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Saturday, February 21, 2015

The "Contact Me" Form, And EMail Delivery

Some blog owners install an email based "Contact Me" form on their blogs - then worry if the contact attempts are getting to them, when sent by their readers.

Occasionally, blog readers may wonder if their contact forms, which they submit, are actually being read. In both cases, besides the chance that the messages are not being read because of a full email Inbox, there is the chance that the messages just are not getting to the email Inboxes.

The Blogger supplied "Contact" form uses email for contact delivery - and this is where many contact delivery problems start. Whether you are a blog owner, or reader, these are issues which involve you.

Email Filtering
Contact Form email, like all other email, is subject to email filtering.

The best known filtering involves our email clients, which examine the content of incoming email, and route what looks like spam into a "Bulk" or "Spam" folder. GMail uses a 3 level (or possibly more, depending upon how we set it up) delivery sequence.
  1. "Important" / "Personal", for email obviously intended for the recepient.
  2. "Inbox", for group email.
  3. "Bulk" / "Spam", for malicious and spam email.

Recently, I've been discussing a different email "filter" - "Spoofed" email. Spoofed email filters differ from spam filters.
  • Spam filters examine email body content; spoof filters examine email header content.
  • Spam filters route spam email into the "Bulk" / "Spam" folder of the intended recipient; spoof filters bounce spoof email back to the sender.
  • Spam filters generally can be trained; spoof filters generally cannot be trained.

Profile Settings
Besides the different filter possibilities, "Contact Me" forms are subject to another source of confusion - which email addresses are used, for delivery, and for return contact? Both the delivery address (the blog owner), and the return address (the blog reader) are not completely understood - and both are subject to secrecy decisions, and mistakes.
  • The blog reader has 3 possible email adresses.
    • Blogger account name ("Username").
    • Blogger account backup email address ("Email address").
    • Email address on the form.
  • The blog owner has only 2 possible email addresses.
    • Blogger account name ("Username").
    • Blogger account backup email address ("Email address").

Both the "Username" and "Email address" Blogger profile entries provide email addresses that are used (and confused) for address change, login, password reset, and other activity. People who use Google or Google+ profiles have these values also - possibly without realising this.

Since the "Contact" form is designed for all Blogger blog readers, including those with no Blogger account, the senders address, as entered on the form, must be used for return email. The form has a weakness, though - no reliable email address validation.

The Contact Form
Look at the "Email" box in my sample "Contact Me" form, in the sidebar of my recipe blog. Outside of rejecting a blank "Email", and checking the format, how is the return address validated?
A valid email address is required.
It's possible that some Blogger account owners, making a Contact entry, deliberately enter a bogus email address, hoping that their accounts provide the contact address.

The Blogger supplied "Contact" form has another weakness - lack of options. With comments, one can provide multiple email addresses, for both comment moderation, and notification, in the blog dashboard.

Ignoring contact form moderation, it would be useful to have contact form entries sent to designated, multiple, addresses. The Contact form has no email options. Where do team blog contact form emails get sent?

Address Confusion
Both the blog owner and reader may have profile related email addresses, both subject to confusion and omission. The "Username" provides one email address (when not obfuscated because of confusion, or for secrecy), and the "Email address" (when not omitted because of carelessness) provides another. The two won't always be the same.

The owner of a successfully anonymised Blogger account may not be able to use the Contact form, on her / his blog, with any success.

Besides having an unsuitable Blogger account, we have one more case where an unavailable Blogger account, involving overly restrictive cookie / script filters, may be a problem. A blog reader may never be properly identified, even if he / she is using a Blogger account.

All of these issues considered together, it's possible that using a Google Docs spreadsheet driven contact form may be a better choice, for some blog owners.

Dude, hit me with a comment!