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Top Posting

This topic crops up in practically every newsgroup sooner or later, and generates a great deal of heat. I'll try to explain it without upsetting too many people.

What is top-posting?

When replying to a Usenet post, you can place your reply above the text you are replying to (top-posting) or under it (bottom-posting).

Why do people object to it?

Common sense, really. If A makes a comment which B responds to, and then C discusses the matter further, the text order A, B, C is the most logical for the reader.

If B places his reply above A's text, and then C wants to respond to both A and B, it can be very difficult for C to place his text so that it makes sense. And if D wants to respond to a series of things that E says, point by point, it is far clearer if each response comes under the text it is responding to.

?clearer them makes backwards things displaying that think you did Or

Or to put it another way - how do you like jokes which start with the punchline?

For those people who like a more formal response, I'll point out that bottom posting is in any case the agreed Usenet standard.

What's wrong with top-posting? In my work environment, we do it all the time.

Yes, I have also often been in the position at work where some people have had a lengthy e-mail discussion about something and then referred it to me for a decision. In these cases, it can be useful to have the last post (requesting the decision) at the top, and all the other posts under it.

But Usenet is a completely different medium from company e-mail. Firstly, in Usenet new recipients are not added at a later date: all recipients have access to all messages, and they can re-read the earlier messages in a thread if they feel the need to examine all the detail.

Secondly, in a company e-mail discussion quoted material is only spread around a few computers, which usually have access to a high-speed company network. On Usenet, it gets copied to thousands of computers, many using dial-up lines where the user is paying by the minute for access. Quoting hundreds of lines of previous messages in Usenet is impolite towards other users. Putting those lines at the bottom of a message does not make it less so.

And even in the e-mail case just referred to, top posting doesn't make for easy reading. I find I generally have to print the messages out to make sense of them. Usenet readers shouldn't have to do that.

But why should I have to page through lots of old material to get to the new stuff?

You shouldn't have to. Posters should, out of simple politeness, trim the quoted material to the minimum needed to provide the context for the answer. It is rare that more than about 20 lines of context is needed (except in detailed point-by-point discussions - where even hardened top-posters usually resort to bottom-posting anyway.) Half a dozen lines of context is often enough.

As I just said: quoting hundreds of lines of previous messages in Usenet is impolite towards other users. Putting those lines at the bottom of a message does not make it less so.

Does it really matter?

Well, not all that much, to be honest - it's just one of those little things that make life more pleasant if you do them properly. So please do bottom-post - but don't get overly upset if someone else doesn't.