By Nitin Borwankar
One of noticeable differences between working in a conventional office and a cafe is the complete absence of printing and faxing capabilities in the latter. Most of the time this is not an issue as we WebWorkers are primarily working on electronic content for execution (software), publishing (articles/docs) or communication (email/IM).
But, every so often arises, with irritating insistence, a need for printing something, signing it and faxing it back. At this point I have to either work out of home – and plug in that printer and fax machine for a bit, or going to FedEx Kinko’s or something similar locally. Every time I do that I find myself wanting a better way.
Here’s a WebOffice feature that I would like. When someone sends me a doc to sign – they should be willing to accept a digital version of my handwritten signature. Not a digital signature as in public key cryptography, but a scanned image of my physical signature, embedded in the document. I want technology to make this foolproof. I can password protect double triple encrypt the image on my laptop. But how do I prevent my embedded signature from being extracted and abused?
EchoSign, which recently won the best of show award at office 2.0 has a pretty good interim solution. Unfortunately, it doesn’t solve the bigger problem. EchoSign’s solution also requires docuemnt sender to agree to accept digitally signed docs – the law says they have to, but try having that conversation with the Insurance company, or the DMV, or the IRS. So it seems a bit of a non-starter for now. In Three years from now, hopefully things will happen this way. (How EchoSign Works?)
Maybe I am thinking of the wrong solution. But this problem, printing-signing-faxing, is a nagging drag on my web worker mobility. As I write this I am expecting a faxed doc from my car insurance, and need to sign and fax a couple of documents. No, doing business only with people who don’t use paper is not an option, yet.
So how do you address this paper problem in your own personal WebOffice world?
Nitin Borwankar if the official GigaOm Tech Gnome.
23 thoughts on “Paper and the WebWorker”
If you’re willing to pay a little bit for the convenience, there are a number of fax-to-email-and-back services. I think best in breed is http://www.efax.com
Overlay your signature image on top of the fax document you receive, and send it back. The people at the other end have no idea that you did it all electronically.
When I have to fax back a document with my signature on it, I’ll often just paste my scanned signature onto the document and fax it. Usually the quality on a faxed document is so poor, the receiver cannot tell if I physically signed it or just pasted an image of my signature onto it. I guess it really comes down to your intent. Do you stand by your signature whether you just pasted an image of your signature on the dotted line or actually signed on the dotten line?
Now the other question is how do you prevent someone from abusing your signature… that’s a whole other bag of worms.
I’ve found the same issue at home. I don’t have a standard telephone system so I usually have to leave home and goto a friends home or to a business. I’ve used efax and it does work. The only thing is it applies your fax as an attachment, but they offer good rates and it does work. I’ve used it several times for sending estimates and invoices.
We use trustfax (www.trustfax.com). They have $19.95 a year plan with 70 free fax. When I joined they had $9.95 a year with 10 cents per page plan. You get a toll free number too. I find it very convenient. Trustfax is a Comodo product. So you can trust them too.
I forgot to add. You don’t need to download any software like efax. Everything is web based and you can use doc, pdf or jpeg.
webworker is convenient than paper!
Thanks for the great piece on EchoSign.
One important note: we DO in fact solve the “bigger problem:, i.e. “printing-signing-faxing”. In fact, the majority of EchoSigners totally automate the pain around faxing back contracts by selecting “Written Signature” on EchoSign instead of “Electronic Signature”!
Brooks-Eckerd, Cisco, Network General, AtRoad and hundreds of others companies use us to automate getting contracts and documents automatically signed and faxed back to all parties (not just recipient like eFax), tracked, PDF’d, and filed using EchoSign.
See here for a quick demo:
And you can try it in about 60 seconds here:
Jason Lemkin, ceo
Wow, that seems to have struck a nerve!
As far as efax like services, they are fine for docs that are faxed to me, but most of the times these days I’ll get a PDF or MSWord doc which I have to print out and sign and fax back. I do know how to paste a signature into these docs but I won’t do it until there’s a way to prevent my signature from getting hijacked.
As far as EchoSign is concerned, aside from the early-ness of it I have a fundamental issue with infrastructure technology (email, IM, voice, web …) being based on proprietary standards. Paper and pen are open standards – so are email attachments and jpg files.
EchoSign requires both parties to be signed up for the service prior to the document exchange. This model is like the “compuserve” model in email – you can’t really use it unless everyone you know is using it. So what happened back in the early 90’s when an old classmate of mine sent me their email address on a competing service – islands of information.
In the EchoSign model what happens when two large companies need to do business but are signed up with competing signature service providers? There will be more than one provider, eventually.
When EchoSign can figure out a way to make their service an IETF open standard and/or a W3C open standard – they’ll make bazillions. Until then they will be a great solution for large companies that can insist that their smaller partners use EchoSign. But for now, unless I can force everyone of my clients to use EchoSign, it is not a solution for this WebWorker. Not yet, maybe some day …..
Good Luck with all your WebWork!
I second benwalther’s suggestion. As for Nitin saying:
I’d argue that I could easily forge and fax your document using a traditional fax machine and that’s totally acceptable as legal and just as prone to falseification as the digital solution. How does the manual method solve that (without mailing)?
Here’s a tip: if you’re a Mac user, I’d recommend that you check out this page that offers sending two free faxes. Of course this only works on a PC, so when I complained to their tech support (look for Live Chat), they offered me a free month and a subsequent ongoing discount on my Pro account. YMMV, but I felt like this was a good deal.
As for faxing signed docs, I use Adobe Acrobat’s stamp tool with a vectorized (previously scanned) version of my signature — and then eFax to send the generated PDF. If you’re concerned about security and have the full version of Acrobat, you can at least encrypt the PDF so that no other changes can be made to the document without a password.
At least that’s what works for me in leiu of a genuine article phsyical fax machine.
You cannot legally ask someone else to add your signature (a real or a digital one) on your document. So you have to do it by yourself.
I also use eFax and find it well worth the $12.95 per month (I guess it’s $16.95 now – still worth it). As far as faxing back a PDF or Word doc, eFax has a print to eFax driver. Just print the Word doc and select the eFax driver and the Word doc gets sent to the eFax application where it can be annotated, a sig file can be stamped on, and then the doc can be faxed back.
My struggle is when I get a paper doc mailed to me and than I have to scan it in order to sign and fax back. I need a new scanner, but all I can find are those huge combo printer scanner copiers. Anyone know of a nice inexpensive slim scanner out there?
My company lends demonstration equipment out to customers on a two week trial period, and before it is sent out I insist on a PRINT-SIGN-FAX, as Marco says “you can not legally ask for someone to add your signature (a real or digital one) on your document” .. Thats fine..if you don’t sign and return then you are not going to get the equipment! 🙂
I believe that the signatory is agreeing to a set of terms and conditions, that accompany the email (normally as an attachment). Anyone can sign, its the company we will invoice anyway if the equipment is not returned in the correct condition.
What I would like to see is a central database of companies with digital signatures. This should be provided free for users, once a nominal fee has been paid. Something like the PayPal method of Verification. “We will send you a number to your registered phone number, and you enter it in. Then we will send you a small fee to your registered account, enter those in.. ”
Would that work? Proving and protecting your identity online is essential in todays world. Once some recognized worldwide body realizes this, and starts or improves on a current system of identification, then the world ‘should’ be a safer place..
Heres hoping… 🙂
Just one more clarification:
“EchoSign requires both parties to be signed up for the service prior to the document exchange.”
Actually EchoSign only requires the Sender to be signed up for the service. All the signer/recipient has to have is an email address . . . in fact to fax-sign, the signer doesn’t go to http://www.echosign.com at all, just prints out the doc email to him/her as a PDF and faxes it back . . .
Thanks for that clarification – it does make it a lot better, especially if I get a doc from some one already on EchoSign. Then I don’t have an issue with it.
To all the people suggesting fax based solutions – there always seems to be a step where I print the doc out, or am I missing something. It’s the paper step I am trying to avoid.
Chris, yes I do understand that someone else can scan my signature and do the same thing but its a lot easier on a computer and when you make it a lot easier to do something a lot more of it happens – orders of magnitude more.
That’s why consolidating electronic databases of personal information is far more of a theat to privacy than having that information in paper databases – the electronic ones can be processes, filtered and collated much faster and over whole populations of countries compared to the paper records.
And I have already had my credit card blocked twice because of fraud on it once by someone in Brooklyn and I live in the Bay Area. So maybe I am more paranoid than most but just because you aren’t paranoid …
By the way, everyone, how do I sign a PDF file? An MSWord File, an HTML file?
Please don’t tell me to go fax myself 😉
If you have a touch screen or pad that you can use a stylus on you could simply receive faxes into your computer, then sign them with the stylus, and fax them back, all digital but you are applying your signature yourself, and the folks who are requiring the signature can never complain, after all it’s good enough for credit card companies. Now we just need laptops that have an appropriate sensitive surface, or you can change the settings on the touch pad.
As for preventing someone from abusing your signature I think it’s a non-issue. Even if you hand deliver a signed paper document somewhere your signature is still there for someone to scan and reproduce. Unless you insist on having the actual paper that you signed be present or you won’t honour your signature, (a tactic that I doubt would stand up in court), there’s no way to really protect your signature.
OK one last one . . . “By the way, everyone, how do I sign a PDF file? An MSWord File, an HTML file?” If you want to electronically sign at least a PDF or MSWord file, you can use the “Approve” feature on EchoSign . . . it’s free and will instantly apply an electronic signature to your doc and email it back to you, and anyone else you want. Not exactly the same as a digitized version of your hand signature but we have lots of people that use this to quickly approve a document sent to them.
I work out of my home and use an online fax service for some of the print-sign-fax tasks. If I need to print a document, sign it, then fax it back, I can use your digital-picture-of-my-signature trick.
I receive the fax as an attachment (usually a pdf). I embed my signature using my favorite image editing software and create a new pdf. This I “fax” back using my online fax service. Considering the quality of faxed signatures, I don’t see why this wouldn’t be equal or better. I know it’s a slapped together, hackneyed solution, but I can do it without a fax machine or a printer. 😉
Very interesting point. I actually work within the Insurance Industry, so I quickly found the problem you are discussing. To make it most simple for myself, (especially since I send less faxes than I receive… I email everything) I signed up for PFax aka Packetel. It’s 3.95 per month, and you can receive unlimited emails, and they are forwarded to up to two inboxes.. I’ve never had any problems and I have been using the service for several years now. I def. have pushed the envelope on volume, as Nitin pointed out.. in this industry, most things get faxed to you. If you are interested in signing up, use promotion code hgajk4781 as they have a nice referral service.
As far as sending faxes.. I just use Faxzero.com Their service allows me to send 2 faxes a day for free, up to 3 pages.. I just go to their webpage, upload the doc and send. I don’t have to have an account or anything. If I need to send a large fax, they require you to pay $1.99. My experience has gone pretty well.. the only time I had a problem, they sent me a credit for 2 free “premium” faxes.. and the problem was my clients fax machine was turned off..
As far as the signature.. there is no way to keep it from being “extracted”. If you were to send me a fax, I could always copy/scan/print the signature.. you just have to trust who you are sending it to. I just paste the image of my signature onto docs that I am faxing (and emailing) The quality looks as good as it would if I had actually signed it.. and as someone stated above.. my intent is to provide the signature, so that is all that matters.
As far as putting the signature into a doc.. I just have the “image” saved on my computer, and from word I just insert picture. In a .pdf, depending on what version you have, there is a signature option… generally.. as Jason said..you have to add it in paint or some photo editor and then print/convert back to a .pdf.
Sorry for being so long, I hope that this has helped some of you.. I’m a big fan of this site, and am happy to be able to contribute.
A friends blog
Adobe Photoshop & http://www.onebox.com
That usually does the trick without me ever having to touch paper.
I use Scanr
I just wanted to say thank you for everyone who is signing up to p-fax! I hope that you find it as useful as I have.