The scourge of autosignatures

Have you ever wondered just how much valuable storage is occupied in email databases by totally useless autosignature content? You know, logos and other tasteful adornments to the bottom of email, repeated ad nausem on every message, internal and external, unregarded and unwanted by recipients.

Autosignatures serve a useful purpose when they are used correctly. I don’t have any real problem with simple text blocks containing the sender’s contact details. Things start to become a little hairier when people insist on including corporate logos or other graphic information to tell recipients just how wonderful the sender’s company really is. Or how much better their corporate logo is since the most recent (and expensive) redesign.

Things can be taken to the extreme, as in the case of the senior executive at Digital Equipment who insisted on including a digital snapshot of his most recently arrived child in his autosignature. Of course, senior executives tend to have larger brains than the norm and the thought of sharing his good fortune with all and sundry seemed a good one, until someone (bravely) pointed out that the 1 MB graphic was slowing email down.

That, of course, was in the world of the late 1990s when email flowed across less capable networks, but the point is that users can insert just about anything they care to in an autosignature and email will continue to work as long as the graphic isn’t extraordinarily large. Administrators have no idea of what users do in this respect unless they receive a graphically-intense missive from someone.

Looking through recent messages in my inbox I conclude that a large percentage of email is infected with graphic autosignatures. The latest fashion appears to include Twitter and Facebook links in an attempt to demonstrate that the company has mastered social media. In any case, it’s all too much and the average size of messages continues to grow.

The economic downside of this phenomena is the cost of storing all the duplicated graphic rubbish cluttering up user mailboxes. How much does it cost to provide the extra 10-15% of storage necessary to hold literally millions of corporate logos in email autosignatures? And to back them up, if that’s what you choose to do, or to have the additional database copies if you elect to invest in Exchange native data protection. Or even to move the blessed logos around from database to database in mailbox moves. Or, if you’ve decided to embrace the cloud, to migrate your logo collection from on-premises mailboxes to the cloud. Think of how much longer a migration takes to transfer all those graphics across the Internet. Not good.

But there is a better way. Exchange 2010, Exchange 2013, and Exchange Online support access to Active Directory information from transport rules. If you have a well-maintained Active Directory that holds information such as telephone numbers about users, you can build a transport rule to automatically apply a standardized, low-impact autosignature to outgoing messages. Even better, the same rule can check for the presence of an autosignature in a message thread and not add it again if the information is already present, thus avoiding the stupidity of multiple instances of “graphicitis” in a thread.

Here’s an example taken from my Exchange 2010 Inside Out book of a transport rule to apply a standard autosignature based on Active Directory data. (I didn’t cover this in my Exchange 2013 Inside Out book because that volume is focused on managing mailboxes and high availability; Paul Robichaux covers transport in Exchange 2013 Inside Out: Connectivity, Clients, and UM). However, the code works for Exchange 2010, Exchange 2013, and Exchange Online.

New-TransportRule -Name 'Company disclaimer' 
-Comments 'This transport rule applies the approved company disclaimer to every outgoing message' –Priority ‘0’ -Enabled $true -SentToScope 'NotInOrganization'
-ApplyHtmlDisclaimerLocation 'Append' -ApplyHtmlDisclaimerText
'<h4 style="font-family:verdana">Contoso Corporation</h4>
<p style="font-family:verdana; font-size:70%;color:green">
This message is the property of <b>Contoso Corporation.</b> If you receive this message in error, please delete it <u>immediately</u> and inform us at 827-1176 about its delivery.
<p style="font-family:Arial; font-size:80%; color:blue">
<i>%%FirstName%% %%LastName%%</i>
<p style="font-family:Arial; font-size:70%; color:red">
Phone: %%PhoneNumber%%
<p style="font-family:Arial; font-size:70%; color:red">
Email: %%Email%%' -ApplyHtmlDisclaimerFallbackAction 'Wrap'
-ExceptIfSubjectOrBodyContainsWords 'This message is the property of Contoso Corporation'

The rule only fires for messages sent outside the organization (the scope is set to ‘NotInOrganization’). It applies even if a user has their own autosignature as it would be terribly difficult to detect the many varied types of autosignature that might be inserted by a human. Feel free to customize it as you like. There are no prizes for being inventive, just satisfaction. Reply to this post with whatever you come up so that others share your innovation.

Other options such as incorporating a graphic file (if you must) or time-limiting a particular form of an autosignature are also possible. In fact, I bet there are lots of possibilities available with transport rules that you might not have considered. And if you don’t feel that you want to meddle with rule magic yourself, commercial products such as Exclaimer Signature Manager or Code Two’s Exchange Rules Pro are available.

Users like autosignatures because they can put what they want into their messages. It can be a struggle to move to an automated standardized version, but wouldn’t it be a good thing if doing so saved some disks as well as sparing our eyeballs from yet more corporate logos and other offending nonsense?

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna


About Tony Redmond

Lead author for the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook and writer about all aspects of the Office 365 ecosystem.
This entry was posted in Cloud, Email, Exchange, Exchange 2010, Exchange 2013, Office 365 and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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