the workshop

Introduction to W3C by Mauro Nunez

Mauro Nunez is addressing a few issues about the Web, and he is introducing the W3C.

Email vs Web - A Tactical + Technical Design Paradox

Jim Kelley, Sarah Davies, e-Dialog are introducing the topics.

Jim: We are an email marketing company.
... the variety of devices and services makes it difficult for us to create effective communications without standards.
... in email, we have around 7s to convince our audience.
... readability and access is important
... form AND content matter

sarah: it is a significant challenge without formalized standards.
... design on the rendering side is not guaranteed
... we run our code through ReturnPath

Jim: ReturnPath is a company.
... can return snapshots of a given email in a lot of email clients
... http://www.returnpath.com/
... we guarantee our format, we use images because of font size issues
... but with some security settings, images are disabled.
... we do not really know why.

Chris: I think it is a tracking issue
... with images you can know when and where I have accessed the image

Jim: This is a new challenge which came up in the last few years.
... we try to find new strategies: open this email in a browser, or on mobile devices

Ian: flash, video and JS cannot be used safely in email
... most people receive pop-up for security
... flash and video bring accessibility questions and issues
... CSS doesn't have a great support
... tables are still a key friend for layout
... in HTML email

Glazou: which CSS are not supported?

Jim: things like margin for example. We are still forced to use 1px gif spacer.

Stephane: for example in CSS, starting the line with a dot sends an end of message to the email client.
... so we can't use it.

Glazou: do you think that scoped stylesheets would help.
... stylesheets inside a part of the document.

Darren: it would be an ideal solution, but there is still a long way to go, we will need the browsers to support it...

Sarah: even animated and background images are affected by the new rules in email clients.

Jim: the new release of Outlook is being a major pain
... we are going back in times

Sarah: Our coding techniques for emails today are the ones of… the late 90's for the Web

Jim: We are forced to design for each type of clients, but it is not very cost effective
... it is still challenging to design for many versions.

Ian: We are not sure how people are viewing their emails.
... we don't know what people are using to read their emails.

Darren: email clients are more difficult than web browser.
... http sends information, not email clients.

Ian: Email rendering engine are not up to what browsers are able to do today
... elegant degredation is not possible.

Jim: we have request from customers like rollovers, flash, etc.
... but we have to explain to them that it is not the Web.
... We are trying to keep branding integrity. logo positions, etc.
... Mobile devices are a new challenge.
... Trying to look good on so many different devices is difficult.

Stephane: do you have an idea of the impact of rich versus plain text email?
... do you have stats on that?

Jim: Most people prefer HTML. For example too many hyperlinks disturb usability.
... We are trying to make obvious where to click.

antonio: 9 on 10 are requesting HTML emails when they have choices

glazou: I'm a geek. so most of the time, I prefer text email BUT when I accept marketing email
... I prefer HTML email, it is more readable

Jim: knowing who is your audience is better.
... now you can have multipart messages, when you send that to mobile devices.
... they will choose text by default.
... Text email are abbreviated compared to the html email.
... we have more and more boiler plates pushing the real message down, to help people do actions.
... developing codes it would be better if it was consistent accross products and platforms.
... email and web with common coding practices.
... will help to track email out of the dark ages.


Jim: The new designer coming out from schools do all in CSS.
... but we have to educate them (!) to use table layout for emails.

(Return to the future)

glazou: How do you deal with anti-spam techniques? like for examples for thunderbird

Ian: not much solutions, but going back to the Web sites, for example

glazou: Do you send forms in email?

Jim: yes but it is fading.
... before it was working everywhere. Yahoo! strips them.
... different browsers deal differently. some strip all the HTML code in between the form tags, some strip the entire form.
... some remove all the input elements

Darren: there are two solutions. Going back to the Web site.
... you can do only single question form, but you can't do textual input.

antonio: and it means you have issues with for example, unsubscribing to this letter.

Darren: Do not forget that the reading area in emails is much smaller than the browser
... so you need to send really targeted messages
... we encourage our clients to be very brief in their emails
... stay on what clients want.

Jim: this is why the top left corner is very important, then to the right, then across

Antonio: security and lack of support of some elements are really a problem

Jim: It would be nice to have the same rendering for every clients

Darren: if we send the images in the email it becomes too heavy.

(scribe missed a few comments)


Web Standards: a must for html email

Darren: we provide tools for people who want to do email marketing campaigns.
... should we ignore email designers ignore standards because of poor email rendering capabilities
... reflect brand identity, render the same everywhere, adhere to standards, contain feedback forms, rich experience.
... Marketers really want to send emails which matter for the customers.
... and stop send massive blind marketing campaigns

<mauro> [and paying for them]

Darren: it is important to leave the choice to the users (text versus html)
... customers expect that emails sent to web mail clients to look the same than web page, because it is a browser
... Outlook 2007 is using the same rendering engine than the word one.
... MS always uses word HTML rendering engine to edit things.
... It will stay for a long time.
... BUT we can't
... (list of all mails clients slides)
... emails clients have different renderings
... sometimes even in the same company, for example Hotmail + Live Mail
... gmail also has different variants.
... much more mail user agents than browsers on the market

Kerryn: in gmail one of the issues, is that if you produce incorrect code it will break, and fall apart.

Darren: there are many mails clients, plus the variations dependent on the system version.
... It is *difficult*
... we live with it for now, but we need a push for new standards based design.

<michel_v> hello

Darren: standard design is now quite difficult

chris: there are solutions like SVG which would preserve your design, the problem is that there are not necessarily implemented.
... it would be very useful to have a test suite with specific needs for css

Darren: it does exist.
... someone will talk about it
... I have talked about marketers.
... but we need to look at what individual people do too.
... People want to personalize emails too
... the end user has to be able to go beyong the Comics Sans font


karl: when you're developing products, do you contact MUA vendors ?

Darren: we're not really on this side of things
... we discuss more with ISPs

karl: is that difficult to contact MUA vendors ?

Darren: yes
... especially about the Outlook 2007 issue with its new rendering engine based on Word

Antonio: the messenging workgroup is the only receptive body
... MUA developers are not keen to give what will work against spammers

glazou: do you think it will be possible that groups, companies like yours, would be able to give feedback to standards groups

Darren: DMA is one of the organizations federating us.

glazou: we should really get them to participate

Darren: email clients change very often as well
... and they don't necessarily announce when a new release is coming

glazou: there are a lot of issues with HTML, CSS and javascript
... from what I heard this morning
... and don't even think about SVG

kerryn: there are also third parties like spam blockers.

glazou: I wonder if the result of this workshop should be a whitepaper
... identifying all the problems in email clients.
... forms are necessary for large amounts of data.

<Sam> karl, it would be great as it would give a roadmap at least to free software clients such as thunderbird

glazou: There are things mixing in the email protocol to be more effective as well.

Darren: the gap between what you can do in the Web and what you can do in email is getting larger and larger

glazou: what kind of authoring tools?

Darren: wysiwyg tool for example. proprietary stuff sometimes.
... one of our html editor has not been updated for the last 3 years.
... CSS is useless for us in the context now.

glazou: content editors seem to not be useful for this type of market


we are leaving the room.

HTML email: accessibility

Stephane Deschamps introducing his talk

Stephane: there are many people inside the company who are blind. So we need accessibility outside and inside the company (France Telecom)
... most people sending html emails through our services are not HTML designers but marketers.
... saying to them that standards are good is ok, but addressed to the wrong target
... when you do a bad email newsletter which is not accessible and redirect to a Web site
... and is not accessible, you loose on both sides
... "Open our mind, close your eyes".
... Accessibility is a very important topic.
... We don't read text, we scan it.
... I will show you screen reader.
... like jaws
... There are Screen readers for emails and some for Web pages.
... but sometimes the association of both is not covered.
... In HTML email, there are big issues for accessibility
... title for example not used.
... Jaws start to know in Web pages how to compute table layout.
... font resizing works in Outlook and Thunderbird. (don't know for Opera).
... Our customers are not skilled engineers.
... So most of the time we test only in the main products.
... Languages are a big issue.

(Stephane launching a demo of Jaws)

scribe: For example, doesn't know on an email what is a language.

(Example of French pronunciation on an English mail)

scribe: switching languages is a pain.
... You don't know before the language of your email.
... so in HTML email having the language information should be done in the mail client.
... when writing emails you should be able to send the lang attribute
... so jaws will know
... and will switch from one language to the other.

Cote: How many words does it take for an automate to switch languages

stephane: AI could do many things, but practically it doesn't do.

Marie: switching languages in the page would be too difficult.

Stephane: alt text saves markerting people all the time. When doing a newsletter with images, having alt helps to improve the access to the content.
... You can enjoy the whole content, even if images are blocked by the mail clients.
... and it is usable with Jaws

<yann2> [thanks for the retranscription]

Stephane: Having alt in HTML emails make alternative text plain email not necessary, BUT
... from an accessibility point of view alt text in HTML email is better than plain text with URIs
... (replying to Kerryn) You can't guess if I'm blind in advance.

Chris: There are two schools of thought on what should be alt text.
... It is either a descriptive text on what is on the page, or it is an equivalent going into the flow of the text.

Marie: There is another issue in France, accessiweb says that the text has to be less than 60 characters.

Stephane: Some rules have to be more flexible. Stay reasonable. If the text is too long you will loose the context.

Chris: there is an issue with languages,. 60 characters doesn't make sense in some languages.

Stephane: Yes and sometimes there are labels like company or organization names which are longer.


Stephane: Stay reasonable.
... Jaws supports now longdesc.

Chris: you will use it to make very descriptive text about the image.
... at the start, alt text should have never been an attribute. It is in HTML, because Marc Andreessen pushed it in Mosaic.

glazou: should have been content fallback
... but we can't put markup in attributes.

(chris telling about the history of the development of mosaic)

Stephane: if object tag was generalized instead of img, we would real fallback content and better accessibility

(showing an example of page without alt text, and images not loaded)

scribe: even for users who are not blind it is useful.
... proposition: make the alt attribute mandatory in emails

karl: why not pushing for object more than alt attributes.

stephane: maybe the pragmatic guy in me. But yes it might be a good idea. We have to find an editor who is willing to do that

glazou: One of the problems is to find the right UI paradigm.
... for editing the content.

Adrien: in France, there is a big gap between web designers and html coders.
... many web designers don't know about coding.
... and they don't know about the issues of accessibility, and they are hard to convince.

Stephane: It is another reason why it shoud be integrated in wysiwyg tools for non specialists.
... like marketers.

Jim: We have seen email clients, suppressing things for security issues.
... they strip alt tags.

Darren: Same for some webmails

Antonio: when outlook suppresses images, and it leaves the table with alt text, being not wrapped, the people receive a long bar.
... usability problem.

Stephane: ... conclusion


Stephane: There are some readers like braille devices which will tell you if it's bold or not.

Jim: There are issues with b, i and strong, em. With words being shouted all the time.

Stephane: we had the same discussion for SPIP, French CMS.
... the consensus in the end was that b and strong are different.
... Some people might not know how to use it.

Jim: would you recommend marketers to test through jaws

Stephane: Definitely. That would be a good test.

karl: how do you know how to use jaws the right way?

Stephane: yes I learn a lot with friends. But yes indeed, you need to learn how to use it.
... the real test is to unplug your screen and use jaws
... and hate yourself seeing how bad you did your homework
... You don't know until you really put yourself in a "blind" context.
... Chris from Yahoo! told us, we don't have data on how disable people use the Web at large.
... "Don't make me think" book. How do you expect to help people who are disable because they have developed skills because of their disability.
... Focus on really writing clear text and content, more than creating complicated accessibility things.

(karl thinks that Stephane should review this)

(I may have given a bad transcription of his final thoughts)

sakim, close agendum 5

Outspring HTML in Email

Daniel Glazman is presenting the paper of Pierre Saslawsky

glazou: Pierre is in favor of templating system.
... to focus on content and don't have to take care about the technical design of the document.
... it would allow letterheads for example.
... Think about the 80's when people started to write postal mails with fancy papers.
... Building your own templates is very difficult for the common users.
... In blogs there are a lot of choices of templates, with one button click for choosing the template.
... It should be the same for emails.
... It doesn't solve all problems.
... If email clients strip part of the HTML like checkbox. Then it creates issues for the users and you have to rely on tricks.
... In addition, You should be able to "tag" emails.
... Pierre is proposing either in the protocols of the email or in a defined grammar in the content.
... Mail is far behind the web in terms of technology.
... UI is very simplistic, too simplistic.
... We can't improve the situation without bringing feedback to email consortium like IMC
... Some browser vendors are very good at integrating feedback from users. Mail clients not that much.
... The number one for putting internet in a company is email. It is a major tool for people
... Glazou, I think it is all I can say from the position paper of Pierre

The paper is available at http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-html-mail/2007Apr/att-0016/Outspring-HTML-in-Email.html


Adrien: Could you explain a bit more the Template thing?

glazou: I would like to be able to send emails with a specific template so I communicate not only the content but the visual identity of the company, organization, person.
... a blog entry consists of title, content, etc. with specific ids. and you could apply the templates scoping the ids.

someone2: I doubt that such system would be possible with the current security practices from clients.

chris: You could have a cache system with preferences without having to go online each time, to download the template.

glazou: template could be downloaded on choice like for images in mail clients now.
... it is a pretty good idea. there are security issues, sure. but that might be possible.

Darren: how do you create the trusting mechanism?

Chris: You would have to trust the original sender.

glazou: it is the same kind of issues with human relationships.

Stephane: but first mail could corrupt my machine.

glazou: the policy could be never download automatically at the start

Darren: I do not know if it would possible to implement without having a 3rd implementation text, multipart, and then this new technique
... because you can't ignore the rest of implementations out there

(daniel is introducing overlays to explain something similar about templates)

Côte: I'm not convinced, people are focusing on contents. So is it really useful?

glazou: young people use templates for editing html email
... in blogs, there is not only content. There is presentation too. blogrolls

karl: there is even a better example. MySpace is an online scrapbook, people putting images, text with colors, it's even too limited.

Chris: (thinking loudly SVG!)

(laugh in the room)

glazou: doctors now can send data with an email like system (with XML)
... but there is missing stuff. You need XSLT which is overkill.
... there are things much simpler.
... The difference in printing is even harder.

(side discussions about printing)


(we will be back in a few minutes for brainstorming and the outcomes of this workshop)









Some references for the break :p

back for the brainstorming

glazou: are you mostly happy with tables?

Darren: you do not have freedom of layout, because CSS implementations are not good.

<s_deschamps> (can't see you, you're on thre wrong eye ;)

Jim: Tables are great, but CSS is a lot more powerful.

glazou: mobile devices?

Jim: there is a lot we could do, but support is not good.
... we could do a lot better with accessibility

Antonio: cell tables is difficult. you want to be more independent.

Kerryn: sometimes we need 6 nested tables to achieve the good effect.

glazou: what about tbody?

Darren: You don't want to use tbody, because spamassassin gives it a score

<s_deschamps> that's crazy: the more you strive for right content, the more you attract the attention of spam assassin - crazy

glazou: why?

Darren: I guess because of heuristics around hand coding/wysiwyg coding

chris telling crazy story about implementations

glazou: we are developing in css 3 bacground images resizing.
... but if it is stripped then it is a kind of useless

chris: We have to give implementers good reasons to improve and introduce competitions

Jim: with outlook 2007, we have been pushed back to old years

chris: marketing emails and person to person offer a different paradigm of discussions
... and implementations.

I'm starting to be low

on energy

Sylvain: this situation varies from browser to browser
... users are not interested on differences amongs emails
... even if your email client is not THunderbird, he won't persuade you to switch because the gain will not be as big as switcihin from [anybrowser] to Firefox

[discussion about improving rendering of emails]

glazou: presents an answer from Scott, wrt HTML authoring, specific engine, limited set of features, interaction with CSS, etc.

scott: wants to see more semantic elements,and sharing and standardization of classes rather than ad-hoc use
... blogging comment systems and threaded e,mailresponses have a lot in common
... most corporate sites email clients do not deal with email as their main task. its incidental, tacked onto calendar or groupware functions. so it does not evolve

someone: lotus notes is a huge hypercard like system, with email grafted on and then html grafted on too
... many concerns about Outlook 2007 which has switched to using the word engine to render html instead of the trident/ie engine
... question if the webmail clients are more actively developed than the pure email clients
... lack of scoped stylesheets means that css is often disabled to prevent phishing.
... many isps strip out things from html email, such as forms
... scoped stylesheets in in html5, first child of any element,and a scoped attr to limit its scope
... and it blocks positioning from being outside the parent
... not difficult to implement either. most browsers deal with style in the body anyway
... trivial to implement, create an id on the parent and prepend an id selector to the rules
... scoped stylesheets can be trusted more
... avoids malicious playing with the chrome, phishing, trapping user input
... getting the online email tools to change first might get the others to follow

karl: going for the myspace audience

daniel: suggests a whitepaper - general agreement
... most are subscribed to the masil list; daniel suggests we keep using it
... asks for help to make test reports;test suit nd implementation report. also, explain if there is a fallback or not. things that may interest the press. goal is to raise awareness of how bad it is out there and provide impetus to change
... show how bad it is but also how little it is to improve
... patches may allow field upgrades once the need is appartent
... perhaps a few well-chosen features at first - don't swamp with challenges. prioritize
... explains about WASP and how they got the attention of the press. few articles, but with a large impact

<s_deschamps> btw I'm in the WASP ILG, if it can help

<s_deschamps> I'll send my presentation as PDF to whom?

<s_deschamps> (oh, I've had the answer now)

<s_deschamps> wow, real-life IRCing :)

karl: Thank you to Daniel for organizing the Workshop
... and Thank you to ENST for the hosting

<Chris> ENST provided facilities, AV support, very good job

List of attendees
Jean-Marc Bassin France Telecom
Sylvain Côté E-Plume vision
Sarah Davies e-Dialog
Stéphane Deschamps France Télécom
Ian Deshays e-Dialog
Marie Destandau Free-lance, Ototoï
Karl Dubost W3C
Antonio Ferrara Premiere Global Services
Jim Kelly e-Dialog
Julie Landry Cosmic Communication
Adrien Leygues Business Interactif
Chris Lilley W3C
Nicolas Naparty Cabestan
Mauro Nunez W3C
Jérémie Patonnier Cetelem
Kerryn Sues NewsWeaver
Darren Rawlings Premiere Global Services
Julien Vellinger Premiere Global Services
Martin Waschbüsch Premiere Global Services