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I've been thinking about how to handle mailto links on a website redesign, and I know that having an email address listed can make a user feel more comfortable about contacting rather than just a contact form.

The obvious issue with mailto is the fact that it'll open the default mail client, even if that is not configured correctly by the user.

So, an idea I have is that when a user clicks on the email address, a small popover appears asking whether the user wants to copy that email address to their clipboard (which would be a simple anchor to do so), or whether they want to open that email address in their default application (which again would be an anchor).

The obvious issue with this is that it adds an extra step to actually sending an email, but I am wondering anyone knows of any research behind usability something like this. Or maybe there is a better way to do this that I didn't think of?

-- On a side-note, I imagine this behavior would only happen on desktop since the most likely case for mobile devices is that the person has properly setup their mail client.

  • How would you detect the e-mail applications the user has installed for this scenario to work and make the right suggestion for him? – Socrates Kolios Jul 17 '18 at 14:03
  • To clarify: this is to help someone who doesn't have a "default email client" configured, for whom (presumably) the browser would pop-up a "I don't know what to do" dialog if they clicked on a "normal" mailto: link? Perhaps something similar to the pop-up that StackExchange shows when you click on a "Share" link: an edit box pre-filled and pre-selected with the email address (that can be Ctrl-Cd or right-click-copied) with a "Launch email client" link below (where SE have the Google/Facebook/Twitter icons)? – TripeHound Jul 17 '18 at 15:17
  • @TripeHound I have actually never clicked on the StackExchange share button, but that does appear to accomplish what I am thinking. My actual real reason for wanting to do this is that I dislike when I click on a mailto link and it auto opens my email client on desktop. I would much prefer to just copy the email address and do whatever I need with it so that I have the control. So I think something like this would satisfy that, and it's not too intrusive to cause an issue. If you want to add your comment as an answer I'll mark it as accepted. – jkilp Jul 17 '18 at 17:27
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A good place to start would be to "seek inspiration" from the Share link below all questions and answers across all StackExchange sites. When clicked, this displays:

enter image description here

In the case of StackExchange, this displays an edit-box with the URL of the link pre-filled and pre-selected so the user only has to press Ctrl-C (or right-click and select Copy) to have the link copied to the clipboard. Obviously, in your case you would use the target email address.

Below the edit-box, StackExchange displays a number of social-media icons: you could replace these with an icon/link/button that essentially contains the original mailto://... link that you want to replace and so will open the user's default email client if that is what they want to do.

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In addition to TripeHound's answer: The way Stackexchange does it works well for sharing content via social media. A mailto link works well for contacting an address. This is important, because without a proper client set up, the user is unable to use the added functionality of a mailto, while a sharing link will work just fine without one.

Because mail will mostly be used to contact someone directly, I would not style it the same as a sharing widget. The implications are different: While with social media, the recipients are uncertain and the content is fixed, the reverse is true for mail.

contact@example.comCopy
could combine the usefulness of a clickable link with the ease of access of copyable text.

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