Web Informant
David Strom is a networking and communications consultant based in Port Washington, NY. Along with Marshall Rose, he co-authored
Internet Messaging: From the Desktop to the Enterprise (Prentice Hall).

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By David Strom, david@strom.com Web Informant Archives »

More on how to start your own mailing list

Web Informant #156, 23 May 1999

       Last month, I told you I was evaluating mailing list services with the ultimate goal of changing my distribution of these missives. (Thank you all for your comments and recommendations, by the way.) Well, after lots of work and testing various service providers, I have finally decided to move my list over to eGroups. It wasn't an easy decision. I looked at nine different providers and spent lots of time talking to their technical support staffs and fooling around with their web and email interfaces to get an idea of what I liked and didn't like about each service.

       Email lists are essential to modern web site operators for several reasons. They build community and awareness of your content. They can provide notification services for eCommerce purchases or new product/service offerings and do this much better than any of push technology players still left in the game. And they can increase the amount of time a reader stays on your site (now called stickiness) and views your pages.

       Choosing a service provider is a very personal business and I did this with much gnashing of teeth and worries. What if the new technology would mess up and start sending you spam? Or if my messages wouldn't get delivered at all? I like to think there is a certain bond between you and I, and I don't want to bring about change just for the sake of new technology.

       Nevertheless, it was time for me to move Web Informant to a new level. The number of hours spent maintaining the list was greater than the time spent composing each essay. And it was getting tedious maintaining three separate systems: one running Revnet's Groupmaster, one posting a page of HTML to my web site archives, and one running a custom Cold Fusion system. Tracking down a subscriber's address among all these disparate systems was a pain.

       One of the reasons I continued to use the Cold Fusion system was a very simple but effective notification when anyone in my Web Informant community changed jobs, through my getting a bounced email. I will miss this with the new eGroups system, somewhat.

       This is probably more work than you want to hear about, but for those of you who are interested in starting your own mailing list, you are welcome to read on. I divided the field into three basic categories:

  • Free services. These providers are free or nearly so. While the price is attractive, the free services have their limitations, such as including several lines of advertisements (usually for the service provider themselves) and limits on the kinds of reports that are available. Nevertheless, if you have a small list and low expectations, they might be useful to try out.
    • OneList
    • Topica (Used by many other Internet essayists.)
    • EGroups (Also has a $5/month version which eliminates the advertising appended to the messages. More on them in a moment.)

  • Minimal fee providers. These folks have better reports, allow you to upload an existing list into their system, and some other features. I was using a limited version of Revnet for a while to maintain part of my list.
  • Professional service providers. These guys deal with millions of emails per day and have a customized interface to send out your messages. They will cost more than $30 a month, though. Knowing the people in top management in both companies, I was seriously considering these providers. However, in the final analysis I wasn't happy with either of their user interfaces, and their reports were too difficult to interpret.

One of the problems with trying to evaluate these services is that you can't necessarily see the interfaces until you sign up yourself. So in the interests of saving you time and giving you a chance to check out all nine at one sitting, I recorded a sequence of screen shots of each service, using a great product called Catch the Web. It is a 400k Windows executable file (virus free). Once you download this file and run it, Catch the Web will play back the sites offline and you'll be able to see the interfaces and my comments for yourself.

       So why did I pick eGroups? Overall, I liked the simplicity of their user interface. In some ways, it reminded me of why I like NAD audio equipment -- I know what every button and dial does and why it is there and what effect it has on the overall experience. Their reports were adequate, the extra features (like a group calendar and polling) something that I don't need now but could grow into later. It was easy to navigate around the administrative interface, and I liked the people who run the company too.

       This is the first message sent out using their service, and hopefully it will work as intended. (You can do lots of testing, but you can never be totally sure!) If you wish to unsubscribe, you can send a blank email here.

       And if you have forwarded this message to 20 of your closest friends and they want to subscribe, they can send a blank email here.

 Copyright © 1999, 2000 media.org.

      Web Informant copyright 1999 by David Strom, Inc., reprinted by permission
Web Informant is ® registered trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
ISSN #1524-6353 registered with U.S. Library of Congress.

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