Radu Luchian(ov): Pastime: Commentary
Form Letters

Let's start in style: I can't stand form letters!!!!

Now that I let off some steam, you may have noticed this bit of Commentary was prompted by me receiving one of those. And it was from a secretary of a Cognitive Engineering postdoc program I was applying to. Obviously, as it happens most of the time with these monsters of the information age, the form letter was telling me to do what I had already done in the application I had sent.

When I get one of those, I have to calm down and remember that I used to like them back in my BA program, when I was teaching other students how to use the newly included feature in Microsoft Word 2.0 to generate form letters from a template and a small ad-hoc database. So after some small-time unix magic, I had applied the concept even to my email practices... and I got burned. Friends and fellow discussion group members were flaming me or trying to let it gentler on me that it's very rude to behave like a badly designed telephone answering system.

After all, the idea behind them is a great time-saver; it allows people to reduce the repetitive tasks involved in communicating the same things to many people. Before the advent of the Web, it was a great solution. But nowadays you can put FAQs online and redirect people to them with a link. Thus save keyboard and email time to answer the people who have read the FAQ and just want more information.

As I see it, the problem with form letters is twofold:
- When writing one people can't predict the infinite variety of messages they will be answering with them;
- People generally don't know how to use a relational database (or parse the incoming message), in order to well personalize (and contextualize) such a letter.

And guess what? MonDoc can be very nicely applied to alleviate both problems. Check the "email buddy" module from MonNoteOnyx to see how.

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