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October 5, 2006

Yahoo Groups - still the leader in free mailing lists

Posted by Sanford Dickert | Discussion: 0 Comments

Over eight years ago, a guy named Scott Hassan was looking at a mailing list software package called Majordomo which had all the complexity of a particle accelerator. He was looking to build a mailing list for python programmers (a programming language, not the snakes) and decided to modify another package for his own. From this tinkering was borne eGroups which, two years later, was purchased for $450M and became what we now know as Yahoo! Groups.

You might ask, after so many years, hasn't anyone come up with a better group communications package that surpasses eGroups (I still use the eGroups name, since I was Director of Marketing back in 1999)? goggle Groups was relaunched a little over a year ago, and there are a number of free mailing list and community tool companies out in the market.

But in the years since, Yahoo! has kept the balance of functionality and service in play for eGroups that it is often sited as the better tool for group management out of them all. And, while I may be biased due to my allegence, you would be hard pressed to find a better community management tool for the price. In coming posts, I will discuss strengths and weaknesses between the different tools (a special post on google Groups, definitely), to ensure we do learn about more solutions that can offer tools that meet different organizations needs.

Base functionality
Yahoo! Groups has always been based on the key functionality of a mailing list - and allowing people to manage their frequency of receiving emails from the group. Sign up is easy (often simply using their Yahoo! account name) and eGroups still maintains the email address signup feature if someone adds or invites a user to join. All email formats are accepted (HTML and text) and Yahoo! still adds the annoying ads in the body of the message (I always use the text format so the ads are simple lines at the end of the message).

Keeping with the original concept of being a "group communication platform", eGroups still supports the features that a group would require - file sharing (up to 20M of storage), photo sharing (up to 30M), bookmarks, polling (for surveying the group), a simple database (think Excel functionality for project list management) and a group calendar. While the supporting services are somewhat anemic (20M was so Web 1.0), the mailing list functionality is still top-notch.

As the group owner, you can set the list to be an announcement list (think newsletter), a discussion list (where others can communicate with each other on the list) or a duologue list (where when someone posts, the responses only go to the poster). Membership and posting can be moderated (you decide who joins or who posts) and members can set their frequency of messages (all, digest, web or only special notices). And with the new Digest mode, discussion threads are exceptionally easy to follow.

For campaigns, one comment has always been about security - how can you ensure that no one from outside the campaign will have access to the list? Yahoo! supports not listing the eGroup in the directory (showing the group only to members on the list), and also supporting membership moderation to track who can or can not receive messages. And while the only "secure" platform might be hosting your own mailing list functionality, Yahoo! is great for most campaigns or group management needs. My best personal experiences came during the Kerry Campaign when we created the demtech and demcomm eGroups. Coordinating across the country with tech supporters or community visionaries was easily handled via eGroups - and the archive was incredibly helpful in moving our efforts forward.

If you have different thoughts, please comment below - or send an email to let me know what you think.


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