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    Thank you for adhering to these four very simple rules.
    Comprehensive Mailing List Tutorial for Webmasters & the Curious
    Copyright 2004, Bill Platt

    THE BASICS OF A MAILING LIST STRUCTURE
    
    The short and sweet of it is that a mailing list is nothing
    more than a plain text file that contains email addresses. 
    Sometimes these *flat files* also contain first and last 
    names, as well as other additional and optional information.
    
    A *flat file* is a term used to describe a storage file that
    is not a database. Generally, the flat file is a plain text
    document without the .txt or other file extension attached
    to it.
    
    If a flat file contains more than one piece of data, then each 
    additional item is separated from the next by commas or other
    delimiters. The pipe key (shift - back slash) or the tab key 
    serve as the next most popular delimiters used in flat files.
    
    Each new record will appear on a new line. The new line is 
    signaled by the carriage return in the file. 
    
    
    EXAMPLES SHOWING THE USE OF DELIMITERS 
    AND THE REASONS FOR CONSIDERING DELIMITED FILES
    
    Note: These examples show two leading spaces in front of each
          record. In real life data files, your records should not 
          contain the leading spaces.
    
    
    Mailing List Example A:
    
      tom@domain.com
      dick@other-domain.com
      harry@third-domain.com
    
    Example A permits the mailing list owner to only send an email 
    to a defined address.
    
    
    Mailing List Example B:
    
      tom@domain.com,Tom Jefferson
      dick@other-domain.com,Dick Nixon
      harry@third-domain.com,Harry Truman
    
    Example B permits the mailing list owner to send an email to
    Tom Jefferson at tom@domain.com . Addressing the mail directly
    to Tom Jefferson encourages Tom to pay close attention to your
    email, since he knows that you have acquired his real name in
    addition to your email address. Most personalized emails will
    never be thought to be a s/p/a/m message by the person who 
    receives it.
    
    
    Mailing List Example C:
    
      tom@domain.com|Tom|Jefferson
      dick@other-domain.com|Dick|Nixon
      harry@third-domain.com|Harry|Truman
    
    Example C is the most versatile of the three examples. In some
    cases, it makes sense to personalize the list owner's messages.
    Whereas, Example B will permit you to address someone by first
    name or first and last name --- depending on how you direct
    subscribers to sign up --- it does not always serve the more
    personable style of mixing and matching the first name and 
    the combination of the first and last name as provided for by
    Example C.
    
    
    UTILIZING DELIMITED DATA IN YOUR MAILINGS
    
    Depending on the software that you will use to initiate your
    mailing, you will be directed to show where you want the 
    additional data fields in your mailings. 
    
    The range of software available makes it nearly impossible to 
    quantify the various methods to get your personalized data into
    your mailing. As such, I will only define an example to show 
    the basic idea of how to do this. 
    
    Personalization Example:
    
      To: #FIRST# #LAST# <#EMAIL#>
    
      Dear #FIRST#,
    
      Welcome to my example of a personalized mailing.
    
      According to our records, your subscription information is
      as follows:
    
      Name: #FIRST# #LAST#
      Email: #EMAIL#
    
      
      #FIRST#, we appreciate your attention to this information 
      as we feel it will help you better utilize the tools of 
      the Internet in your activities. In the end, the more 
      knowledgable you become, the more likely that the Internet
      will become a more useful place for all of us.
    
      Sincerely,
    
      Your Publisher
    
    
    As you can see, it can be far more useful to you and your 
    purposes to address your subscribers as individual human 
    beings with individual desires. As all of the sales teachers
    in the world will tell you, the one word that humans enjoy
    hearing most is the sound of their own name. Even in print,
    people appreciate being spoken to directly as an individual
    person.
    
    Delimited files give you the power of utilizing multiple data 
    resources connected to your individual records. 
    
    
    METHODS OF MAIL DELIVERY
    
    There are two basic methods of delivering your email to your
    mailing list. The first is by direct email, and the second is
    by a website interface.
    
    Direct Delivery Method -
    
    The direct mail method is the most complicated method from
    the programming perspective. If you are using a mailing list
    management company such as YahooGroups or Topica, then they
    will have done the hard work for you. If you are managing 
    your own mailing list, then you will need to jump through 
    some hoops to get your infrastructure set up for the direct 
    mail method. 
    
    You will need to set up your server to take any incoming 
    mail to a specific address and to process that email through
    a mail handling script. The script will search for and verify
    your posting password, and then the script will reformat your
    message for direct delivery to your mailing list.
    
    Using this method, you will actually address your outgoing
    email to a specific email address, often accompanied by a 
    posting password. The posting address may appear in this 
    kind of format:
    
      mailing-list-name-[password]@your-domain.com
     
    Website Interface Delivery Method -
      
    From the technical perspective, this is the easiest delivery
    method to construct. It only requires the publisher to visit
    a webpage, fill out a form, and click the send button. 
    
    Clicking the send button will take the placed information
    and send it to the mailing script. Once again, the mailing
    script will take the given information and format it into 
    an outgoing email message for direct mailing to your mailing 
    list.
    
    
    ACTUAL MAILING LIST DELIVERY PROCESS
    
    Whether you are using the direct mail or website interface 
    method to get your data into the mailing script, the next 
    step is the same. It is important to note that by the time
    you reach this point in the process, the outbound delivery 
    is completely out of your own hands. Now is the time for 
    the server to deliver on its part of the process.
    
    Your mailing script has taken your input and put it into a 
    direct mail format. Once that is completed, it is time to 
    mail the information to each and every email address in your
    list. 
    
    The basic message structure is kept in its own variable. This
    variable will not change during the entire mailing process. 
    
    The basic message structure is then copied into a second 
    variable, and the final preparation is done on that message
    as each individual mailing is prepared. 
    
    The software will read each record in your flat file or your
    database, and then the personalized data will be exchanged
    for the #FIRST#, #LAST# and #EMAIL# as it appears in your 
    message construct. Once the personalized data is swapped for
    the variables in the text, the message will be delivered to
    the defined email address.
    
    This process is repeated for each record in your mailing list.
    
    Depending on how busy the server is and the size of your list, 
    the mailing process could take two minutes or even twenty 
    minutes. 
    
           [If you want to break this article into  
           2 pieces, please break the article here.]
    
    A SUGGESTION FOR THE ACTUAL DELIVERY OF YOUR MESSAGE
    
    Having learned the hard way, I do highly recommend that you
    set up your posting address as a special email address that 
    you do not use for everyday business. 
    
    The reason is simple. With each and every mailing, you will
    find a certain level of attrition in your mailing list. People
    change email addresses everyday without unsubscribing from 
    mailing lists; people lose their email accounts due to unpaid
    ISP bills; and people exceed the size limits of their mailboxes.
    People quit the Internet and die. That's the reality of life
    on the Internet. 
    
    But with some fore planning, you can prevent a nightmare in
    your own email box. Lists that I have managed have experienced
    as little as two or three people, and as high as a 5% attrition 
    every month. The list that I managed that had the 5% attrition
    rate also had 20,000 subscribers. As such, I was receiving 
    1,000 bounced emails every month with that one list. 
    
    I did not utilize a special address for my mailings at that 
    time, and as such, I was losing track of important messages
    under the barrage of bounced email messages. This is the only
    reason I suggest the use of a special limited use email 
    address. 
    
    Another list I managed later had an attrition rate of about 
    4% with 100,000 subscribers. With this second list, my 
    secondary email address was receiving 4,000 bounced messages
    every month. 
    
    If you are using a mailing service such as YahooGroups or 
    Topica, they will handle the bounced messages for you, so 
    there would be no concern using your primary email address 
    with those messages.
    
    
    THE PROCESS OF SUBSCRIBING AND UNSUBSCRIBING
    AND THE SELECTION OF THE EMAIL SERVER IN THE PROCESS
    
    For the average mailing list, the process of adding or deleting
    an email address is as simple as going into the file or database
    and removing the record.
    
    It must be noted that while there are several email servers 
    available to webmasters, there are two servers that are used
    far more often than the others. 
    
    One email server software is called Sendmail. For the longest
    time, this was the most often used email server. It is still
    in wide use today. 
    
    The second email server software is called Qmail. Qmail is most
    often used by e-commerce mass mailers. Simply, Qmail offers
    more flexibility and speed and fewer bugs than Sendmail could
    ever dream of providing. It is also easier to customize.
    
    If you visit a website and ask to be unsubscribed from the 
    website's mailing list, and the website notifies you that
    your name will be removed from the list within 48 to 72 hours,
    then you should assume that the website is utilizing Qmail as
    their mail server. 
    
    On the surface, this 48 to 72 hour window might seem like a 
    scam --- it is not. Qmail actually sets up an outgoing email 
    and then queues that message for a later delivery. Qmail does 
    this because it is usually set up on a very high volume mail 
    server. By queuing the message for later delivery, the server 
    can actually continue to process outgoing mail as long as the 
    resources to do so are available for the task. If the messages
    were not queued for later delivery, multiple requests to deliver
    mail within a certain limited time period could crash the mail
    server. A crashed server is always bad news.
    
    The site who is promising removal within the next 48 to 72 
    hours is actually telling you in advance how far ahead they
    have already queued outbound messages. Any piece of email 
    that is already in the queue cannot be stopped from being 
    delivered. Therefore, if a message exists in the queue with 
    your address already on it, then there is nothing the webmaster
    can do to stop that mailing. Instead, all they can do is to 
    let you know that you will no longer receive mail from them
    on any email that is sent to the queue from this point forward.
    
    
    IN CONCLUSION
    
    With this tutorial, you should now have a better understanding
    of the nature of a mailing list and how it works. For some of
    you, I will likely have provided too much information. For 
    others of you, I will have not provided enough. 
    
    Either way, if you are looking for help in setting up your
    own mailing list, most web hosting companies that you might
    use to host your domain will have already provided an option 
    to you for your mailing list management. 
    
    However, it must be noted that not all mailing list software
    is equal to the other. I have used some really bad software
    packages, and have yet to explore the full range of what is
    available to you. I do not have an actual recommendation for
    you as to a good software to use. What I can do for you is 
    to provide a good starting point for locating that software
    you will need to run your mailing list efficiently:
    
    http://cgi-resources.com/Programs_and_Scripts/Perl/Mailing_Lists/
    
    By using an already developed mailing list manager, all you 
    will need to know is how to install the software on your server
    and how to set the file permissions on the package files. Be
    sure to read the installation files that are provided with 
    your new mailing list software. The creators of this software
    will tell you exactly what you need to know to get their 
    software packages up and running.
    
    
    FINAL PRECAUTIONS BEFORE SENDING YOUR FIRST EMAIL
    
    One final but very important note. I strongly recommend that 
    you select a mailing list management package that will install
    on your webserver. Additionally, notify your webhosting company
    that you will be running a mailing list through your account. 
    And, for the purpose of self-preservation, always keep 
    up-to-date backups of your website and your mailing list.
    
    Some webhosts are very leery of letting their customers run
    a mailing list from the customer's site. With all of the 
    s/p/a/m accusations floating around, it can sometimes be a 
    dangerous proposition to run a mailing list. Many smaller 
    webhosting companies fear the rogue webmaster who will get 
    their servers shut down for s/p/a/m. This is why it is so 
    very important to notify your webhosting company of your 
    plans to run a mailing list from your account. Make sure 
    your webhosting company is aware of your intentions, and 
    be sure to know where they stand on the possibility of 
    s/p/a/m complaints. My webhosting provider takes the time
    to actually investigate a complaint before actually pulling
    the plug on any of their customers. For webhosting, I use
    the Site5 Webhosting Program .
    
    Additionally, I am very serious when I say that you should
    never run a mailing list from your desktop. Local ISP's are
    far more worried about the s/p/a/m issue than the webhosting
    companies are. Given that so many of us live in locations 
    where we only have one, two or three ISP's to choose from,
    we would run the significant risk of losing complete access 
    to the Internet if we were to run a mailing list from our 
    desktop.
    
    Good Luck in your publishing endeavors.
    

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