Mail Bonding

One of the revelations of working at a large-scale content site is how effective email newsletters are as a tool for driving traffic. Duh. I admit I had really underestimated this, but it makes sense; your email client is open all day and, spam aside, the inflow of messages is more or less tailor made for your interests.

Partly as a result of that discovery, I’ve been toying a while with the idea of creating a email newsletter that would be released monthly — or perhaps more frequently, if the demand is there. This would be a simple recap of each of the blog posts I published leading up to each newsletter’s release, along with some overview of the conversation that ensued in the comments. The idea is to give occasional or lapsed readers of the site a concise method of catching up. I’d also add in relevant notices pertaining to my various speaking appearances and side projects — including any updates on the long rumored, still pending, but for-sure-on-its-way-someday reprinting of my infamous Hel-Fucking-Vetica tee shirt (I promise!).

I Can Send You More Email if You Like

I realize there’s a nontrivial subset of the readership following along via RSS already, and that feed theoretically takes care of the need to keep tabs on in a kind of background mode. But as much as I like syndication as a concept, I’d wager that not every potential subscriber to this newsletter is already comfortable with and/or using RSS.

Still, I wonder is this something that would interest enough people to make it worthwhile? Presumably, the summary of activity — which would be a kind of original content of its own, although negligible — would offer some modest value add, but is it enough? What about the format — could I get away with a plain text email (my preference) or does it need to be all fancified with HTML and images galore?

And while I’m in lazyweb mode, I have another query for those of you who have experience with mailing lists: the last thing I want to do is to manage the attendant spam, bounce-backs and assorted other logistical complexities of running mailing list software on my own server. For this, anyway, I’m much more inclined to go with a hosted service — preferably a free one — along the lines of, which friends of mine have used effectively in the past. Frankly, I’m basically ignorant of this entire niche of software and hosted services, and a Google search doesn’t turn up a clear list of comparable alternatives. If you’ve got suggestions, I’m all ears — and much obliged.

  1. I like the idea of an email coming in from Subtraction, and would definitely prefer ‘fancified HTML’. 🙂

    I mean, you’re a designer. And a great one. Though I do realize it would be more work for you – and since your info and writing are on par with your design, a plain text email letter would be fine.

    We use Emma for a similar offering from our RSS feed (a monthly-ish recap)… though it isn’t free. If you end up finding a great free solution, that would definitely be worth sharing… and maybe someone else commenting will have a one they dig.

  2. CampaignMonitor is WONDERFUL.

    $5 per send + $0.01 per recipient.

    Opt-out/unsub management.

    Post forms over to their site, manage your subscribers there.

    Reports on bounce/unsub/received.

    They take what they do seriously, and gear the platform toward you – a web designer. Check out their blog too, with solid tips on best practices.

  3. The support for one. Every time I have had an issue, the live support person has resolved it on the spot. (Live chat)
    Ease of use – it is incredibly easy to use! The only thing that is irritating is that you can only return values back to your site using query string – not ideal, but it works.
    Spam Compliance – I can tell by the traffic spikes (compared to other systems) that more of my emails are getting through (another consideration is that I am getting better at writing emails – but still)
    Options – double opt in if you want, unlimited number of lists, actions (if x subscribes to y list, unsubscribe from z list) unlimited autoresponders (auto send out emails)

    There is a million reasons 🙂 I am still glowing because I only recently discovered this a few months ago… I am kicking myself for not discovering the potential of email before hand. I had given up on it due to spam, but I really encourage you to do something with it – despite the increasing popularity of RSS, email is still MUCH more powerful.

  4. De-lurking to say,

    I am an RSS subscriber, and plenty comfortable with it, but I’d like a newsletter for a recap on those posts I skipped or missed. I don’t really follow comments, either, so a summary of meaningful conversation would be nice.

    And please, plain text only!

  5. Mark – if you have large lists, or manage multiple lists, the cost of campaign monitor soon ads up! Aweber is unlimited broadcasts, and unlimited autoresponders for the $20USD monthly limit, and provides all of those reports too 🙂

    Either way, Aweber wont go broke if you choose not to go with them. But I seriously feel like I am giving away a million dollar tip telling people about them! I spent *a lot* of time researching before deciding on aweber, I have no regrets, best decision I ever made.

    They even sent out a snail mail thanking me for my business – all the way to Australia.

    btw Khoi, comment submission is *really* slow?

  6. Yes, sorry Lee. Once or twice a year I try to clean up Movable Type, and then inevitably it gets bogged down again and the comment submission gets really slow. I’ve been noticing that people are double-submitting comments lately (the delay naturally causes folks to think the first time they hit Post didn’t work so they click it again) and I’ve been trying to manually clean those up. I’ll see what I can do about improving the situation though. Thanks for your patience.

  7. Margaret: No worries, again it’s my fault, and I’ve removed your duplicative post.

    Regarding Kottke’s “Last 100 Posts”: Jason does a terrific job with that and I envy his thoroughness and insight. But I don’t think I could manage that level of depth. I’m thinking something more along a digest than an annotated round-up.

  8. I just want to put it out there that I didn’t even know what an RSS reader was, even though I was monitoring around 30 feeds. Safari (the default browser on a mac) has an RSS reader built right in, so I didn’t know that most people needed a separate application.

    Also, I enjoy many of the posts on this blog, and am impressed at the intelligence of the commenters (myself not included), as well as at how quickly Khoi responds.

    Thanks for posting!

  9. I use FeedBlitz to allow people to receive notification of new posts via email. I believe you can configure it to create a digest format that is sent out on regular schedule (like, say, monthly?). You can also pay for a customized layout. For an automated approach, it might be the easy way to go.

  10. Hi, I use the RSS feed but and email wouldn’t be unwelcome.

    As shiny as HTML email can be I think you may find it a bit of a pain to get something nice and consistent for all Mail clients. I’m afraid it’s far from the world of clean standards compliant code to get it all working well, especially with Outlook 07 on PC being so poor in HTML support. is one I’ve been looking at, they also have a set of HTML mail templates that work consistently on various mail clients, they’re a free download so worth checking out anyway. As I said though, the codes not the prettiest, but in the world of HTML email it’s still 1997 I think 😉

    Any decent mailing system should ideally allow you to subscribe in either plain text OR html format, even HTML emails should really be sent as multi-part emails with the plain text version included in case the mail client garbles the HTML.

  11. I’m actualy not a fan of mailing lists. When I’m in full work I just delete everything that comes in that is not very very important. So I prefer just looking at my favorite websites when I’ve time to do so.

  12. I did some research awhile back for the company I am working for to push out some newsletters, or to offer the service to our clients. One I found that seemed pretty good is this one


    As for me I’m not too big a fan of the RSS feed, jsut because I enjoy seeing the content as is on the individuals site. It’s more enjoyable to see the content as the creator/writer wanted it to be viewed.

    Not sure how intrested I’d be in a News Letter, but who knows you may be able to win me over.

  13. I’d sign up for a monthly-ish comments/discussion recap alone, as I sometimes forget to go back older posts and follow up on the discussion. And when I do, I’m usually too late to the party

    And Plain Text, if I have my say. But fancypants HTML wouldn’t stop me from signing up

  14. +2 for Campaign Monitor. Easily the best email newsletter system and designed by designers for designers.

    Simple, easy, cheap and very good.

  15. Personally I prefer to visit your site, but for those pesky clients that want html email I recommend MailChimp Inexpensive, good reporting features, nicely designed site, and a very good manual on creating email newsletters.

  16. We’ve also been using Campaign Monitor at my work. I would definitely recommend it, although I’m not sure how much it costs to license/purchase on a smaller scale.

  17. Campaign Monitor is great. There are limitation in the amount of emails that can be sent at once.The application was developed to limit the blast to a few hundred emails at once. With larger lists they need to be divided up into sub-lists.

    HTML emails, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I’ll take a plain text email any day.

  18. Khoi, I’m down with getting email newsletters from sites I follow via RSS or visit directly. Personally, I’d love to get down with an HTML fancified version of a newsletter from you — I know that’s more work for you though. Either way, I’d still read.

  19. I am all about the timeliness of information. The beauty of RSS is that I can easily subscribe to the sites that truly interest me and stay current with them. When I get a monthly (or whatever interval you finally decide) e-mail digest of posts and then go back and try to jump in I feel like I’m walking in on the middle of a conversation.

    RSS is a beautiful tool for just such communication. In the case of several blogs I read, they do a weekly digest (such as The Top Quips for 8/13-8/19), but it’s still via their blog.

    While I can understand wanting to tap into the higher adoption rate of e-mail, why not be a proponent for RSS and let those not yet using the tool know why they’re missing out? Sure people constantly check their e-mail, but isn’t there already enough noise in our e-mail boxes?

  20. Nick: That’s an interesting approach, but my gut feeling is that it’s wishful thinking to hope that by not offering an email newsletter, RSS will reach many of the people who would otherwise subscribe to that newsletter. I think there’s a big audience of email ‘customers,’ if you will, who will never touch RSS, regardless of how vigilant I might be about promoting its benefits.

  21. I love MailChimp as they don’t brand their logo at the end of the email and makes my, and my clients, email look professional. It handles all of the unsubscribes and has some great reporting features. They are much more design oriented and just recently added template features for those who are not so design-savvy. They were going to be down this weekend for some server updates but were going to be back up and running on Monday.

    I would subscribe!

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