[linux-elitists] Best way to do machine-human mail conversation?

Ben Finney ben@benfinney.id.au
Tue Feb 10 00:23:52 PST 2004

On 10-Feb-2004, Joakim Ziegler wrote:
> When someone uses the web interface to send an answer and close the
> ticket, a mail is sent to the email address provided, and the From: is
> set to the email address corresponding to the category, so if the
> client responds to the mail, it enters as a new ticket with the same
> category.

This is unexpected, from this user's point of view; see below.

> However, people aren't happy with this, they want the new ticket to be
> assigned not just to the same category/group as the old one, but also
> to the same user in the system.

If I get an email in response to creation of a problem ticket, and it
specifically references the ticket I generated, then I would expect
replies to that email to be associated with *the same ticket*.

Not just the same "category", not just the same person, but to become
part of the record for the ticket that generated the email thread to
begin with.

> 1) Use a ticket number in the subject, and parse the subject coming
> back. This seems pretty common, but it makes the subject a bit ugly,
> in my opinion.

Guidelines to doing this:

  - Use square brackets, at the start of the Subject header.  This has
    become a well-recognised "meta-topic" marker for a message, and is
    common among most ticket-tracking email interfaces I've interacted

  - Use # to precede the ticket ID.

  - Have a few letters -- possibly keyed to the "category" you referred
    to -- that will help weed out false positives when matching the

Thus, a good Subject header on the email that confirms creation of a
ticket might be:

    Subject: [#sales106593] Your problem ticket has been recorded

Possibly better, for purposes of ongoing email dialogue, might be to
have the "Your..." text be the summary of the problem ticket; but that
might confuse newbies to the system.

> 2) Use exim-style (or whatever you call them) aliases to the category
> email address as the from, so I can append the ticket number, like
> sales-3245@, which will enter into the sales category, as a followup
> to ticket 3245.

More complex, and puts the (functional) ticket ID in an unexpected
place; most users will expect the Subject line, if anything, to be the
one that determines "what the message is about".  PResumably you'll be
referring to the ticket ID in the Subject header anyway.

This could lead to the very confusing situation where the user wants to
refer to another ticket, so changes the Subject header; but the message
goes to the existing ticket ID.  Hilarity ensues.

> 3) Use some sort of header that will be preserved in the response in
> common mailers. This is arguably the most elegant, but does such a
> beast exist?

Not to my knowledge.  The only one that behaves this way semi-reliably
(ha ha Outlook) is Message-ID being used to generate In-Reply-To.
That's not really the idea you're talking about here though.

 \     "If you ever catch on fire, try to avoid seeing yourself in the |
  `\        mirror, because I bet that's what REALLY throws you into a |
_o__)                                          panic."  -- Jack Handey |
Ben Finney <ben@benfinney.id.au>
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