10% of your emails aren't from real people

Email can be a pretty painful experience. We all get a ton of emails; some of them are personal messages from real people, some are notifications sent by a service, some are newsletters. Some are important, others less so. Some are from people or companies you know well, some are ones you barely know.

What we're trying to do with Rapportive is to make email a better place. Part of that is to help you figure out what to do about a given email, and to help you do it. And a quick look at the feedback forum shows that our wonderful user community has plenty of ideas on how to make email better. This blog post is the story of one of those ideas.

One of the most popular ideas on the forum has been "Display an informative and helpful profile when companies email me". To give a bit of background: when you get an email, Rapportive tries to find the sender on various social networking sites, and gives you a summary of that person — their photo, location, job, recent tweets, LinkedIn profile; whatever they have chosen to make public.

However, that only works if the sender is an actual person.

We looked at our statistics, and saw that about 10% of profiles looked up by Rapportive users are for senders like noreply@example.com, support@company.com or notifications@someservice.com. (That's counting distinct sender addresses, not the number of times they looked up, which is probably even higher.) For these profiles, we simply had nothing to show — pretty lame. That had to change.

So we built a bit of cleverness into Rapportive: when we spot an email address which looks like one of the above, we grab a copy of the website of the company sending them. For example, if the email came from noreply@apple.com, our servers will go to www.apple.com, pick the parts which seem the most interesting, and put them in your sidebar in Gmail. Before and after this change:

It's not perfect — for example, the link to "iPhone" was picked up as "IPhone", with an uppercase "I" — but we think it's still pretty useful. For example:
  • When you get an error notification from a company, click the "Support" link in the Rapportive sidebar to go directly to that company's customer service.
  • When you get a message from a service you use, go directly to their blog to check if they have said anything about the upcoming feature you are waiting for. Or maybe they have some interesting upcoming events?
  • When you get a marketing mail from some random company and you can't remember signing up to their newsletter, check their website summary in the sidebar to decide whether it's interesting to you or whether you want to unsubscribe.

If you send emails using an address like noreply@yourcompany.com, check out the advice from Ben Chestnut at MailChimp — do you want a more personal or more corporate feel? If you want to edit the profile for an email address, Andy Gambles describes how. And if you don't like what Rapportive has done for your address, just drop us a note at support@rapportive.com and we'll change it for you.

By the way, if you're technically inclined, we even made some of the code behind this feature freely available. And if you're a talented code craftsman and these sound like interesting problems to work on… we're hiring :)

We've got lots more exciting features coming. Follow us on Twitter for updates!