“Please Note” – Message Annotation for your Email

December 19th, 2008

Have you ever wanted to add a note to an email for yourself or someone else?  The digital age has seen the paper-clipped note go the way of the dinosaur.  Today’s software programs may offer electronic notes and comments, but none specifically for email that is also shareable across programs.  Until now.   LuxSci has a feature in WebMail to add notes to messages that can be viewed by everyone and in most email programs. 

Except for Thunderbird and a few others, we are not aware of an email client that lets you make "notes" on email messages… and those that do are only visible in program that created them and not by anyone else looking at the message via IMAP or WebMail. We got to thinking of how useful a note would be that is part of the email message and viewable by anyone,  in any email program.  The LuxSci email note literally "sticks" with the message as it is forwarded to someone or copied/moved to another email folder.  Unfortunately, this kind of feature is almost impossible to find in any other email solution.  This is mostly because IMAP does not generally support annotation of email.  There is an experimental specification of email annotation for IMAP (RFC5257), but this is rarely implemented by servers and not implemented at all by mainstream mail programs. However, LuxSci has developed a WebMail interface that provides just this kind of universal email annotation feature (though not by using "IMAP annotate").

How does Email Annotation work in LuxSci WebMail?

When using LuxSci WebMail, you can select a message and choose "Message > Add Notes" from the menu, or press the hot key "Shift-N", or use an "Add Note" command from your custom tool bar. Any of these actions will pop-up a small annotation window, where you can enter notes of arbitrary length in plain text or HTML. When you press the "Submit Annotation" button, your note is permanently added to the message.

The added note is time, date and author stamped and appears as the first thing you see when viewing the email message.  Notes are always presented in chronological order, newest to oldest.  You can add any number of notes to a message. The notes are added by taking the original message and adding a new "part" to it at the beginning.  The updated message is then saved back to the email folder (with all email tags, received dates, and other things preserved to be the same as the original message) and the original message is deleted.  For all practical purposes, it looks like the original message was edited.

What are the advantages of LuxSci’s Email Annotation?

  • The notes are a part of the message and stored in the message on the server.
  • The notes are backed up as part of the normal email backup procedures.
  • The notes are visible to anyone viewing the message via POP, IMAP, or WebMail
  • The notes travel with the message if it is forwarded or copied/moved to another folder.
  • You can add any number of notes to a message.
  • There is tracking information in each note so it is obvious who added each note and when.
  • If multiple people are sharing the same email folder, then any of them can add notes to messages that other users with access to the folder can immediately see.
  • It is easy in LuxSci WebMail to identify messages that have notes vs. those that do not.

A Case Study of the Use of LuxSci Email Annotation

Many of LuxSci’s clients take advantage of email notes, email message tagging, and shared email folders in the following ways:

  • The company has an email address such as info@company.com that receives inbound requests of many sorts
  • Multiple people need to monitor the email at info@company.com due to (a) different people working on different shifts, and (b) different people having different skills or responsibilities with respect to customer support or sales

The company’s solution is to:

  • Share the INBOX of info@company.com with all of the responsible parties.
  • Permit each person to view mail from WebMail while logged in.
  • Manage incoming messages by having users (a) tag the message for the person to whom it is assigned, and (b) annotate the message with any pertinent details such as an initial phone conversation.
  • Permit some people to also access this shared email via IMAP from an email client like Thunderbird.  They can see the message tags and the annotations, respond to messages and adjust tags as in WebMail.  The only limitation is adding new annotations; that must be done in LuxSci WebMail.

What we offer is a well-organized collaborative effort by many employees to manage the inbound email of info@company.com.  Messages can be handed off and annotated,  with the added benefit of activity tracking without the need for an external message tracking system.  This also reduces overhead and redundancy which can add time and cost.