The service Streak has been making the rounds lately. It is more or less an addon for Gmail that improves Google's mail service significantly in many ways.
You can create so called pipelines that help you manage certain work flows. Streak ships with a selection of business and personal pipelines that you can start with right away.
Each pipeline adds a number of boxes to Gmail that you use to organize emails. The Journalism pipeline for instance uses the following boxes: idea, researching, drafted, edited and published.
Sales and CRM on the other hand uses other boxes, including lead, pitched, demo or closed - won.
You can add and edit boxes as you see fit so that they are optimized for your own workflow. Pipelines for bug tracking, email support, product development or event planning are also available among others.
It seems to be an excellent tool if you use Gmail as your main inbox for all things email, and I'm considering using it for the website monitoring service that is about to be launched.
One feature in particular has received quite the press: email tracking. When you compose your first email after the installation of Streak, you will be asked if you want to enable email tracking. You can do so right away, or use the custom icon that Streak displays on the compose screen to enable or disable tracking individually instead.
When you hit the send button with tracking enabled, a tracking sidebar widget is automatically added to the email so that you can monitor the progress.
If an email has been viewed by at least one recipient, you will also see an eye-icon in the list of emails which acts as an indicator.
So how does that tracking work?
That's easily explained by viewing the source code of the emails that use tracking. When you do so, you will find remote contents in the source.
Whenever a user opens the email without proper protection, the remote content is loaded which is counted as a hit by software running on that server.
Once a hit has been recorded, Streak marks the email as viewed by a recipient.
If you do not allow remote contents to be displayed automatically, then you are save from being tracked. If you are using Thunderbird, you are automatically protected from this as remote contents are automatically blocked by the email client.
You do get an option to display them though, and when you do, the remote contents are loaded and the view count is increased by Streak.
Other email clients may have similar means of protection.
It is safe to say that the tracking will work quite well most of the time, especially if a user is using web mail and not an email program like Thunderbird that takes care of these things automatically.
It is good to know though that Streak's email tracking feature uses the same technique that we have seen for ages.