The modernization of (e-)mail

Israeli start-up WiseStamp has built an application that lets you add a signature to your online e-mail.

Pity the poor e-mail; in the past two decades, as the Internet has honed itself into the new repository of human wisdom (with, McDonald's style, "billions and billions of Web sites served"), as well as the premier communications channel for a new generation (Facebook, Twitter and all the rest), e-mail is still - just e-mail!
Of course, that's not to say there haven't been any changes; nowadays you can load up your messages with doodads, gewgaws and chupchiks, like little smiley faces, laughing yuksters and beating hearts (for the romantically inclined). There are applications that let you choose stationery for your message. And, of course, there's the e-mail storage revolution engineered by Google, whose Gmail service gives you gigs and gigs of storage space, allowing you to search your message history in an instant, and obviating the need to ever click on the delete button.
But those are just appurtenances - extras that just gussy up what is essentially a last-century technology. Which is probably why the communications connoisseurs have moved on to other communication methods, which can boast the cool apps that let you digitally connect the pieces of your life - like Twitter does, by streaming your consciousness to the whole world in 140 characters (are any more really necessary?), complete with links to the Web pages you think the hundreds or thousands of your followers ought to read. That's a lot better than e-mail, which shoots off a single message to a single person - and nothing else.
But don't count e-mail out just yet; the folks at Israeli start-up WiseStamp have found a way to propel e-mail into the modern communication world - by building an application that lets you add a signature to your online e-mail!
Of course, signatures have been a staple of e-mail messages for a long time. But WiseStamp's signatures are different, says Tzvika (Josh) Avnery, CEO and CMO of WiseStamp. "Our application brings the web into the inbox," he says. "You can share streaming information directly with people you communicate with, thereby promoting your ideas, your blogs or your online presence."
That's because the signatures you create with WiseStamp allow you to stream your blog posts, Twitter or Facebook messages, music, video or just about any other online activity you're involved with, directly in your Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and other Web-mail accounts. For the first time, Avnery says, "you can use e-mail to direct the people you communicate with to the elements of your online presence, thus promoting your blog, Web page, etc."
WiseStamp is free and easy to install; just surf to and install it as a Firefox or Thunderbird add-on (other browsers, including Chrome, will be supported in the near future, and the company is working on a version for e-mail clients, like Outlook Express). Once installed, you'll be able to open the WiseStamp preferences in the Firefox add-on menu selection; here you can add your basic information, like contact numbers, Web site links, etc.
But the interesting part of WiseStamp is those three tabs in the middle - Social, IM and RSS - where you can feed your social-network messages (Twitter, Facebook), instant-messaging posts (AIM, ICQ) or free-form RSS (like Feedburner blog feed titles and links) as part of your signature.
With nearly 50 services supported, anyone who uses the Web nowadays has the opportunity to expand their online presence through an until-now inert channel, Avnery says, adding: "We get many messages from users who tell us that WiseStamp has enhanced their communications abilities significantly by introducing a whole new audience to their blog, their eBay product page or cause."
For example, Avnery says, Orly Yitzhaki, WiseStamp's product VP, recently posted links to a "Free Gilad Schalit" page in her signature, and many users responded, saying they, too, were inspired to include similar links in their signatures. (The other partners who run WiseStamp along with Avenery and Yitzhaki are Sasha Gimelstein, VP of technology; and Tom Piamenta, VP of business development).
And not only do you get an html signature with streaming capabilities when you install WiseStamp, Avnery says, you get two! "We provide users with the ability to author a business and personal signature, since what works for personal messages may not work for business-oriented messages, and vice versa," he says.
And while two identities would seem like more than enough, the company is preparing to expand that feature, as well as simplify the whole system.
"I want this to be as easy for my mother as it is for a seasoned blogger," Avnery says. "In the future, we plan to offer a gallery with streams of data - news articles, blog posts, etc. - based on user interests, which users will be able to add to their messages with a couple of clicks."
WiseStamp is planning these, and other changes, not just because they like developing new stuff, but because the users are interested in them.
"We are moving in on 400,000 users now, thanks to the fact that we got recommended as a Firefox add-on," Avnery says, as the company, which was self-funded until now, is actively seeking to add investors. "We appreciate our users and we realize they are the reason we're here at all. So, we make it our business to pay attention to their needs."
Which could be one reason why WiseStamp just recently won a "Webby," the Mashable Open Web Award, where it was voted Best Social Media Gadget of 2009, winning over several other venerable applications and services.
But they won not for lack of trying to lose, Avnery says. "We, of course, used our product to promote ourselves in e-mail, urging people we sent messages to to vote for us for the Webby Award," he says. "But to be fair, we also told our competitors in the contest that we would help them set up a signature urging people to vote for them. For some reason, they didn't take us up on our offer, which, I guess, worked out for us!"