The Top-posting reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Apr-2004
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Top-posting

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Top-posting means replying to a message above the original message. This may be a message in an Internet forum, an email message or a Usenet post. Top-posting is considered improper by some definitions of Internet etiquette since it breaks down the flow of the thread:

Because it messes up the flow of reading.
I prefer to bottom-post.
> How come?
> What do you do instead?
> > No.
> > > Do you like top-posting?

Table of contents
1 TOFU
2 Bottom-posting
3 Usage
4 External links

TOFU

Quoting the entire parent message within an answer is usually called TOFU (for text over, fullquote under), sometimes it's also called jeopardy-style quoting (alluding to game show Jeopardy, in which contestants compete to give the correct question given the question's answer). Adding a header and salutations the same conversation becomes:

Hello A.B.!

Because it messes up the flow of reading.
I prefer to bottom-post.

Yours,
N.N.

> On Wednesday, A.B. wrote:
> Hello N.N.!
>
> How come?
> What do you do instead?
>
> Sincerely,
> A.B.
>
> > On Tuesday, N.N. wrote:
> > Hello A.B.!
> >
> > No.
> >
> > Yours,
> > N.N.
> >
> > On Monday, A.B. wrote:
> > > Hello N.N.!
> > >
> > > Do you like top-posting?
> > >
> > > Sincerely,
> > > A.B.

Bottom-posting

The preferred means of replying is not to quote the entire previous message and write at the bottom, as the term 'bottom-posting' naively suggests, but to edit away the parts of the previous message not needed to establish context for one's response, and interleave one's replies to each point being addressed:

> > > Do you like top-posting?
> > No.
> How come?
Because it messes up the flow of reading.
> What do you do instead?
I prefer to bottom-post.

Adding small headers this looks like:

> > * A.B.:
> > > Do you like top-posting?

> * N.N.:
> > No.

* A.B.:
> How come?

Because it messes up the flow of reading.

> What do you do instead?

I prefer to bottom-post.

Or with the words of RFC 1855, the Netiquette Guidelines, which comprise a comprehensive set of netiquette conventions:

If you are sending a reply to a message or a posting be sure you summarize the original at the top of the message, or include just enough text of the original to give a context. This will make sure readers understand when they start to read your response.

Usage

Unsurprisingly, different online communities differ on whether or not top posting is objectionable; but if it is found objectionable in a particular community, top-posting in that community will generally be seen as major breach of etiquette and will provoke vehement responses from community regulars.

Objections to top-posting, as a general rule, seem to come from persons who first went online in the earlier days of Usenet, and in communities that date to Usenet's early days, among the most vehement communities those in the Usenet comp.lang hierarchy, especially comp.lang.c and comp.lang.c++. Etiquette is looser (as is almost everything) in the alt hierarchy. Newer online participants, especially those with limited experience of Usenet, tend as a general rule, to be less sensitive to top-posting.

It may be that users used to older, terminal-oriented software which was unable to easily show references to posts being replied to, learned to prefer a the summary that not top-posting gives; it's also likely that the general slower propagation times of the original Usenet groups made that summary a useful reminder of older posts. As news and mail readers have become more capable, and as propagation times have increased, newer users may find top-posting more efficient.

Microsoft has had a significant influence on top-posting by the ubiquity of its software; its email and newsreader software top-posts by default, and in several cases makes it difficult not to top-post; many users apparently have accepted Microsoft's default as a de facto standard.

Perhaps because of Microsoft's influence, top-posting is more common, and less of an issue on many mailing lists and in personal email.

Finally, top-posting is simply a custom, a shibboleth like wearing neckties or eating with one's right hand, that serves to identify one's membership in a particular community. This self-identification function probably serves as much as any other factor to reinforce its use: one can't expect much help in comp.lang.c++ if one self-identifies as a "barbarian" by top-posting. In this way, not top-posting is similar to other customs employed by other communities: the UNIX community; the various programmer "cultures" the "New Jersey/Bell Labs", the "MIT/Cambridge", or the "West Coast/Berkeley" "communities"; the AOL "community".

External links