Free Mailing List Hosts Review: Yahoo! Groups

Review of Yahoo Groups, one of the free mailing list hosting services


Free Mailing List Hosting Review: Yahoo! Groups

by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com
Written: 27 April 2003

Yahoo! Groups is one of the many free mailing list services available on the Internet (or at least it was, at the time I write this). I have been using it from the time when it was called Onelist many years ago, before it changed its name to eGroups and then later to Yahoo! Groups (after its acquisition by Yahoo!). For the purpose of this review however, I created a new mailing list so that I could investigate any changes that this free newsletter hosting service has made to its interface and services since the time I first investigated them.

For those who are not familiar with Yahoo! Groups, they can be found at http://groups.yahoo.com/

Subscription and Unsubscription

  1. Email and Web Interface for Subscribing and Unsubscribing

    Yahoo! Groups allow your prospective subscriber to subscribe to and unsubscribe from your list either by using a web interface or by email. They supply the HTML code for subscribing and unsubscribing to your list, so if you have a website, you can simply plug the code into your web page. Alternatively, people who want to join your list can also subscribe and unsubscribe by sending an email message to certain email addresses which they supply. For example, if the name of your mailing list or newsletter is "example", the subscription email address will be example-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

  2. Double Opt-In List (Confirmation Required)

    Yahoo! Groups also requires that your potential subscribers respond to a confirmation message that is sent to their email address when they ask to join the list. For legitimate newsletter publishers, this feature is extremely helpful in weeding out spurious requests to subscribe email addresses. It also helps in protecting you against false accusations of spam, should your subscriber forget that he/she has subscribed to your newsletter in the past.

    I have dealt at length with the problems legitimate newsletter publishers have with the issue of spam and spammers in another article. If you have not already read it, you can find the article The Changing Face of Email Newsletter Publishing: Tips for Newsletter Publishers at https://www.thesitewizard.com/ezines/newsletterpublishingtips.shtml

  3. Confirmation Request Customization (or Lack Thereof)

    One of the first things your prospective subscriber sees when he subscribes to your list is the message sent by the mailing list host asking him/her to confirm the subscription by replying to the message. It is very important that this initial message be worded correctly or, alternatively, be customizable, so that the subscriber does not mistake the message for spam arriving in his mail box and delete it without reading further.

    In Yahoo! Groups' case, the confirmation request is not customizable. However, your list name appears clearly in the subject line, so hopefully this will help the subscriber recognize that the message is something he/she has requested, and not delete it thinking it to be spam. You can help your potential subscriber recognize the message by forewarning them on your website (assuming of course that you run a website): tell your subscribers that they will be receiving a message from Yahoo! Groups asking them to confirm their subscription to your list.

    A confirmation is also required for requests to leave the list.

  4. Welcome Message

    Yahoo! Groups allow you to customize your welcome message, that is, the message your subscriber sees after he/she confirms the subscription request. You cannot, however, customize the goodbye message, the message that a person sees after he/she unsubscribes from your list. (It will probably not be read by most people unsubscribing anyway, so goodbye message customization is probably not as important as the option to customize the welcome message).

Importing Existing Mailing Lists

For those of you with an existing mailing list, Yahoo! Groups allow you to import up to 100 email addresses into their system without having to contact their customer support. If your list is larger than that, you'll have to use their form and send them the list for review.

The members on your list will all receive a welcome message (which you can customise) when you have successfully imported the list.

Note that this feature of allowing people to import existing mailing lists without requiring a confirmation has both positive and negative aspects.

On the plus side, it allows legitimate newsletter publishers to move an existing list to the service without forcing their entire subscriber base to resubscribe to the newsletter. Whenever you ask people to re-subscribe and reconfirm a subscription, you run the risk of losing some subscribers (those that forget and those that can't be bothered to do so).

On the negative side, a service that allows people to import email addresses tends to attract spammers, although of course the fact that Yahoo! Groups sends a welcome message to the imported email addresses helps to minimize this problem. Don't think that spammers using a service will not affect you: if the service gathers a reputation for being a haven for spammers, it will be blocked by many email providers. This in turn affects legitimate publishers like you, who will also be unable to deliver to those addresses.

No Limit on List Size / Insertion of Advertisements

As far as I can tell, Yahoo! Groups does not impose a limit to your mailing list. It is able to do this probably because it is advertising-supported, and inserts advertisements at the top of every message you post to the list.

Not having a limit to your list is important if you anticipate your list growing, which is usually the case unless your group only has a fixed number of people (such as a mailing list set up so that you can keep in touch with the other members of your family when you are, say, abroad for a period of time).

Other Features

Yahoo! Groups has a large number of additional facilities available to the newsletter publisher. Your list can be an announcement list or a discussion list. You can set up your list so that you need to approve subscriptions or, alternatively, allow anyone to join. You can conduct polls, post files that are accessible only to your members, ban certain email addresses, etc.

Potential Problems

  1. Blocked by Certain Email Services

    One of the problems that I have encountered with this service over the years I have used it is that certain email services (including some free email providers) block newsletters sent through Yahoo! Groups' mailing list system. (Note that just because people are able to subscribe to your list does not necessarily mean that they will be able to receive a message you send to it.)

    Since the list of places that are blocked changes from time to time with the various email providers, it is not possible to provide a definitive list here. (It'll probably be outdated by the time you read this anyway.) One way to check if your newsletter can be received by the email providers you consider important to your list is to sign up for an account with them yourself. You can find a list of some email services on the Free Email Providers: Free Web Email, Free POP3 and IMAP Email, Free Email Forwarding page at http://www.thefreecountry.com/webmaster/freeemail.shtml

  2. Bouncing Mail and Probes

    All mailing list hosts need a way to deal with bouncing email. Sooner or later, some of the email addresses on your list will become invalid, and messages sent by you will bounce. Most mailing list hosting services, free or otherwise, will remove such email addresses after a certain number of bounces.

    Unfortunately, the last time I checked this (some time last year), Yahoo! Groups does not appear to do this in a satisfactory manner. Sure, it removes the email address from your list, but continues to send what it calls "Probes" (which are basically email messages asking the subscriber to reply or the like if the email address is still valid) to those email addresses ad infinitum. When I checked one of my lists hosted in Yahoo! Groups last year, I found that a number of email addresses had hundreds of such probes sent over goodness-knows-how-long. One of them had over 400 probes sent to it! If I had not quickly deleted those email addresses, the probes will probably have numbered over a thousand by today. With a behaviour like that, it is no wonder that some email providers block mail from Yahoo! Groups.

    If you run a list on Yahoo! Groups, I recommend that you check the list of bouncing addresses on your list and delete them on a regular basis. I have no idea if this will help prevent your list from being blocked or anything like that, but at least your list will not be contributing to the problem.

Verdict

If you want a free mailing list provider that is run by a large company, not a new kid on the block but one that has been around long enough to hopefully get its act together, provides numerous facilities with your list, adequately customizable, Yahoo! Groups is probably a service that you might want to consider. You will of course have to weigh the advantages of the service against problems like its being blocked by certain email services and the fact that it inserts advertisements in your messages.

Copyright 2003 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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