The Trim-Posting Manifesto
Top-Posting Generally is Bad
It is undeniable that any thread branch that obtains more than one style of posting (e.g. top-posting and anything else) becomes functionally corrupt at the point of mingling. Thereafter, significant misattribution and other confusion will always follow. This is true regardless of which style was first employed. This is why most top-posters believe their choice is arbitrary, claiming it has as much high-ground as any other style, but they are wrong.
Consider a hypothetical top-post-only thread. Successive top-posting, while not corrupt, presents the conversation backwards and makes even the smallest branch extremely tedious to follow and comprehend. Obviously, this is because English is a top-to-bottom language. Even worse, top-post-only threads preclude point-by-point, interspersed comments because once this happens, the thread is no longer top-post-only and, by definition, corrupt.
But it is even worse for a non-top-post thread. Top-posting then is benign only if the branch dies (becomes a leaf). Tainting top-posters (those who top-post to non-top-post threads) must not realize how uncommon it is for any particular post to be "the last one". Just because the top-poster is done with the branch, that doesn't mean everybody will be! If anyone decides to jump in afterwards, the best that can be expected (since the bits won't flow in conversational, time-sequenced order and there's no way to untangle them) is that the rest of the branch (which is thenceforth corrupt) will be ignored by almost everyone. And once a few branches are spoiled, many readers will conclude the entire thread is defiled and ignore every message, even though most may be perfectly readable.
The standard top-poster rationalization goes like this: "I don't like having to scroll through all that background stuff I have already seen to get to the new stuff." Ironically, following the preceding reasoning, excessive scrolling is exactly what is required to read an all-top-post thread (not to get to the new stuff but rather to get to the background context, or to resequence the tangled conversation) and most people simply won't bother. Top-posters ignore this because they presume that everybody who will read their posts has also already read "all the background stuff". This is by no means a reasonable assumption! The empirical reality of top-posting is that it always results in dead thread branches.
Despite the unlikeliness that such facts will be understood by or, if understood, motivational to them, every attempt should be made to educate top-posters to the poisonous nature of their rude habit. Sadly, top-posters are generally so lazy and selfish that, so long as their post makes sense, they don't care much about what happens to the thread afterwards, nor how their taint may impact people incapable of dealing with it such as blind "readers". Thankfully, most branches are short anyway and fairly serial (few branching branches) so the detriment is probably minimal. As good as it is to fight genuine top-posting, as I have implied, "top-posting" is not really the issue.
How Misnomers Cloud the Debate
I apologize in advance to any pro-life readers who find the forthcoming abortion analogies to be in poor taste. Rest assured; I do not in any way wish to trivialize the abortion crisis. Regardless, there are very powerful lessons to be extracted from the arms-race of rhetoric which both sides of that debate have so cleverly employed.
As a long-time hater of non-trimmed top-posting (love the sinner, hate the sin), I am sick and tired of being characterized as a "bottom-poster". Bottom-posting is no better than top-posting if trimming doesn't happen. Part of the reason top-posters persist is because it is not good enough just to be against something but the proponents of change must be FOR a better alternative (as pro-lifers finally realized). So I hereby coin the term and champion the cause of "trim-posting". I have seen people use the term "middle-posting" which, besides never catching on (it doesn't have a nice "ring" to it), doesn't capture the true nature of the problem and, as such, does not have the inherent rhetorical power of "trim-posting".
Misnomers defocus discussion and obscure the obvious. For example, the problem with "abortion" is not really the termination of a pregnancy but rather the death of a baby. That is the heart of the matter and, to the extent that the debate misses this focus, most of the effort is wasted. It is my sincere hope that one day soon God will bless the creativity of mankind with the development of an artificial womb or a simple, safe, and low-cost baby-transplant procedure. If the death of the baby could be prevented, surely nobody would care very much about the "abortion" of any particular mother's pregnancy. In a somewhat analogous way, the problem with what is commonly called "top-posting" (but which should more accurately be called "untrimmed-posting") is not so much the posting of new content at the top as it is the persistent lack of any trimming along with it.
Harmonious Tolerance Through Trim-Posting
By God's grace, we already do have a workable solution available for our problem: "trim-posting". Trim-posting need not make any judgment on where the "summary comment" (which is generally all top-posters add) is placed so long as full trimming (i.e. down to the single salient point) occurs simultaneously. In other words, this is something that all posters including top-posters can support! Personally, I frequently have just 1 thing to say about one specific portion of a preceding message and so I include that section and add one bottom-posted comment. This is a large portion of what should be happening in Usenet/email anyway.
For example, let us consider one of the two scenarios for which "tainting" top-posting is actually justifiable (likely to be a "public" leaf): a conclusionary decision from the final decision-maker (the other being 'forwarding' which is the "private leafing" of a branch).
Who could have a problem with a top-poster if he were also a trim-poster and sent messages like this:
Similarly, bottom-posters would hardly raise an eyebrow with top-posters if they were also trim-posters and would respond with messages like this:
One thing you may not have noticed (I didn't at first either) is that by trimming down to a single quote, both the top-poster and "bottom-poster" above reset the branch and converted it into an unmingled, single-posting-style branch of his preferred style! In other words, if every poster was a trim-poster, NO posts would have mingled styles and so it wouldn't be tragic which kind of style was being used because no corruption would ever result!
The Overwhelming Power of a Clever Moniker as a "Viral" Rhetorical Tool
In the same way that "Pro-Life" turned the tide nearly overnight and is now winning their battle for the hearts and minds of people (if not yet in legislation), we trim-posters, through the refinement of our name, can reframe the debate over proper electronic communication to our permanent advantage! And because we need only the hearts and minds of people (i.e. not legislation), we can actually WIN!
By adopting a moniker that has inherent truth and specific focus, top-posters with any shame will be as embarrassed to proclaim, "Trim-posters are crazy, there's nothing wrong with not trimming!" as a "pro-choicer" would be to argue, "Pro-lifers are crazy; there's nothing wrong with dead babies!" Now top-posters may very well desire to fight fire with fire but, unlike pro-abortionists (who had the powerful "pro-choice" to adopt), there does not seem to be any term which carries any "better" connotation that would make any sense to use ("anti-trim" just doesn't cut it and would make them look even worse). "Trim-posting", as a moniker, is a clear winner but as a solution, even though it is simple and effective, it has one significant problem: it imposes a small cost to top-posters. Sadly, these are people who seem perfectly content not to be part of any solution and are traditionally swayed neither by plain facts nor logical arguments.
Good Tools Must Encourage Propriety
'Cluelessness' and 'classlessness' are the twin root flaws that produce the bitter fruit of top-posting. Both hallmarks are fostered and perpetuated by the availability of popular software which leaves users both quietly misguided (clueless) while at the same time totally unrestrained (classless). This situation is the reason the GNKSA was created, which we whole-heartedly support. Newbies, in particular, need guidance or they will quickly develop bad habits which often become addictive (I have restrained myself and am skipping the obvious smoking analogy). Obviously, tools should be employed in any fight-for-right. Whether legislation in the case of abortion or newsreader design in the case of Usenet, tools play a crucial role in directing newbies and fence-sitters to adopt proper behaviors. Even though any tool can be misused and any rule can be broken (true change can only happen with buyin from the people), I believe every newsreader should be like New Yanoff and employ the following 3-point design:
NOTE: It is best to hard-code each of these but if that is too inflexible, these must be the standard default behavior.
Every user is free to manually select all the original text to insert everything and, regardless of how much text is selected before the response is initiated, he may subsequently be allowed to move the cursor and insert/move/modify text anywhere and in any way he desires (e.g. move the signature to the top or whatever). We are hoping to thwart the casual top-poster who does so primarily because it is the simplest and fastest way to get his comment out. No client should ever forcibly prevent top-posting or any other kind of posting with the possible exceptions of null-posting (no text at all), no-new-text-posting and excessive cross-posting.
I am a firm believer that most non-trimming top-posters and "me-too" AOLamers are more lazy than they are malicious or otherwise committed to non-trimming. As such, this approach would probably eliminate 80% or more of it originating from within compliant apps (and would eliminate a staggering percentage of ALL of it if google-groups/Outlook/OE would comply).
These 3 points guide the user to:
If the lusers who are causing these problems are as lazy and clueless as they so routinely prove themselves to be, they will not take the time to locate, nor have the intelligence to reconfigure, the settings which modify the defaults. As such, configurability is likely just as effective as hard-coding but with the added benefit of not needlessly hampering conscientious users who, presumably, are able to deviate from the defaults without abusing the power.
We Can Make a Difference!
Perhaps such a combined campaign (moniker-change and updated newsreader client defaults) can salvage the Internet (or at least Usenet) from what has been, up until now, an unstemmed death spiral of noise and glut foisted upon it by ever-increasing numbers of people online who are either too lazy to really care (either about doing the right thing or about the harm that actually comes from doing the wrong thing) or too uninformed to know any better. Why not help online abusers learn some netiquette? Why not contact Microsoft and suggest they fix the default behaviors of Outlook and Outlook Express? Why not consider abandoning your malware client and support companies like ours whose software is designed the right way and is GNKSA-compliant (we're not listed yet but we have been submitted and passed)? Don't forget to send an email to the old company to inform them exactly why you dumped their software! Why not try go get a trim-posting mandate added to your favorite newsgroup's charter so everyone can enlist service providers over violations? At the very least you can begin to use the term "trim-posing" whenever you discuss this problem and maybe, just maybe, things will turn around!
Do you like what we are trying to do or desire to support us but you can't use our software (don't have a Palm PDA)? That's OK! Go ahead and buy a license key anyway; you don't have to actually use it!