From Me to You

After raising the possibility of a Email Newsletter last month, I did some hunting around at the various email list services out there and settled on two main contenders: the well-regarded Campaign Monitor and the similarly capable Mail Chimp. They’re basically comparable, though I admit that I felt compelled to give the latter a try first because, well, chimps are just cuter than monitors.

That said, I’ve passed on both of them for the time being. Instead, I took the cheap route and opted for the built-in announcement list functionality provided by Dreamhost. Say what you will about Dreamhost’s spotty uptime record and sluggish performance, but they offer a terrific feature set for one-person Web empires like Their fairly complete if unglamorous set of tools for mailing lists, publishing software, ecommerce and other digital empire-building endeavors are really easy to set-up, and they come at no additional cost.

My Blog, Your In Box

Anyway, I digress. The point is, for this exploratory first step into the world of email newsletters, I figured why not make do with what I’ve already got? If the newsletter turns out to be a big hit, I’ll move over to one of the two aforementioned services. For now, though, you can subscribe right here (or on the home page) and get signed up straight away.

Each newsletter will come soon after the end of each month, with the first one arriving in October. In it, I’ll summarize the activity here from September, recapping the posts I’ve written and the nature of the commentary. I’ll also include news about my upcoming speaking appearances and other projects, including general updates on A Brief Message (but not recaps of each of the posts on that blog).

Rich Mail, Poor Mail

Many readers are probably wondering if I’ll be sending the newsletter in pure, ascetic plain text or in the more luxurious but in box-polluting HTML format. Good question; I don’t yet know the answer. I’ll be tinkering around with HTML experiments in the coming weeks to see what I can come up with. For now, though, I know that everyone who subscribes will receive the same newsletter as there will be just one format — at least for October and probably the next several months. I don’t have the time to prepare two versions right now, at least not before I really have a handle on how it will be received, what readers find useful, how easy it will be to produce, etc.

That’s all a little tentative, I know. I readily admit this is a shoestring operation if ever there was one, and I’m probably not doing as good a job as I can of selling this thing. The way I look at it, it’s a learning process, and I’m hoping a good number of you will come along with me as I learn. Insofar as I discover things that I think might be interesting or useful for you to read about here, I promise to blog about it. I also promise I’ll make it as interesting as I can. And I promise not to spam you.

  1. I enjoy the newer way goes about their monthly newsletter by offering a link to view it. I can see how many may think it defeats the entire purpose, but there’s many upsides to doing it this way.

    First, you can offer a feed for the newsletter. Others can more easily blog about something said within the newsletter and offer a link. The most important benefit, to me, is statistics. You’ll have a much better idea of how many read your newsletter instead of relying by how many people have signed up to read it.

    Again, some will say to just post a blog entry, but I believe newsletters are in a totally different category. My two cents.

  2. Khoi, I host several sites on Dreamhost (and am relatively happy with them for hosting), but I can’t agree with your assessment of their mail list service as “terrific.”

    I had to stop using their mail list services because a lot of people were not receiving their messages. Comcast (and possibly other ISPs?) had blacklisted the server from which the Dreamhost list mail originates. I went round and round with Comcast and DH and got nowhere. This was in late 2006; maybe things have improved since then.

    My mail lists have gone dormant since then. When I decide to revive them, I’ll probably fork over the dough for Campaign Monitor.

  3. Don’t want to criticise… but…

    I have to officially declare that not using Campaign Monitor was a mistake. It’s amazing. And it makes sending two versions really, really easy.

    (I’m saving this so I can say I told you so in a few months time.)

  4. Hey Khoi. To an extent, I agree with Shawn about simply proving a link. Yes, it absolutely defeats the point of an e-mail newsletter, but with HTML e-mail rendering being so poor (and even more so given the latest version of Outlook), I – as a former html e-mail designer myself – am pretty close to giving up on the format.

    If neither HTML or ‘click here to read’ are roads you want to go down, however, I would still consider using one of them over plain text. Plain text is great for regular e-mails, but for newsletters (long in nature), it’s just plain boring. Add to that the fact that we (your readers) are fans of your design, to have an ‘undesigned’ e-mail newsletter from your good self would just be a travesty! 😉

    So my personal choice would be to receive a ‘click here to read’ e-mail with just a little bit of HTML to make it look nice without breaking cross-client rendering (if possible).

    Either way, I’m signed up and really looking forward to the first one. It’ll be really interesting to see which route you take.

  5. Steve: Thanks for catching that. I’ve edited the markup a bit so hopefully the form field is a bit larger when not viewing it through a browser.

    Eric Scouten: Thanks for that feedback on Dreamhost’s mailing software. Okay, well at the very least I’ll be capturing email addresses via Dreamhost. It was the fastest way to get the form up and running. I may very well end up using one of the two services I mentioned to send the first email after all.

    Shawn & Elliot: I may provide an online archive for the newsletters if it’s not too much trouble. I like the idea but I want the production of this newsletter to be as simple as I can, and I don’t want to turn it into a big production. Thanks for the input though.

  6. I’m signed up and excited… but have to WHOLE HEARTEDLY AGREE with Ben in that I’ve used both DH’s capabilities and now religiously use CM’s system (as well as their Mailbuild for my clients) and it’s like comparing the Bad News Bears with the NY Yankee’s.

    Either way, you should add a few additional fields to your subscribe form such as Name for future personalization – think ahead especially if you have the slightest inkiling you’ll go to a real email system later.

  7. PS – Just read your reply to Shawn & Elliot and wanted to add in that CM offers a single line of JS to pull in an RSS type of feed for your site to list the campaigns that you’ve sent in the past – clients LOVE that and you will too!

    PPS – You can use CM’s Mailbuild to make your life SOOOOOO easy by using templates and then using their online WYSIWYG editor to send, track, etc.

    (can you tell I’m a gigantic MailBuild and Campaign Monitor Fan!?)

  8. I didn’t realize Dreamhost offered mail list functionality. Anyway, I’ve signed up.

    Not to hijack this thread, but since so many response have experience with either or both Campaign Monitor and MailChimp, I was wondering if either of them offer the ability to automatically send emails based on RSS feeds?

    I’ve been looking for a solution that allows automatic mailing to subscribers; broadcasted mail to subscribers, and then of course general announcements/invitations. Basically, I have three groups of subscribers:

    (1) those interested in a specific topic or issue (corresponds to a section of the website, so RSS is easy) and they want regular updates;

    (2) those who want mailings, but consider regular once or twice a month (these would be manual summaries); and

    (3) those who’ve provided their email, but haven’t indicated a preference (they would receive occasional invitations to opt-in to one of the other groups

    My first look at Campaign Monitor seemed like it would be great for level 2 subscribers, but offered no benefit for level 1 subscribers. So I’ve been looking at Zookoda and MailChimp. But I’m not certain what MailChimp offers or if my tests overlooked something at Campaign Monitor that would work for level 1 subscribers (high frequency subscribers- at least 1 message per day).

  9. I tried Zookoda. I wanted them to work out because the price — free — was right. But I couldn’t get approved as a mail sender; apparently they think I’m just going to send spam.

  10. I vote for an HTML newsletter. I do a lot of HTML emails at work and would really be interested to see how you meet the challenges and use the medium. Pretty please?

  11. If I can manage it, I’ll try to make it available online, but in all likelihood, it won’t be available on this blog. That’s why you should subscribe!

  12. Do not use Campaign Monitor if you need to send more than 400 emails at a time. They limit the mount of emails per blast. Trying to get them to up the limit for you you have jump through hoops and prove to them you are not a spamming.

  13. Thanks for checking us out Khoi and thanks to everyone else for the kind words about Campaign Monitor.

    @Monika, our human approval process is super important because it ensures we can always guarantee high delivery rates for our customers. Sorry about the hoop jumping, but it usually takes no more than answering a single question and you’re done. Once you’re approved you won’t be bothered again.

  14. Hi Khoi- Yeah, I heard that for a couple months the approval process was pretty time consuming, but mine just took 24 hours, and I set-up 2 accounts—a test one under mine name, and a secondary one under the clients name, just in case I select Zookoda.

    I just noticed this, that your site doesn’t offer an option to subscribe to a post, or receive email on follow-up comments. I think I only noticed, because I wanted to keep track of the conversation, and was expecting an email notice of additional comments. Does MT not offer that feature? I’ve gotten pretty use to it, but I think I might visit a lot of sites using Expression Engine (or those that don’t have comments at all).

  15. Khoi, Your site is so very elegant I’ve signed up for the newsletter. But you better not disappoint me. 🙂 Now can I interest you in a couple of tricks that are getting me Highly-Ranked on Google Search and building strong backlinks? You’ll find the first lot here and if you leave me a comment I’ll tell you the rest in an email (don’t want the whole world to know). Я bientЗt, Malkie, Paris.

  16. This is great! I am excited about the newletter. Your postings are thought provoking. I especially liked the blog on “Cloths Makes the Design Director”…I look forward to seeing more.

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