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Issue #722: May 23-29, 2021

Q: Several of the companies from which I regularly receive email send me information that I need to scroll through to read each part of the items they are trying to sell me. Many times, when I get to the bottom of the email it says “[Message clipped]” with a link next to it that says “View entire message”. When I click there, it loads the rest of the message, but it puts me back at the top, and I have to scroll the way back to where I was and continue reading from there. Is there a way to see the entire message by default every time without having to go all the way to the bottom, click “View entire message”, then scroll back to the bottom where I left off?

– Spouse Peripheral.
Niceville, Florida

A: For any readers new enough to the column that they don’t recognize the sobriquet “Spouse Peripheral,” that is, of course, my darling bride, Wendy.  Yes, even when you’re married to The Geek, questions come up.  Often as not, I answer her “That would make a great Geek question,” because the subject is something that is of interest to everybody. 

Although she didn’t say so, I happen to know that S.P. is talking about Gmail, which is also used by a large number of my readers, and that made this a good question to answer in the column. The behavior she is asking about – that is, the “Message clipped” notification – is unique to Gmail, so if you’re using another e-mail client, you can rest assured that you’ll never experience this.  Nevertheless, keep reading, as you might learn something else.

Now, if you look the problem over, you’ll find that Gmail only clips very long emails.  In fact, if you were to actually quantify it, you’d find that that Gmail clips any e-mail larger than 102K bytes.  Why 102K?  Search me.  I’d like to know myself, as this seems a rather arbitrary number.  I would hope that the Gmail programming team had a good reason for choosing that particular number, but if they did, their rationale escapes me.  So, they decided that any message larger than 102K would not be displayed in full, but rather, would be partially displayed, with the remainder cut off (clipped), with an optional link to display the whole message, as S.P. described in her question.

There are a couple of problems with this.  First of all, people have been complaining to Gmail about this “feature” since the beginning, and their complaints seem to have fallen on deaf ears.  Whatever the reason for it, the clipping remains, and there is no way to disable it. For recipients of e-mail, it’s a minor annoyance to have to click an extra link to retrieve the entirety of a message.  The problem is far greater for message senders, who have embedded certain features into their marketing e-mails to let them know when the message has been read, and who read it.  This is a form of data mining that helps them to focus their advertising dollars, thereby keeping costs down.  It also helps the e-mail recipient, because the marketer learns what you’re not interested in, and (hopefully) stops sending you e-mails featuring products that you’re not interested in. 

But, if the embedded codes that trigger these features are after the 102K point, and the end-user decides not to click the View Entire Message link, the sender is never informed that the message has been read, and the whole process breaks down.

I hope by some miracle of technology, someone at Gmail is reading this.  Gmail has a great product, but in the case of this feature, it’s a mis-fire.  The Gmail platform is the only one that does this, and in this case, you’re not leading the pack with a cutting-edge feature, you’re forcing something on your users that many of them don’t want, and not giving them the option to shut it off.  That’s backward thinking, and should be addressed.  In the meantime, sorry Spouse P. but there’s very little you can do other than click the link and scroll back down. 

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