August 30, 2008

I just *love* return receipts!

I serve as a Lotus Notes administrator in my day job. I've been an end user of Notes since R3 in the mid 90s. I've been a Notes administrator since R4 and an amateur application developer since R5. Presently, We're at R7 and R8 is on the horizon. In my office environment, Notes is the backbone of many corporate applications -- workflow tools, enterprise messaging, and of course good old email. Notes, like all email applications, has the capability to include a return receipt in any sent message. In essence, you are requesting to be notified when the recipient of your message has opened it up. And that's why I hate it.

As a concept, it's perfectly valid. If you have critical information that needs to be shared, and you have a dependency upon others completing an action, then a return receipt request on your email is a way to ensure that your colleagues are staying on point.

But a return receipt has absolutely no guarantee that the recipient has actually read the email, only that they have opened it up! So when the notification comes back to you indicating that your email has been opened, the only assumption you can draw is just that - it's been opened. I've been burned at work before by colleagues who interpret a return receipt with 'action completed.'

So what do I do? I make sure they never get their return receipts! First I determine if they have even requested a return receipt. Notes uses the field ReturnReceipt on documents; if its value is 1 (true), then a return receipt has been requested. I modified my inbox to show any incoming messages with ReturnReceipt = 1 to display with a flag. Once I see those, I then run a simple agent against those messages that sets the ReturnReceipt field to 0 (false). Problem solved! I can open the message -- even read it -- and the sender is none the wiser.

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