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Looking for a Better Solution

January 2002

I've been running email lists for the Mac community since November 1997. Over time we've grown from one list to a dozen to over 30. Along the way, our demands for list management software have also grown.

We started with Macjordomo and eventually had lists split between three different Macs to keep any one machine from being overwhelmed. Then we moved to a free list management service provided by Maclaunch.com. Now it's time to find a better solution.

The solution we're looking for should run on Linux, allowing us to run it on our server so we're not held hostage by our Internet connection.

The primary reason we need a better system is that we're running over 30 lists and often receive requests from subscribers such as "unsubscribe me" or "change me to digest mode." I email back the question, "Which list(s)?" and wait for their response.

The ideal solution will keep a single database of all subscribed addresses, letting me quickly remove an address from all lists or change an email address on all subscribed lists by replacing an old email address with a new one.

The second drawback of our current system is that it doesn't allow users to change their address. Instead, they have to subscribe from the new address and unsubscribe from the old one. List management software should make it easy for subscribers to change their address - and should require confirmation to prevent others from hijacking your subscription.

Here's what we need:

  • A global email address database.
  • Support for single-message and digest subscriptions.
  • Ability for users to subscribe, unsubscribe, change email address, and switch mode.
  • Require subscribers to confirm subscriptions and change of address.
  • Will either reject styled email or convert it to plain text.
  • Will refuse attachments.
  • Can handle several thousand subscribers and heavy list traffic.
  • Allows a ceiling on individual message and digest size.
  • Can send digest once per day or upon reaching a specified size, whichever comes first.
  • Blocks access to the subscriber database except to those given a password.
  • Allows us to automatically append headers and footers to each message and digest.
  • Lets the list manager blacklist users.

Wanted but not necessary

  • Uses enough fuzzy logic to realize that mail from the domains "mail.domain.com" and "domain.com" is coming from the same mail server. (Macjordomo did that, but our current software doesn't.)
  • Ability for subscribers to easily switch to and from null/vacation mode.
  • Use of command addresses (such as "listname-on@domain.com") so subscribers don't need to learn commands or use an administrative address.
  • Ability to tie into one or more spam filters, such as RBL.
  • Bounce management to track bounces and unsubscribe after a specified number of delivery failures.

Really nice ideas

  • A unified online subscription form making it easy for subscribers to join several lists, change mode on all their subscriptions, unsubscribe from all lists, etc.
  • Ability to recognize vacation messages ("I'll be out of the office until Monday."), switch subscriber to vacation/null mode, and send subscriber a note indicating the change and how to switch back.
  • Option for list manager to address an email to all subscribers on all lists without sending it to each individual list.
  • Searchable archives.

Among our 32 lists, we have lists with anywhere from 38 to 865 subscribers and traffic ranging from next to nothing to over 1,000 messages per month. The total number of subscriptions is over 8,000, but we have no way of knowing how many unique subscribers that is. A system such as we've outlined above would let us know that.

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