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Just say no (receipt)

May 24, 20044 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMessaging Apps

For those of us who do business by e-mail – which is most of us – e-mail is an addiction, it has a drug-like quality that keeps you coming back for more – one hit a day is never enough.

Every now and then I swear I will just check my mail only a couple of times each day. Then I switch off the sound I use to tell me new messages have come so that the lure of “incoming” is minimized.

It never works. In next to no time my compulsive checking habit cuts in and I am back to looking in my in-box three or four times per day.In next to no time I’m switching on the “you’ve got mail” sound. Then I’m back to handling my messages in real time.

This mania to keep up with e-mail is something most of us geeky types have in common, and along with this compulsion often comes the overwhelming desire to know that our messages really get to their destinations. Some people send you a message only to chase it with a follow-up message 10 minutes later and then a telephone call one hour after that to check that their first message arrived. Ugh.

And then there are the people who select that their messages should have “receipt request” and “read request” enabled.

My e-mail client is set up to always ask me if a receipt should be returned and, on principle, I always deny it.

My reasoning is thus: If you request a receipt and I have a relationship of some kind with you, I will honor the request unless I deem a receipt unnecessary (for example, you sent me a joke) or if I’m feeling grumpy (not unusual).

But if I don’t have a relationship with you then it’s a crap shoot: snake eyes, no receipt ever; pair of sixes, a receipt; anything else, good luck.

What if your message doesn’t get to me because it gets trashed en route? Well, if you do not get a notification from a mail server that handled the transaction, tough luck: It is not my responsibility to make the Internet reliable for your use – unless you are willing to pay me to do so. And if the message should get swallowed by an anti-spam filter, well, that’s just life – try resending with something less spam-like.

Now this desire to have receipts and reads confirmed has gained a new angle with a system called DidTheyReadIt, which you can find, you guessed it, at In effect this system equips e-mail so that you can find out when the recipient opened the message (or more accurately, when the recipient rendered HTML content) along with a number of other bits of data about the person, their browser and their approximate location.


What do you think of auto-receipt systems? Jump in.

But my question is: Do you really need this level of confirmation or amount of detail? How many messages do you send and receive that are really critical? Face it, if there is a real need for confirmed delivery, you would be crazy not to use the phone!

Plus, there’s the issue of privacy.

Do you really want every message received by you to provide the sender with any greater level of knowledge about you than they absolutely need to have?

Nope, the amount of information that we already give away – much of it unwittingly – is usually far more than is a good idea. Anything that increases the exposure of our information and makes e-mail less compelling for the business world is not a good idea. So when that read receipt request pops up, just say no. As for DidTheyReadIt, see Gearhead next week.

Give nothing away to

(If you’re going to be at the Inbox Conference in San Jose next week come and join in sessions S7 and S8 on June 2, which I will be moderating.)


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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