Brad Peek <brad_peek / yahoo.com> wrote:
>What is "top posting" and why is it considered bad form?

What an interesting set of "answers" you are getting, eh?

Let me provide a bit more detail, and some history, to put it
into better perspective.  (Okay...  a *lot* more!)

First, "top posting" is a valid description of that style, but
"bottom posting" confuses people as to what it means.  It does
*not* mean to quote an entire article and then place a response
after the entire quote.  (That is called "Stupid posting"!)

Keep in mind that Usenet was begun in late 1979 by programmers,
and that at the time they mostly had 300 baud modems to tranfer
messages, using the Unix-Unix-Copy-Protocol (UUCP).  The
essential ingredients are that each message cost money by the
minute to transmit, and it happens as a batch process done late
at night.  (It cost money!  And the other guy answered the next
day, and two days later you got to read his response.)

Many of the messages were very technical, it was highly academic
in style, and initially not very "social" as such.  And Usenet
was populated mostly by people who were exceedingly logical,
often to a fault.

The style that very quickly became *clearly* the best, also
related to the very common practice of long running threads that
referenced comments made over a series of exchanges, some of
which were important in context and some of which were not.

The "basic rules" becames,

  1) Delete all quoted text unnecessary to the point you are
     making.

  2) Prefix each line of quoted text with a '>' character, and
     mark each level of quoted text with an initial attribution
     line that identifies who authored each level.  That results
     in a long running exchange that follows this form:

         John Doe III wrote:
         >Jane Doe III wrote:
         >>Joe Blow wrote
         >>>Jane Que wrote
         >>>
         >>>>My name is Jane,
         >>>>the sun is up.
         >>>>
         >>>Well my name is Joe, and
         >>>the sun is down here.
         >>>
         >>My name is also Jane,
         >>what is a sun?
         >>
         >I'm John Doe, who
         >is Jane?

         My response to all of that goes here.

   3) Not obvious from item 2) is that this format is applied at
      a minimum to _paragraphs_, but often to sentences or even
      just to individual lines or fragments.  Very rarely should
      there be multiple paragraphs retained as quoted text with
      a comment at the bottom referencing anything more than a
      paragraph above where it is placed.

        A) The other paragraphs should either be deleted, or

        B) The comment that references other paragraphs should
           be immediately below the referenced paragraph.

The whole point is to reduce the size of the message to a
minimum (which reduced the cost to transmit it around the
country) and to maintain a geographic relationship between a
comment and the relevant quoted text that it applies to, which
in turn provides the reader with a temporal relationship that is
both ordered (read the "question" before the "answer") and
uncluttered by intervening material.

One of the primary reasons for all of the above, but
particularly for that temporal relationship, was simply that in
virtually all cases a response would be read *two day later*, at
a minimum.  A secondary reason was that the typical Usenetizen
was indeed academic, and typically well aware that there were
other environments where one might read a message than just the
one that the writer was experiencing.  It is therefore incumbent
upon the *writer* to transfer as much environment and as little
ambiguity as possible.

Today we have major differences in the participants and the
mechanisms being used.  These differences do not necessarily
negate the advantages of the format that was worked out, but
they make it less likely that a person new to Usenet will
quickly see the point of using the apparently quirky "Usenet
Format".

The need for brevity as a cost saving factor is no longer
applicable, other than as an certain bit of aesthetics.

Readers using Google Groups, or even a Web Browser and an NNTP
server, simply will not realize that their reading environment
is *different* than many others.  They do not imagine that what
appears to make "paragraphs" quite visibly distinct on their
screen has exactly the opposite effect on the readers that a
majority of the readers will use, as one example.

Likewise Usenet, way way back in the good old days *very*
quickly moved away from a strickly business atmosphere, and
became a social event too.  Today's average Usenet writer is not
an academic, and may or may not be more logical, artistic, or
simply dull too!  Hence we see all sorts of not particularly
"smart" posts, just as we do with all walks of life.

Top Posting has become acceptable in some places...  but you
should never forget that it also marks the writer as less than
astute.  It messes up the temporal relationship for readers who
did not just immediately read the previous referenced message.
It also makes following the attributions of a multiexchange
thread difficult.

Stick with an /appropriate/ formatting style, and write with the
assumption that a reader who will see your article 20 years from
now will be your child or grandchild.

-- 
Floyd L. Davidson            <http://www.apaflo.com/floyd_davidson>
Ukpeagvik (Barrow, Alaska)                         floyd / apaflo.com