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What are the restrictions for a proper signature?

Yet Another View

Originally from
Questions from Usenet and Timo's answers

The question of a proper signature can cause perhaps more arguments than any other single netiquette issue (besides spam). Superficially, and technically the main issues would seem clear: However, as you'll see, it is not quite that straight-forward.

Net etiquette (the "netiquette") and practice dictate about four lines at a maximum. This is a sensible and commendable restriction. But contrary to the common belief and frequent claims its nature is that of a recommendation. For example RFC 1855 Netiquette Guidelines state "If you include a signature keep it short. Rule of thumb is no longer than 4 lines." (The "-- " beginning marker is not counted as one of the four lines.) Likewise A Primer on How to Work With the Usenet Community states "Don't Overdo Signatures". [Underlining is mine.] Furthermore, on the technical level some programs and ISPs automatically limit the signature length to the said four lines.

Many modern email and newsreader programs automatically identify the start of the signature part of a message from the "-- " token. Thus its proper (or improper) usage may affect e.g. what and how your email program shows in a message. [examples] (Note: dash, dash, space.) This is a programs related convention. Again, sensible to use, but the actual netiquette status is ambiguous.

Anyway, the purpose of a signature can be considered two-fold. It gives your email address, and also acts as a visual identifier. Often the signatures include some kind of witticism or aphorism and even small drawing. Even if they are often amusing, and some very clever indeed, they may annoy some users. But obviously they are here to stay. If you simply cannot overcome the desire to include one, at least make it brief. The brief ones are usually the best anyway.

By the way, I don't personally use one. If I wish to try a pun, or include a witticism, I try to do it in the body of my message. (I enjoy attempting puns in English in rec.humor. Ok, here is one pun to boggle BBS lovers. Users writing in fowl language will be twittered. Figure this one out :-). (If I used a quote in my signature it would probably be "Sounds like a good idea, but let's use it nevertheless" or "Where there is a will, there is a won't" or more seriously "I might be here but my soul's gone bike riding". There are more in tspun23.zip.)

At worst there are multi-line signatures with elaborate ASCII drawings. They can be entertaining in a sense, but basically they are but bloated ego-trips, a waste of bandwidth, and severely frowned upon in the Usenet net rules and the experienced readers. If you, however, absolutely wish to see flamboyant, witty, or twitty signatures from the UseNet news in an old collection, download sigart03.zip. Be advised, that many, if not most of the signatures in the collection are examples of what not to do.

One further thing. You can have your signature automatically included. In UNIX email systems put your signature in a file called .signature in your main directory. Likewise PC and MAC email programs and WWW browsers have arrangements of their own. Let's take just one example, because many PC Windows programs work in a similar fashion. Consider using the Usenet news with Netscape. Although there may be minor differences between versions, this is the general outline. Starting from the main menu choose Edit | Preferences | Mail & Groups Identity, and then fill in the "Signature File:" box. But before you can do that you must have created a proper signature file with a suitable text editor. Also note that the signature file must be a plain ASCII text file, not e.g. a Word document, or a HTML file.

From Raymond Chen: "The permissions on the [UNIX] .signature file and its enclosing directory must be appropriately set. Ask your system administrator for details."

For more on the UNIX .signature file permissions, see the information in tspost16.zip, the item "Re: creating a signature".

At least if your user id does not contain your name, apply a signature identifying who you are. I for one find it somewhat impolite to get emailed queries from users who do not even care to identify themselves. In fact the probability of getting a useful answer, or an answer at all, is severely decreased if you don't identify yourself. Use the same courtesy as you would in ordinary non-electronic communication.
Signatures are an issue that occasionally invoke quite puritan views. For example, some users on the Usenet hold a firm view that any reference in a signature to the person's employer or to any material available from the sender always is tantamount to spamming. This is taking things a bit far. On the other hand, whatever would be improper within the body of a message is still as improper in a signature. Common sense should prevail ... both ways!
Email spam (Unsolicited Commercial Email "UCE") is a huge nuisance on the present day Internet at least to anyone who has posted on the Usenet news. It causes many users to use email address munging and to put their true email address in their signatures only in a human readable format. For more information links on this please see the material my Foiling Spam with an Email Password System .

Example 1

Example 2

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