Subject lines in different languages

Do you send foreign-language campaigns? Have you seen a string of characters that starts off with “=?utf-8?Q?…” in your subject lines? Yes, here we go again with the email glitches: Hotmail doesn’t like some UTF-8 encoded characters in email headers. But strangely enough, these same subject and ‘From:’ lines look fine when the email is actually read:

Reading the email itself

For a while now, we’ve sent all email to Hotmail accounts using iso-8859-1 encoding, as this has helped our customers avoid most of Hotmail’s kooky encoding woes. Sadly, this hasn’t been enough to protect your email headers. The result is that some characters that fall outside of the US-ASCII character set triggers this unfriendly string of garbled text… And this will continue to be the case, until Hotmail decides to step up and offer solid UTF-8 support (like pretty much every other email client does).

The character sets we’ve seen this affect so far are Chinese, Greek, Japanese and Thai. Thankfully, most languages have been spared (see screenshot above).

As Windows Live Hotmail accounts for over 16% of email client market share, this glitch may to some be a mild annoyance and to others, infuriating. On the upside, the subject and ‘From:’ line are only affected when displayed in the inbox – once you open the email itself, the message displays fine.

Many thanks to Josie Khng, the Asian-language campaign sensation for letting us know about this. If you’re sending or planning to send campaigns with non US-ASCII characters, our earlier blog post on sending non-English language campaigns may also be of interest.

Finally, what oddities have you experienced when sending foreign-language email campaigns? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

  • Andrea Campi

    I haven’t investigated the issue in details, but note how the broken subjects don’t end with ?= , per RFC2047.
    Assuming the email is correct, this would lead me to believe Hotmail is improperly truncating subjects before decoding.
    Asian languages encoded in UTF8 are more susceptible to this kind of problems since they use more bytes.

    I suggest you try sending encoded subjects of different length to determine the limit.
    And of course Hotmail should fix this!

  • Sally Johnson

    It seems a good solution would be to use an email client like TrulyMail or Outlook which will handle the decoding properly. Since Hotmail offers free POP3 access, this should work well.

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