So I’ve been trying out both the free version and the Status version of MSGTAG. Here’s my thoughts on the subject.

Does it do what it sets out to do? Yes, when you download the program and enable tagging, there’s an HTML footer added to the end of your messages. In the free version it’s an image and a tag “The sender has been notified that you have read this email…” In the Status version you can modify it to say something else, or make it invisible to the email reader. Then, when the email is opened and the HTML is called from their server, they know the email has been read and they notify you. In the free version this is an email notification, in Status there’s a console that lists all of your sent messages and when they got picked up. It adds the HTML without your intervention, as when you install it, it changes the outgoing mail server on your email client to “localserver” so all of your outgoing email is processed by MSGTAG before going on to your real SMTP server. (You can’t send email without running the MSGTAG program because of this. You can, however, turn tagging off. But the program must be running for your email to go out.) So yes, it is a quick, easy way to add a tag to a message and find out if it was read without the need for a lot of techie knowledge.

Does it invade privacy? This is a tougher call. It doesn’t track where the email goes after it’s read the first time, it doesn’t track how long it was opened or how many times. It tells you one time that the email was opened. If you consider that a breach of privacy, so be it, but I think you’ll agree that it’s a small one at that.

That being said, I’m still not going to use it. Why? Because there are too many situations in which this won’t work. Not through fault of the design, necessarily, but through fault of the choice of “tagging” technology. HTML tags work great, if everyone you send email to uses an HTML-enabled email client. If they don’t, it doesn’t work. If someone you send mail to uses a service like Mail2Web to check their personal email while at work, a service that shows messages in text format by default, it won’t work. It doesn’t work with the Outlook 2003 beta I’ve been using, because that blocks external HTML. (I hear this is also true of Outlook 2002.) It doesn’t work with any text-based email client. It wouldn’t work if someone downloaded their email to Pocket Outlook and read it from there. In short, if you didn’t get the notification, you would never actually know whether the message hadn’t been read, or whether it had been read using a non-HTML client. Unless you absolutely know that all of the people you would want to “tag” messages to use an HTML enabled email client, I’m not sure that this is worth the trouble. If they do I guess it’s an easier way to “read receipt” messages, (and not give them the option to not send the receipt) but if they don’t, or you don’t know that they do, it’s probably not worth it.

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