Recently, the Greasemonkey script for enabling HTML signatures in Gmail was updated for Firefox, and created quite a stir here at Newfangled. At one point, I was working on trying to fit just about the entire internet into my 'sig' but eventually settled for one that is roughly the size of one of those ice cream sandwiches we used to get from the school cafeteria when we were kids... Now I don't know what to do! Seriously, though, this script has opened up a bit of a controversy which can be summed up in one statement: "Is there such a thing as email etiquette?"
I do think that email etiquette exists- the only problem is that nobody seems to agree on what the tenets of this code of conduct should be. While there are some concepts that most people seem to be in agreement about (I've listed them below), signatures seem to be the subject of contentious debate.
According to the Technology Evangelist, heavily formatted email signatures are a no-go. He writes,
"When you send an email, you are in effect storing information on the recipient's computer. Do you really think they're interested in using their hard drive to store your colorful email signature? Tip: Just tell them who you are. Name and contact information in plain text does the trick. Anything beyond that is wasteful."
Mitch Wagner from Information Week agrees in general. He writes:
"The primary purpose of an e-mail sig is to let people know who you are and how to contact you. If you're really, really important, your e-mail recipients had better already know that...The longer your e-mail signature, the lower down the food chain you are..."
Wagner goes on to make some other humorous observations about sign-off style, as well, and the comments thread is pretty thick with conversation and many opinions on the topic (they're all over the map).
So, is there a rule on email 'sigs' or not? I like that Wagner sees some gray area here. I don't necessarily agree that the bigger your sig, the less important you are (he also makes this connection later when he remembers a colleague of his that actually has a pretty grande sig), but I do agree that longer and more detailed sigs will be more appropriate in some roles and industries than in others. He does mention marketing (see this guy as an example) as one of those industries, so I guess we're safe if we want to go sig-nuts...
Other Email Etiquette
1. Don't abuse the subject line. Forms of abuse include: Composing your entire email in the subject line, Typing your subject in all caps for dramatic effect, and Utilizing words like 'hot,' 'urgent,' 'emergency' when they are not warranted. Note: This includes any other derivation of 'hot,' like 'on fire' or 'caliente!' and/or combining unjustified words like these with the all-caps abuse (i.e. 'HOT!').
2. Reply All Issues. Allowing for many to participate in an email string can be helpful, but can also be annoying. If your reply doesn't need to be heard by all, then don't reply to all. If the conversation digresses from the original subject, start a new email.
3. Spelling. Spell check your emails. Note: 'cuz' is not a word. '2' is a number, not to be confused with the words 'to' or 'too.' Similar confusion exists for the number '4.'
4. What ever you decide with sigs, if you have a long string going, be sure to not include the sig with every reply you send out.
What are your thoughts on email etiquette? Did I miss anything crucial?
Update: 02/27/08: Boxes and Arrows just published a great article that touches on just about every point I made above, but in much more detail. You can read it here.