Lewis' Blog Tales from the trenches of information technology

16Mar/110

On the over-use of HIGH PRIORITY in email today

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For those of you who may not recall, the Priority: header was originally designed for mail servers to properly prioritize the routing of messages in the days when broadband meant 256K (wow!), and it was customary to move batches of mail from one place to another at different times, such that a notice about a meeting taking place next month would be assigned a lower priority than, say, a message concerning the temperature in the boiler room (reference to nuclear reactors specifically avoided, as the situation in Japan is non-trivial and surely not humorous - as several comedians have recently discovered). The Priority: header is/was analogous to the X.400 priority field. (For references, see RFC 2076, 2156, et. seq.)

Along came our good friends in Redmond, who decided that an X-MSMail-Priority: header was important, too, so that (idiot) users could jump up and down and yell "FIRE!" in the movie theaters...er...so that Outlook (Outbreak) users could prioritize their own messages (and of course, an emergency on the part of a client does not necessarily constitute an emergency for me).

I have grown truly weary of these (ignorant) Outbreak users not turning off the d-mned HIGH PRIORITY switch when they send email to me. I have one client in particular who sends me HIGH PRIORITY messages each and every time he has the most inconsequential of questions or comments. Indeed, other mailers can - and do - (mis)use priority headers, but as usual, it's typically our friends using the Redmond software which seem to abuse the privilege the most. <sigh> (I really do hate to generalize, but when the shoe fits...)

In SeaMonkey, this isn't an issue at all, as I just do not show the priority column. On my Palm PrePlus, however, this is an annoyance, as the subject line comes out with a RED background and is most distracting.

So, what am I going to do about it?

I am utilizing a perl script from my friend, Nicolas Hatier, at Niversoft which will remove headers from messages. Currently, my little band of troublemakers consists of:

X-Priority:
X-MSMail-Priority:
Priority:
Importance:

If anyone has any others to add to my collection, please advise.

Do I care that I am not going to see HIGH PRIORITY messages in my Inbox? Surely, you jest...

Instead of turning on the neon lights, it would be so much better if people would simply learn how to compose a succinct yet descriptive subject.

PS - For you now-abashed Outlook users, here's a good article (complete with pictures, misspellings, misplaced modifiers, and missing/improper capitalization and punctuation, too!) on how to set the default priority for outgoing mail in your favorite email client. Enjoy!

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