Maximizing Mailing Lists

Sometimes the old ways are still the best ways.

You can use Exchange and Notes groupware functionality to power up mailing lists, but why bother? Mailing list managers (MLM) can do the same thing with less trouble and the users only need generic mail clients.

While any mail server worth its salt includes some basic e-mail list features, if youre going to run serious e-mail lists for your customers, you need a serious MLM, sometimes referred to as a list server.

Once MLMs required both users and administrators to use arcane mail messages to even join a list or approve a message. Thats no longer true. Todays MLMs are almost as easy to administer as sticking stamps on envelopes.

A good MLM needs two sets of functionality: user administration and traffic management. Historically, MLMs have focused on user administration tools. Even the bundled MLMs in groupware and mail programs usually have slick Web interfaces that make it easy to add, edit and delete users in multiple lists.

Even with those tools, however, managing membership is a manual job. For every 10,000 list members, figure an employee will spend 20 hours a week on membership maintenance.

Unfortunately, none of those programs are as smooth as silk when it comes to managing traffic bandwidth. They do offer tools and application program interfaces for that purpose, but that requires a higher level of technical expertise.

Stamp of Approval Many MLMs are available in open-source versions. Majordomo, perhaps the best known, is difficult to administer and no longer has much development support. A better open-source choice might be the Free Software Foundations Mailman. As for the commercial programs, L-Softs ListServ is difficult to use, but is probably the most powerful MLM in terms of management. For ease of use, Lyris ListManager is the program to beat.

But lets be honest; the profits are small. While MLM up-front costs are low, maintenance hours are high compared to the revenue stream. Wondering if its worthwhile to pursue this?

There are two paths to profits. One, which is taken by major MLM software vendors L-Soft, Lyris and MessageMedia, is to deliver mailing list as a service. That pits you directly against Yahoo and others who deliver the service for free. Providing MLM as a service, for free or for profit, puts you in a competitive arena and is not the best play. The more common and probably more profitable path is to bundle MLM services as part of a complete mail service package. After all, while MLMs arent sexy, theyre a pure infrastructure play and customers always need those.