Personal contact relationship management

It's a good thing that computer geeks appreciate automation. They can sniff out form e-mail in seconds, but they don't mind as long as it comes from a very clever technical hack. Such was the case with the form letter engine I put together just in time to ask people for their postal addresses for my holiday updates. Paul Lussier wanted to know what kind of Emacs Lisp magic I was doing behind the scenes. Simon Ditner got his revenge by obfuscating his reply with 1337sp34|<. People humored me and replied with their addresses and birthdays, knowing that although the e-mail they got may have been mostly automated, my interest in them and my replies to the replies they sent me were very much real.

Good magicians never reveal their tricks, but I like talking about the crazy Emacs wizardry that goes on behind the scenes. Let me lift the curtain:

 "Hello, " (or (bbdb-record-getprop record 'nick) (bbdb-record-name record)) "!

I've actually managed to write my 2006 life update / holiday
letter somewhat in time, and will be mailing them out soon. I'd
love to find out how your year has been and what you're planning
to do next year, and I'd be happy to keep you up to date too!


 ((= (length (bbdb-record-addresses record)) 1)
  (concat "Is this address the best one to reach you at?\n\n"
          (sacha/bbdb-address-string (car (bbdb-record-addresses record)))))
 ((> (length (bbdb-record-addresses record)) 1)
  (concat "Which of these addresses is the best one to reach you at?\n\n"
          (mapconcat 'sacha/bbdb-address-string (bbdb-record-addresses record) "\n")))
 (t "I don't seem to have a mailing address for you, though. I'd
like to be able to snail-mail you postcards or holiday updates.
I promise not to use your address for anything evil! =) What's the best
way to send something to you?"))

(if (bbdb-record-getprop record 'birthdate)
  "\n\nBy the way, when is your birthday?")
"\n\nHope to hear from you soon!

Sacha Chua

p.s. No kittens were harmed in the writing of this message.")

That's the source for my form letter - a Lisp expression, allowing me to use the full power of Emacs. I used that as the input to the following function:

(defun sacha/gnus-send-message-to-all (subject &optional text)
  "Compose message to everyone, with notes.
SUBJECT is a string.
TEXT is a string or an arbitrary Lisp expression starting with (."
   (list (read-string "Subject: ")
         (read-string "Body: ")))
  (let ((records bbdb-records))
    (while records
      (when (bbdb-record-net (caar records))
        (bbdb-send-mail (caar records) subject)
        (goto-char (point-min))
        (re-search-forward "--text " nil t)
        (forward-line 1)
        (let ((record (caar records)))
          (when text
            (insert (if (= (aref text 0) ?\() (eval (read text)) text))))
        (when (bbdb-record-notes (caar records))
            (insert "\n--- NOTES ---\n"
                    (bbdb-record-notes (caar records))
                    "\n--- END NOTES ---\n"))))
      (setq records (cdr records)))))

The function composed a message for each of the records currently displayed. I edited the messages by hand, combining messages where appropriate, and sent them off.

What else can I do with this? Because this function accepts arbitrary Lisp expressions, it would be really easy to include a random holiday-related greeting or poem. If I had a database of significant events, I can include a random factoid about the recipient's birthday. If I had a local database of people's names, I could send one-off messages including the meaning of their names.

Yes, it's pretty crazy, but that's what you get when you have a geek who cares about connecting with people. I've stolen all the cool features from the contact relationship management systems I know about, and I keep trying out more ideas. It's a pity that the base system I'm working on can be quite intimidating. If I found the time to learn enough, say, Microsoft Outlook programming to implement a similar system, I think I'd have quite a market.

Even with my idiosyncratic setup, though, it's fun pushing the envelope. =) There are a lot of other things I'd like to add, and I don't think I'll ever stop coming up with new ideas. In terms of personal contact relationship management, I've got one of the most advanced systems I know—which just means I need to get to know more people, so that I can find other inspirations!

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Random Emacs symbol: previous-buffer - Command: Switch to the previous buffer in cyclic order.