I’ve always been fascinated at the concept of being able to leverage all of the data at your disposal to your advantage in everyday situations. When we send email, it’s not entirely apparent to most people but we have the ability to incorporate certain content in our messages that enable us to know when these messages are being opened and/or viewed.
Is this creepy? Probably. Does it make for a cool weekend development project? Absolutely!
I started tinkering with this concept and within a couple hours had a fully functional email tracking system that leverages geocoding data to not only tell me when my email message was read, but where it was opened. Kind of a novelty but I thought I’d run with it and before long I had developed the back-end and my first Chrome Extension to facilitate easier integration with Google’s gmail service.
Email tracking works by embedding an image – most often a tiny invisible or transparent image inside the text or body of your email message. More accurately, an image tag is embedded. This image tag refers to an image stored on a server somewhere. When an email message with this tag is opened, a request from the email reader is made to the server where the image is stored. This request carries with it a lot of details – such as the reader’s IP Address, the email program they are using, etc.
When the request is made to view that image, email tracking systems record all of these details and even send an alert to the sender of the message.
So how does the tiny or invisible image get into your email message? Some email tracking systems would have you create the image on their web site and drag/drop it into your message. This got me thinking… what if I could leverage a browser extension that could do this for a user?
That’s when I started tinkering with Chrome Extension development and before long I had whipped up a nifty tool that inserts a checkbox into the Gmail email message compose window to let users automatically insert a tracking image that communicates with my backend server.
The concept is relatively simple but provides some cool functionality. Imagine being able to get an alert when someone reads your email? Included as part of the alert is a Google Mail of the location where the message was opened from… pretty cool!?
Here’s what the alerts look like:
When you register on ReadFlag.com you can login and view a dashboard which contains all of the details about the messages you send. It also contains a google map with a flag pinned at the location wherever an email you’ve sent has been opened.
Head on over to http://www.readflag.com and sign up!
Download the Chrome Extension Here.
Visit the ReadFlag.com Web site and Sign Up for the BETA… but warning – not all the kinks have been worked out so you’ll essentially be doing my quality assurance testing.