After I published my earlier review of two well-known free mailing list services, Listbot (now defunct) and eGroups (now known as Yahoo Groups), I received a few requests from visitors to thesitewizard.com for reviews of other mailing list hosting services (free and otherwise). If you missed that earlier review, you can find the review at ListBot Vs eGroups.
(There's also an updated review of Yahoo Groups.)
Topica is another fairly well-known mailing list service that allows you to set up your newsletter, ezine or discussion list free of charge.
Update: Topica has ceased its free mailing list service as of 29 July 2014.
Topica allows your subscribers to add and remove themselves from the list either using a web interface at their site or via email (such as firstname.lastname@example.org).
As with the other reputable mailing list services, they will send an email to your subscribers asking them to confirm their subscription before adding them. Although this can be a nuisance, it is a useful feature that protects you and the subscriber in case someone added that email address to the list without the consent of the owner.
You cannot customize the initial message sent to the subscriber. Their message however, appears to be fairly clear and your list name appears clearly on the subject line. This is important so that people who receive a lot of email (and spam) will not accidentally mistake the confirmation request for spam and delete it without even reading it. After the subscription is confirmed, your welcome message is sent to him.
Topica allows you to import up to 500 existing email addresses into your list without requiring confirmations from these people. This is a useful feature if you're moving your existing list there. In fact, although 500 is the stated limit, they actually allow you to request for this limit to be raised if you wish to import more than that.
Although eGroups (or Yahoo Groups) allows you to import existing email addresses as well, I think Topica's limit is the largest that I've seen for a free mailing list service.
The downside of this is of course the potential for abuse by other people. While you may not be guilty of using it to spam others, remember that if the service gets a reputation for producing spam, email from that service will likely to be blocked by many email service providers. This appears to have occurred with Topica on one of the email services I use (Bigfoot.com). No matter how many times I attempted to subscribe to a list I set up for testing purposes from my Bigfoot address, I never received any email from Topica, even after many weeks. I think Bigfoot blocked all email originating from Topica's addresses. (Anyway, my experience with bigfoot.com is that their automatic spam filters occasionally filter out genuine email while allowing spam to slip through.)
When I tested Topica with a test mailing list, Topica did not insert any advertisements to the messages sent to the list, except for a simple footer at the end of the message linking to Topica itself (something you get even with free email services). I'm not sure if this was just a temporary situation (for example, it could have been because they couldn't get enough advertisers during the period I tested my list).
Other services provided by this mailing list service include message archives for your list as well as a listing in their mailing list directory. At the time I checked them out, they did not have the many frills which eGroups offers its users (conducting polls, a file area for list members, etc).
I don't know about the reliability of their servers though, since unlike the other two mailing list services I reviewed, I have never hosted a "live" list with them (only a test list for a few friends and me).
I admit I was fairly impressed when I checked them out. Indeed, the only fault I could find with them so far is that users of Bigfoot's free email service will not be able to subscribe to your lists hosted there. I guess if you're willing to lose the few Bigfoot users every now and then, this may be a good service to check out.
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