E-mail list management

In Gearhead last week we began discussing our problems maintaining the mail list for the Gibbs Irregulars (a list of readers I poll for their thoughts - send a message to lists@gibbs.com with the subject "subscribe gibbsirregulars"). We had started out using Excel to track addresses but even a small list becomes a management nightmare.

We had two choices: Move the list to a hosted service or run it locally using software designed for the job.

Luckily we had such software lying around waiting to be reviewed: MailList King published by Xequte Software.

MailList King is a versatile bulk-mailing program that theoretically can handle an unlimited number of addresses, manage multiple mailing lists and process subscription requests from e-mail messages generated by Web forms.

The program also integrates very slickly with Outlook or any other MAPI-supporting client, which includes Outlook Express, Netscape and Eudora.

MailList also can add a toolbar to Outlook that lets you jump straight to the program, trigger the program to check for new messages, forward a message in Outlook to a group, add e-mail addresses from one or more selected messages to a group, and send a message to the addressees in one or more selected messages.

MailList will receive messages through a folder managed by your e-mail client (any folder under Outlook or the in-box in any other client). For sending messages you can use any SMTP server, have Outlook do the work, or let MailList use its own built-in SMTP server (this choice may cause problems unless your IP address can be resolved to a domain, as domain-less servers are often used by spammers).

E-mail addresses can be assigned to one or more groups and each group is, in effect, a mailing list. The product can process a variety of user messages, including subscribe and unsubscribe requests, bounces, and read receipts enabling automatic group membership maintenance.

It can import addresses from a file in a simple one-address-per-line format or a multicolumn, comma-separated variable format that lets you add data such as first and last name and street address for each addressee. You also can paste a list into a MailList for adding and removing addresses.

You can create custom fields in the database that, along with regular database fields, can be substituted into messages - for example, %firstname% in the body or subject of a message will insert the recipient's first name if it is in the database.

When addresses are added to a group manually or through a user e-mail subscribe request you can configure the product to generate a confirmation request; in other words, you can ensure double opt-in. Similarly, you can select that unsubscribe requests require confirmation.

In addition to subscribing and unsubscribing list members you can modify their e-mail address, set their vacation mode, get the user's subscription details or retrieve group membership information. A group can be between you and each individual user, or open with every message going to every member.

The software provides extensive logging of operations along with excellent reports and graphs that track each member's list activity as well as messages sent by MailList, errors encountered, list removals and so on.

The Professional Edition costs $99.50 and the Business Edition, which enables sharing of databases, remote administration commands (so you can manage your mailing list via e-mail), simultaneous delivery via multiple mail servers to maximize sending speed, and the ability to read and write from the mailing list via Open Database Connectivity, is priced at $179.50.

We've been using MailList for the last few weeks for managing the Gibbs Irregulars, and performance is good. It is easy to use and works great.

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