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
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:
Example A permits the mailing list owner to only send an email
to a defined address.
Mailing List Example B:
Example B permits the mailing list owner to send an email to
Tom Jefferson at firstname.lastname@example.org . 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
Mailing List Example C:
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
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.
To: #FIRST# #LAST# <#EMAIL#>
Welcome to my example of a personalized mailing.
According to our records, your subscription information is
Name: #FIRST# #LAST#
#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.
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
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
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:
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
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
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
[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
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
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.
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:
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
Good Luck in your publishing endeavors.