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This year’s pro-bono project is to work with a parents and teachers association and it is throwing up some interesting communication challenges. The range of technical ability in the community is heavily weighted towards the low end and solutions have to be very simple.

We have a need for a discussion group. The client suggested that she would like a facility to enable members of a discussion group to send emails to each other. This reminded me of the early days of the internet before the graphical web when we all used Listerv(R) lists.

Wikipedia has a useful description of such mail servers.

As you note the key capability is that of “mail reflector” that distributes emails sent to the list address from a member to all the other members.

After review,

Mailing lists compete with Twitter and BuddyPress/Facebook and Google and Yahoo Groups but offer different features,

  • unlike Twitter they are private
  • unlike BuddyPress/Facebook.They do not require the user to leave their email client and login to another application in order to respond to a comment.
  • Google and Yahoo groups require Google and Yahoo ids.
  • they offer the option to choose a digest. This is great for active lists.

LISTSERV (R) is a great mature product but seems expensive for smaller customers. You might well choose to buy a list from a LISTSERV hosting company.

Sympa is a highly regarded free and open source alternative.

Although it would be possible to use an outbound marketing system like Mailchimp or PHPList for this purpose by writing your own mail reflector this risks reinventing the wheel because there are bound to be gotchas.


I will recommend that my client looks at a hosted Listserv list. Ideally this will have a web interface so that users can (even more) easily change their subscription and digest options.

(cross-post to WPMU  forum thread)