Signatures in Email

Last week I was blitzed by being cc’d on a lot of email signature related bugs. 🙂  To remain calm and keep delusions of control active I started on a wiki page for Message Signatures in Thunderbird.  Right now the page contains lots of links to relevant areas and ascii art mockups for choosing a default signature for accounts; it’s meant to collect thoughts, research, and define direction.

Managing Signatures

I think a general improvement plan will involve simplifying the signature selection and creation process.  Here are a number of points that I think can improve the current aspects of signature management.

  • Each account is created a default signature (from the person’s name and organization)
  • Every signature can be edited with a built-in signature editor (created from the compose window)
  • Signatures can be imported from files, but are saved in the Thunderbird profile or preferences (see bug 324495)
  • A separate dialog is used for managing all signatures, with import, add, edit, remove actions as well as a link to see the signature extensions available from AMO.

Concept Mockup of Signature Chooser in Account Settings

Using Signatures

In the relevant extensions section of the wiki page I tried to list most of the extensions that are dealing with how to use signatures in the compose window.  There are a number of ways of solving this problem and lots of issues surrounding posting style that I am hesitant to battle with.

Several bugs (see bug 219197, bug 73567, and bug 37644) have suggestions that attack the problem from different angles.  New comments and suggestions are welcome!

ASCII Art Side Note

I think I’ve started to use Johan’s ASCII Art Mockup post as a reference for my own ascii art; it’s good to see some style written down somewhere.


12 thoughts on “Signatures in Email

  1. Please, please fix bug 54570, which means getting rid of (or at least give user the option of eliminating) the “– ” delimiter.

    It causes incompatibilities with many things, including mailing lists, and as I say in a comment:

    > Given that there is a *very* widespread convention

    This simply isn’t true. Of the population of mail users, how many use this style of sig? Of the population of mail clients, how many support it? Almost none.

    Outlook, OE, Hotmail, Yahoo, gMail, AOL, and Lotus all do not implement it — or at least, I’ve never received an e-mail from one one of those apps that includes it. Other mail applications, like lists, don’t support it. That’s probably 95% of mail users.

    On my computer and all those my company supports, I never see it unless we configured TB to use it — and then we’re usually asked to remove it by puzzled users.

    The convention, to the degree there was one, is dead and buried.


  2. While it’s not used 100% for signatures, I rely heavily on the excellent Signature extension:

    Sure, its icons are dismal…but the ability to put canned text into a message quickly is invaluable. On that note, the ‘template’ feature of Tb2 seems quite useless to me, as I most frequently need to use common messages in *replies,* not new messages.

    I imagine it would take a lot of work to turn the signature into some form of ‘smart text,’ whereby you could right-click it and pick another .sig or eliminate it, but that would be the nicest approach. For now, I simply press Ctrl-Shift-End, [Delete], and either leave it empty, or pick something else with Signature [above]. (I’m really kicking myself now that I followed the above link…I didn’t know I could hit Alt-/ to access it – I’ve been hitting Shift-F10 to get the context menu.)

  3. I think smart tags (like in MS office) would provide a good way for changing between different signatures.

  4. Pegasus Mail used a nice pulldown menu along the compose window button bar that let you select what signature to use. You could create a whole bunch of signatures (and assign specific ones as the default for specific accounts), and if you needed to change it, you just selected it from the pulldown menu when needed. In the TB compose window, that would fit perfectly next to the other toolbar buttons.

  5. Kohei Yoshino, who works for Mozilla in the Tokyo office, has a T-bird signature extension that he uses but has stopped distributing on the web. If you’d like to take a look at it, please email me.

  6. Everything else seems great to me, but I don’t like this one:

    “A separate dialog is used for managing all signatures, with import, add, edit, remove actions as well as a link to see the signature extensions available from AMO.”

    Please don’t introduce more levels of complexity to the preferences, remove complexity instead.

  7. John: What you’re talking about seems to be the common use case for a lot of people. Signature and Quicktext are good examples of how this is being solved, but I think we can do a bit better specifically for the signature case.

    Martin: They look pretty nice, I’d like to see something like that tried. It should be simple to add at least for signature editing / removal.

    Hanspeter: I think that’s the kind of direction we’re going to head. It’s simple yet useful and then I hope extension authors can take over from there.

    Jesper: I thought about adding a separate sub-page under each account for signatures but I’m not sure that’s much better. How are you thinking of getting this done without the complexity of another dialog?

  8. I am glad to see the weakest aspect of Account Settings being addressed. For simple text Sigs, the proposed default is a good start.
    I would add two text fields into the Accounts dialog in the blank space. Labeled Sig name and a 4 line space for input. Put buttons under the text box for Create text Sig, Create HTML Sig, and Save Text Sig.

    Use the default as a sample to populate the text box.

    However, this would not do for a HTML Sig. There the Compose Window with it’s HTML tools is smart, as You have outlined. The creat HTML Sig button would open the compose window as the editor. Would need a new file menu item of Save As Sig … which can be coded to save to the default Sigs folder in a profile. That save action could then close the window and return back to the accounts dialog for added settings work.

  9. Hi,
    signature management and signature creation inside Thunderbird is one of the big things that people are missing when switching to Tb. (I know that because I roll out Tb to the employees in my company. 😉 Is there some progress for Tb3? The wiki page is a little bit old (may 2008).

    p.s. I like the proposals for visual and technical enhancements of Tb in your blog and I hope that they will accepted and finished for Tb3.

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