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Can’t Scroll a Message in Mail? Here’s One Reason Why

The report from J.C. Stauttener was unusual. He had received the Dutch translation of TidBITS in email every week for years, but in the last few months, when he opened one, he wouldn’t be able to scroll in the issue. His workaround was to reply to the message, at which point he could scroll through the quoted text with no problem. The problem started in macOS 10.15 Catalina, he said, but it persisted through a clean install of macOS 11 Big Sur. Nor did the problem afflict any other messages—just TidBITS in Dutch.

I was, frankly, befuddled. None of my basic troubleshooting suggestions (testing in the preview pane versus a standalone window, trying a different user account or Mac, etc.) made any difference. While J.C. and I were going back and forth, our estimable Dutch translation team was investigating the problem as well. In short order, they figured it out.

We frequently embed YouTube videos and Google Forms-based surveys in articles on our Web site. It’s a superior user experience—rather than having to click a link and be sent off to YouTube or Google Forms, you can just watch the video or respond to the survey inline. However, email marketing company Mailchimp recommends against including embedded video and content that uses the IFRAME tag in email messages because most email clients either don’t support the necessary HTML tags or explicitly block them for security reasons (IFRAMEs often contain scripts that could potentially be malicious). As such, our custom WordPress-based system automatically strips embedded videos and IFRAMEs before sending an article in email or building an email issue. We always provide a backup text link for those receiving it in email.

I had failed to mention this technical quirk to our translators, who have always created their own processes for translating articles and assembling them into an issue. Since they start their translation from the Web version of each article, they were getting the embedded videos and IFRAMEs in their source material. The Japanese translation team had independently discovered the problem and stripped any IFRAMEs from their issues, but the Dutch team, unaware of the concern, left them in. We use IFRAMEs only infrequently, but because we were running surveys alongside Jeff Porten’s CES 2021 articles, they popped up in quite a few issues so far this year.

Therein lies the rub. Although Mailchimp says that Mail is the only major email client to support the HTML5 embedded media tags, it apparently cannot handle IFRAME content—or at least the IFRAMEs containing Google Forms that we were creating—or even fail gracefully. That’s a bug, and I’ve reported it. I don’t anticipate Apple devoting much attention to it, though, given how few people would accidentally include an IFRAME in email at this point in time.

Nevertheless, if you ever find yourself unable to scroll a message in Mail, the reason is likely due to an embedded IFRAME in the source. The workaround is to reply to the message and read the quoted text, and you will gain tech karma points for alerting the sender to the problem with a link to this article.

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Comments About Can’t Scroll a Message in Mail? Here’s One Reason Why

Notable Replies

  1. Interesting. I had this problem with my daily e-mail from The Economist. It went away after I upgraded from Catalina to Big Sur although I cannot prove that the upgrade made the difference. This may be the only benefit I derived from the move to Big Sur!

  2. Same here, with the Toronto Globe & Mail daily news summaries – usually.

    I’m on Catalina. Maybe it’s time for Big Sur.

  3. Gentlepeople: I believe that you are looking at the trees instead of the forest. I have been experiencing this page freeze intermittently on websites ever since Big Sur 11.1 was release a few months ago.

    This is totally unrelated to any mailing lists or single emails.

    Part of the time, I will also get a Safari message to the effect that the page is using lots of memory and leaving the page would improve performance. This is ridiculous as Safari usually is the only running application at the time in 24 GB RAM. Closing the offending page and then returning to it via clicking on its URL solves the problem 100% of the time so far.

  4. I want to know what expletive decided that HTML in email was a good idea in the first place!

    See also the recent discussion on tracker pixels and providing more control on which external images get displayed in a message.

    Me, I’d be happy with going back to text emails.

  5. My problem with the Economist as well on Catalina
    One solution seems to be to scroll up a little then ou can scroll down as long as you don’t stop for too long. You can stop for a bit. Otherwise you have to repeat

  6. Am I correct that unchecking “Load remote content in messages” (In Preferences… > Viewing) prevents the tracking ability? (It makes many commercial emails that I might otherwise read almost meaningless, but I don’t think I’m missing much.)

  7. Yes, but that’s an “all or nothing” situation. Either you load NO external images or you load ALL external images. I think the need here is for more control, maybe “click to load this image.”

    That being said, I personally despise HTML formatting, let alone JavaScript, in email, and would strongly support going back to straight text, or a much simpler mark-up (like “Markdown”, something that is limited to just typographic styles.)

  8. I believe that clicking in the space reserved for an unloaded image will load that image. If I’m correct, then that level of control is provided. Of course, I don’t get to know if I really want to see that image until it’s too late to back out.

    Agreed, but it seems we are in the minority. I believe that most senders of obnoxious email with HTML formatting or JavaScript would rather lose my business than lose the perceived benefit of using HTML formatting or JavaScript. (A message from an acquaintance who included HTML formatting doesn’t rise to the level of obnoxious, although it is still unfortunate.)

  9. In Mac Mail, if you have the “load remote content” setting off, there is a control at the top of a mail message with remote content that allows content for that message, so you can load content if you trust the sender.

    Also, hat tip to John Gruber for this one, there is a free mail plugin that blocks tracking pixels.

    I have it installed and it seems to be working well.

  10. I am experiencing this with newsletters from the Economist. It was so annoying that I actually changed email client. Now trying out the MailTrackerBlocker plugin.

  11. Something that’s ambiguous in the article, but true in my experience is that when you say “can’t scroll” you mean “can’t scroll using the scroll wheel on the mouse.” This means that your ability to scroll will be dependent on the location of your mouse pointer, so a simpler workaround when this happens is to either use the scrollbars manually (like a caveman) or hover your mouse over the scroll bars to use them.

  12. In this case, I don’t know exactly what J.C. was experiencing in terms of how he was attempting to scroll. Given how long he was having the problem, I suspect he would have tried the scroll bars.

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