Monday, January 30, 2012

Email conduct!

I have noticed that the young generation is lacking in knowledge of proper email conduct. First of all, unless it is by mistake, leaving the subject line empty is unacceptable. Second, unless an email is a continuation of a previous conversation, it should properly address the person who is receiving the email. Third, it should have proper spacing. Fourth, the email should end with a proper regards. Thanks, Regards, Cheers, whatever is suitable for the occasion.

For instance:

Dear X,

Bla bla bla.


Unfortunately, I often get emails of the form:

Hi,bla bla bla. -Y

The use of mobile phones for emailing has made things even worse. Both the content and the spacing are sacrificed. Punctuation within text is butchered as well.

Another pet peeve of mine is that, the text font should be consistent throughout the email, unless there are special formatting needs. A common error I see is:

Dear [Name copied from Web, in different font], bla bla bla.

I have noticed that folks from Asia do this more often for some reason. It looks bad because it makes it obvious that the name was copied and pasted from a web page, and no effort was made to fix up the font.

There is something else that I don't like. I am Turkish and I do write emails in Turkish a lot. Unfortunately, many people avoid using the Turkish characters ı,ü,ö,ğ,ç,ş and instead substitute them with i,u,o,g,c,s (which are also in the Turkish alphabet). This is usually done because many people use English keyboards and switching the language results in remapping many of the punctuation keys (as the Turkish alphabet has more characters than the English one) and makes it difficult to type if you are used to writing a lot of English (academics, engineers, etc.). I wonder if a keyboard layout that uses a meta-key to print the Turkish characters would be a better choice. For instance, command+u could give ü. But I don't think there is such a layout.

In many cases, the mindless substitution of Turkish characters does not result in any information loss. In fact, there are tools that would automatically correct Turkish text written using the English alphabet into the proper Turkish form with great accuracy (I use an emacs mode for that). However, people often do not use such tools (it is a pity, as there used to be a Firefox plugin for this!, which makes it rather easy).

When the meaning of a word is altered due to these substitutions, one can usually figure out the intended meaning from the context. For instance, if you see 'sikildim' in the text, it literally means "I'm fucked". However, it is highly likely that you meant "I'm bored", that is 'sıkıldım'. While what you meant would be usually obvious from the context, I don't think you want to leave this particular one to the context!

Interestingly, there is a curious property of the Turkish alphabet that saves the day for this particular scenario. The upper case version of the letter ı is I in Turkish. In fact, we have i,İ and ı,I in Turkish, whereas in English there is only i,I (I can't help but point out the symmetry and consistency in the Turkish version :D). Interestingly, without changing the keyboard layout to Turkish, one can write 'sIkIldIm', which means "I'm bored". On the down side, it immediately brings up the other meaning to one's mind as well. So it is not a complete solution.

Unless I am in a hurry and writing to a close friend, I try to always write my Turkish emails using the correct characters, even on the iPhone. For those who do not know: You can go the settings in your iPhone and enable the international keyboards. Once you do that, you can hold down on a letter and it will show you the alternatives. No excuses!