Alt text for images are important in email, too


Apparently the IT department gave up on getting everybody to read email in plain text, and other service departments at Microsoft have moved beyond simply using HTML for markup and started adding banner images to the top of each email message. Because the best way to promote your brand to other parts of the company is to stick a banner logo at the top of every message.

Here's the HTML for one such banner image, with line breaks inserted for sanity.

<img width=707 height=63 id="Picture_x0020_2"
src="cid:image001.png@01CB0944.B4771400"
alt="Description: Description: Description: Description:
Description: Description: Description: Microsoft Real Estate
and Facilities">

The great thing about the absurd alt text is that that's what appears in the autopreview window and in the email notification pop-up.

BUILDING NOTICE: Buildings 8...
Description: Description: Description:
Description: Description: Description:...

But wait, it gets worse. The second image in the message (a giant circled-i icon indicating that this is an informational message) has as its alt text "Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image003.jpg@01CAFC55.BC923A80". Yeah, like that explains the image clearly.

Maybe they were just taking a lead from the boss.

No lesson today, just venting.

Comments (17)
  1. Ian G says:

    At previous employer all the e-mails I got from HR started with a slightly cryptic "Three people working together". Took a while to realise that it was the alt text for the meaningless headline image.

  2. John says:

    Anything that relies on people doing extra work is doomed to failure.

  3. Joshua Ganes says:

    I imagine that the person creating the email paid little attention to the alt-text for the image. They either used a default, or got it copy/paste from somewhere else. I wonder how they got so many "Description: " prefixes in a row.

  4. Joshua says:

    Ewww. At least set it to blank.

  5. ChrisV says:

    Raymond, it's not just Microsoft that does this. My IT department does the same thing.

  6. Guy Me says:

    So, what was it two years ago that made Chen want to vent?

  7. xpclient says:

    In IE you can choose to expand ALT text for images or not.

    But this is Outlook's autopreview window you are talking about right? I am still hoping one day it will bring back the IE engine.

  8. MR says:

    A while ago I had the misfortune of acquiring this inexplicable mail template that had our company logo cut into a dozen tiny little pieces and arranged in a nested table so they would form the whole logo… well at least until you attempted to save or even forward the mail and the fragile table layout broke.

  9. Jim says:

    No lesson today, just venting.

    Way to go Ray, just like other social media…

  10. cheong00 says:

    Suggestion: Filing a change request for Outlook to check whether the origional caption of image is already beginning with "Description: " before prepending the text…

    Oops: Office and Windows development divisions are effectively of different company now…

    Btw, FYI most of the MS Office products doesn't have report page on MS Connect, their support link is here: feedback.office.microsoft.com/default.aspx (I have lots of support requests submitted for them lately)

  11. @cheong00 says:

    There is also a feedback page for Windows: mymfe.microsoft.com/…/Feedback.aspx and Windows Live: feedback.live.com/default.aspx but it's just for lip service..just namesake. The feedback from there goes into the Recycle Bin. It's a nice way though to make believe the company is listening to feedback.

  12. Jeroen says:

    Coincidentally I received one of these e-mails from Microsoft yesterday (I didn't see it until now, because it landed in my spam folder). It tries to promote the 2012 World Wide Partner Conference by telling me that Deepak Chopra will be there. It's not working.

    The alt texts are very helpful too:

    Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: \dev104WebMicrosoftMSVSNewslettersWPC2012imagesspacer.gif<image.email.microsoftemail.com/…/ww3_image002.png>

  13. cheong00 says:

    The feedback from there goes into the Recycle Bin.

    Oh… ready? I got the link from Microsoft staff at MSDN VSTO forum. I'd be surprised to see them give me a link to recycle bin in the public.

  14. ender says:

    Speaking of reading e-mails as plain text, has anybody noticed that some Outlook e-mails always prepend the first word of the subject to the e-mail body?

  15. Neil says:

    Plain text is so last millennium. Flowed text is much more useful, as you don't have to worry about rewrapping it when you reply.

  16. Mark Steward says:

    There's an amusing discussion on the HTMLWG mailing list archives about this, where people argued that nobody would fill in the alts correctly:

     lists.w3.org/…/0451.html

    One of the justifications provided is "One never knows: after agreeing to not include an alt, the receiver may turn blind".

    But at least you can complain that the email isn't fully HTML5 compliant:

     html5.org/…/web-apps-tracker

  17. … Ads and other visual clutter in otherwise useful emails is the reason why I had to install AdBlock even in Thunderbird.

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