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Doing Opt-in: It's Simple

Implementing an opt-in mailing list that includes the confirmation handshake should be straightforward. Leading mailing list programs and third-party services include this as a standard option.

Popular mailing list programs that offer opt-in confirmation features (according to people I talked to for this article) include the following:

  • Lyris ListManager—runs on Windows 2000/XP/2003 Server, Linux, and Solaris SPARC

  • Majordomo—runs on Unix mostly; requires PERL

  • Mailman—runs on Linux and Windows

"Mailman, for example, offers Web and E-mail confirmations; Majordomo wants mail, but can be configured to do it through the Web," according to Ritter. "The code to do this through a URL comes from Majordomo/Mailman in the installation."

Or, if you're using Lyris ListManager, you'd simply select the Confirm Subscribes radio button on the CONFIRMATION tab in List Utilities/List Settings/New Subscriber Policy, according to Lyris tech support.

Any third-party mailing service you use should also offer opt-in features. Free mailing list providers include Yahoo Groups and Topica.

"We offer a little script you can add to your Web site to handle the subscribe requests, and we provide the 'you have been added' follow-up," states Pat Rountree, CEO of Dundee Net. Dundee Net is a seven-year-old provider that uses Lyris ListManager to support nearly 1,000 mailing lists with an estimated eleven million subscribers. One well-known Dundee customer is computer technology editor Fred Langa, whose LangaList has more than 160,000 customers.

A potential subscriber to a Dundee customer enters her E-mail address and name. This generates a Web confirmation message, such as the following:

In a few seconds you should check your E-mail for a confirmation message. Please reply to this message to complete your subscription request.

It also generates an E-mail message to the address, such as this one to Dundee Net's own news mailing list:

PLEASE REPLY TO CONFIRM YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

You are receiving this message because your E-mail address has been entered for a subscription to the dundeenetnews mailing list. This confirmation step ensures that only those people interested in this list will continue to receive these messages.

By REPLYING to this E-mail, you confirm that you received this E-mail message and want to belong to dundeenetnews. If you do not want to join, do nothing, and you will be automatically removed.

To confirm that you do want to join, simply reply to this message (the subject and body of your message may be blank). Make sure that your message is addressed to:

lyris-confirm-<alphanumeric token>@lyris.dundee.net

You can, of course, create your own opt-in mailing list manager. For example, for his eListeXpress service, which supports close to 1,000 lists and an estimated million or more subscribers, James Galvin, president and CEO of eListeXpress says, "I use home-grown tools—the management of a list of subscribers is a fairly simple set of PERL scripts with a web interface." To get added to one of his customers' lists, you can send E-mail to a '-request' address, or use a Web-based subscription manager. "Both of those result in sending you a token you have to reply to. The token is a random number. You have to reply with a message that includes it."

Similarly, ListBox offers its customers several ways to let subscribers join: via E-mail, via ListBox's Web site, or through another Web site, according to Helen Horstmann, who is in Customer Service at ListBox. For the last approach, Listbox provides a small Web form that can be customized or added to any Web page.

Interestingly enough, not all signups are electronic. If a database includes names and addresses but no E-mail addresses, "We put together a program to send out postcards," says Jason Baer, President of Mighty Interactive, an Internet marketing agency.

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