Monday, 14 November 2011

The Email Kaleidoscope Nightmare

Being a bunch of web developers here at BrandFu, we like to think we know what the hell we're doing when it comes to making web applications; all of us have been at for some time now. And we've seen all the issues that crop up between the different browsers out there. Some stuff will work beautifully on Firefox and die a horrible death on Internet Explorer. We get a bug fixed for Chrome only to have Opera wilt under the change.

Funny thing is, we were not really all that well prepared for these same kinds of issues under email clients. Correction. Problems at a factor of 10 worse than we've experienced with browsers over the years. We quickly came to realise that not all email clients are created equal. Some don't even seem to come from the same planet.

Now you may be wondering what on earth this has to do with you, our end user. Why should you care as long as you can get a service that works? Well, there's the rub. A lot of our decisions when designing the BrandFu concept were based around the premise that email clients don't agree on how to do anything ever. This translated into us trying to find ways to protect you, the end user, from doing things that could potentially turn your email into a Brand Nightmare instead of a Brand Moment.

Our very first Proof-of-Concept iteration of BrandFu was built around providing the user a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor. Kinda the same way you can quickly slap together a pretty document in Word. This idea immediately hit upon some pretty major roadblocks.

Firstly, a WYSIWYG editor embedded in a web page generates really great HTML (the code that is used in web pages and emails for all the formatting, colours, etc) ... but for web pages. Email clients are another matter. Because of the rather crappy way email clients don't do things the same way, the code the WYSIWYG editor produced was, well, pretty dreadful for those email clients. Very early on, we realised that allowing a user to do that kind of editing was just asking for problems.

Which was when we came up with the idea of transitioning to a template based email signature system. Why was this great? Well we, the experienced and masochistic BrandFu team, would take care of all the issues surrounding a great signature by building the code around the signature layout ourselves. All a user would need to do was tweak a few settings here and there to customise it to their liking.

This meant we were now finally able to provide people with signatures that would always display properly in pretty much any email client still in use today but provide you guys with enough flexibility to make it your own.

The problems with email clients don't end there. BrandFu has the ability, when adding your signature to your outgoing email, to detect if there are any quoted replies and insert the signature under your response, but above the others person reply.

Why is this a big deal? Well, its another example of how every email client does things differently. We need to try and find the spot in the email where your response ends and the quoted reply begins. Outlook does it one way, Thunderbird another, and Gmail still another way as well.

I already have a wall of text and could continue for pages longer on how this inconsistency between email clients affects BrandFu. Suffice it to say, that we work incredibly hard to make sure, no matter how you send email, you can trust in the fact that your branding gets popped in in just the right place everytime.

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