Email can be a blessing and a curse. For those of us who get a lot of messages every day, it’s often the latter, as keeping up with the constant stream of things that need our attention can be hard. There are lots of systems for managing your inbox, but what if you could easily let people know how full your inbox is and maybe keep them from sending you that unnecessary message when you’re already busy? Smoke Signal does exactly that. Thanks to a smart hack, the service automatically updates your email signature in other peoples’ inboxes throughout the day and lets them know whether your inbox is pleasant, tolerable or unbearable.
Typically, adding this kind of information to an email and having it update automatically throughout the day isn’t really possible, as virtually all email providers don’t allow dynamic content in emails (Microsoft has been working on this problem with a few select partners lately, though).
What Smoke Signal does to get around is, is to append an image to your email signature that reflects the current status of your inbox. You simply add an image with a URL the service gives you to your signature and Smoke Signal will automatically pick the right image to display every time somebody opens your email, no matter which email client they use.
The status message that’s added to your email signature depends on how many unread emails you have in your inbox (0-10: pleasant; 11-19: tolerable; 20+: unbearable).
Smoke Signal is similar to Courteous.ly, a service we looked at a while back. Courteous.ly, however, doesn’t automatically update your signature and instead asks those who want to email you to click on a link instead. Unlike Smoke Signal, though, Courteou.ly features some smarter algorithms to figure out what your regular email load is and adapts its message accordingly.
Whether you want to use this service, of course, is another question. Some people may prefer to keep their inbox status private. Others will feel queasy about giving a startup access to their inbox and others will simply doubt the value of this service (at least, that’s the reactions the folks over at Hacker News have exhibited so far).
For the team behind Smoke Signal, this is just a first test of a bigger idea. The team wants to figure out how to combine email and the idea of availability in smarter ways.