We have a lot of small business clients, so we’re always looking for ways to save them money. High monthly subscription fees, or expensive software that requires yearly upgrades, can be a major barrier for someone just starting their business. That’s one reason we use OSCommerce for online stores and WordPress as a mini-CMS. (Another reason is that these two open source projects have huge, involved communities, who are constantly writing all sorts of useful add-ons.)
With that mindset, we decided to give PHPList a go. In short, it’s not the right solution for our clients. WordPress bucks the open source trend in that it has a well-designed, easy to use interface. We’ve had little problem handing it off to clients and letting them update their own sites. (They still require some support, but that’s content for another post.) PHPList, on the other hand, is designed squarely by coders, for… if not coders, at least highly technical people with a patient try and try again attitude.
For example, a green check mark in the “bl l” category means “don’t ever send this person email” (while a red X means, please, send email to this person). The default for mailing list imports and user sign-ups is to send that user text-only emails– not a multipart “HTML if you can, text if you can’t” email. Message sent logs are indecipherable: I still don’t know what it means that I sent one newsletter to 82 users, which includes 4 HTML emails and… 134 text emails? Isn’t 134 greater than 82?
PHPList does some things right. It’s great about preventing duplicate mailings, for example, which is crucial when you’re sending to a large list that might get cranky if they get a few too many newsletters. It also makes sending a test email fairly simple, another big plus.
PHPList is certainly powerful enough to run a newsletter. However, most of our clients don’t have large tech departments– they have a technically inclined person who’s already overworked, and doesn’t want to spend a lot of time handling a new responsibility. We’re experimenting with new options now. Having rejected quite a few programs out of hand simply because their web sites are far too obnoxious (seriously– ask me and I can email you a link), and others for insufficient flexibility, we’re currently browsing MailChimp. If we have a successful deployment with one of the new programs, I’ll post about it here.