Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Vacation ON, Comments OFF

I'm off to France for a month, so I doubt you'll be seeing anything in this space for a while.

In the meantime, since I've already started receiving comment spam, I'm turning off comments until I return and keep an eye on them....

Tooty-lure and Ah-byan-tow

Monday, August 08, 2005

Short mailing list primer

I just did a quick investigative trip into the world of (inexpensive) mailing lists for a performing arts client - let's call them the Generic Players (the GPs). The basic parameters were:
  • They have their own domain (e.g. genericplayers.org - don't look for it, doesn't exist, this is an example, remember?).
  • They want to be able to send out email from their domain - i.e. anouncements@genericplayers.org
  • The mailing list is announcements only - not a discussion list.
  • They have about 2500 subscribers - they want to send out about an email a month.

We started by looking at their web host - which is where I would always recommend starting. Their host is Website Source (the actual host), and the GPs, as we'll call them, have paid for the cheapest plan, natch - the All-in-One.

Well, first I just looked at the services available at that price level - not too shabby. I saw their "Marketing Package" and decided this might be the first place to investigate. However, based on their price level (read: "free"), the marketing tool only allows 500 emails a month - a far cry from the 2500 the GP's want to send. Needless to say, the GP's don't want to pay more than they have to.

The next part was tricky - because I figured the organization could download any number of free/ open source mailing list applications, and dump it on their hosted web server. Lo - their price level does not officially give them access to server space - just a pre-set control panel.

Hmmm - too little was offered with the free version of the marketing tool, and they couldn't download and install their own tool. Only in a last review of the hosting services did I find that Website Source offered another mailing list tool - not nearly as fancy as the Marketing Package, but a very simple, do-it-yourself mailing list application called ezMLM. Not my first choice - but beggars can't be choosers.

Currently, as far as we can tell, the only restriction on the size of the mailing list is their monthly bandwidth allotment. For example, their current allottment is 40GB of "data transfer" per month. If they send out 2500 copies of a 7k HTML email, that's 17.5MB - easily within their allotment (don't forget that website visits also count towards that data transfer bandwidth allotment).

Of course, your mileage may vary, given your website host. In conclusion, my little primer on how to investigate the possibility of setting up a mailing list tool on your site:

  • Start with your web host. Most hosts have some sort of tool you can use. The question is, how much does it cost? (Sometimes, it's included in your monthly cost.)
  • If your host does not have an adequte solution, find out if you can install your own tool. Some web hosts explicitly do not allow you to host an email list (for example, see Laughing Squid). Also, most of the tools mentioned below require LAMP - what this means to you is simply that your web host should be running a suite of services that these email applications require to operate - typically Unix-based server like Apache, and something called PHP, both very common. (Specifically, not a Windows web server....) Your web host folks can confirm whether the tools listed below will work on their servers.
  • Also find out if your website host has any bandwidth or email restrictions before you start sending out a series of emails. It's often good to warn the tech folks at your website hosting service first, because if they see a coupla thousand emails going out on your domain, they might shut it down, assuming a spammer got control of your login....
  • Install one of the free tools out on your domain. I don't have nearly enough time to give you a primer on how to do that, but here's a good starting list of free tools.
  • Do the math to make sure your your emails won't go over your monthly data transfer allotment. And please don't confuse data transfer with data storage.....
  • If worse comes to worse, and you need a low-cost alternative, you may have to host your list externally (i.e. not on your domain). While Online Policy Groups can host lists for free, I don't know if that includes lists on your domain (e.g. announce@yourdomain.org as opposed to your-announce@onlinepolicy.org). Otherwise, you may be stuck with Google Groups, Yahoo Groups or Topica.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Craft Emergency Relief Fund

In a similar vein to the health insurance resources for artists, what about emergency funds (something like the Theatre Bay Area's Lemonade Fund)?

Perfect timing for the folks over at CERF - who just launched their new web site (which, as the title indicates, is craft focused). Congratulations go to Vermont tech-for-nonprofit evangelist Sonny Cloward.

And I like it even more because it's based on an open source web implementation tool called Drupal. You'll be hearing more about Drupal in this space (and I'm sure, elsewhere) in the months to come....