If you are looking to start an email list or perhaps take over an existing email newsletter, I'm sure you've been surprised, frustrated, and confused by the high costs and confusing service some email newsletter management companies charge. Is there another way?
There actually is. Technically you can run your own email list management software on a shared hosting, or VPS (virtual private server), or dedicated server you or your company and organization already pay for. (Assuming you have a website up.) I've compiled this list of the free and open source email newsletter managers which can be downloaded and installed to run on a server and be used via a graphical interface in browser.
PHPList is probably the best known and most popular open source email management software that's available today. While it's probably not going to win any awards from design snobs the email software works well.
PHPList has a lot of nice features like click tracking, bounce management, list segmentation, PDF documents, RSS integration, HTML templates, and more. Most importantly PHPList has throttling and batch processing capabilities. This means you can control how many emails are sent out in say 1 hour, which is why most people use it in shared hosting environments. This is also why the majority of major web hosting companies recommend PHPList, since they don't want you going over their shared hosting email limits.
If you don't feel like using your own server there is a phpList Hosted service where they handling sending out your email newsletters from their servers. I have not used phpList hosted but the pricing looks competitive and might be an ideal option if your email list is large and you don't want to switch to using another email program.
There is a new community manager for PHPList and Tincan, the company behind phpList, seems quite committed to continually improving it. They recently updated their community portal and Anna, the phpList community manager, will be releasing tutorials videos this year along with better documentation.
@DogsSing well, we will be able to help a lot over this year with better documentation and videos etc 🙂
— phpList (@phpList) March 6, 2014
As a side note, something I find personally pretty funny is the PHPList documentation list uses Mailman, see below.
Dada Mail is a great email list management software that is ideal for anyone. The interface is clean and everything is pretty straightforward on how to use it. I wrote about Dada Mail before on this blog and said it was much easier to use than MailMan or phpList in my opinion. You should be able to install it and get going within a few minutes without having to read too much in the Dada Mail forum or documentation. (Although it's always a good idea to.)
Dada Mail comes with nice features which includes closed loop-opt-ins, email message archiving, sharing via RSS feeds, individual subscribers can edit their profiles, email analytics, and more. There is a fairly active support forum and Justin, the developer, tries to answer questions readily. So if you are having an issue you can get help easily.
The major disadvantage here is that Dada Mail is open source and free… but only if your email newsletter is under 1,000 subscribers. After that you will need to buy a Dada Mail Pro License for $74.95, which is a one-time fee.
OpenEMM (open e-email marketing manager) is an open source email list management software I've not personally used. However, from what I've read OpenEMM is stable and seems to to have a nice interface from these videos. It has all the functionality of phpList and Dada Mail (from what I can tell). It even supports many languages outside of English.
There's great documentation for OpenEMM and in addition to an active support form. On the website OpenEMM's developers boast that major corporations use use the e-mail marketing manger such as IBM, Daimler, Siemens and Deutsche Telekom. If it's good enough for them it is probably good enough for you.
Mailman, or GNU Mailman, comes pre-installed in most cPanel installations to my understanding. Mailman is used by a lot of colleges and institutions since it is quite stable and reliable email newsletter software. It has several advantages over other email managers, specifically you can setup Mailman so that any user on an email list can respond or start threaded discussions. Thinks of how Yahoo Groups works.
This is why a lot of documentation email lists for open source software use Mailman, like PHPList's documentation list. As far as I know this the group communication feature it Mailman's best feature actually.
Even though Mailman is on this list I wouldn't recommend using it if you are a “regular person” as it's quite hard to use and has a high learning curve. I couldn't even figure out how to setup and send an email newsletter, and I consider myself fairly technically inclined. It's really for people that love coding and hate graphical interfaces I guess (ie hardcore Linux users). Still I had to mention it on this post for email list management software options.
I've put Pommo (Post Modern Mail Manager) on this list tentatively as I have not used it and the developers stopped supporting the email newsletter manager several year ago. Thanks to the magic of Github Pommo has been able to live on.
People have clung to Pommo since it's got a dead simple interface and is easy-to-use. From what I've read it doesn't have batch processing handling like Dada Mail, PHPList, or OpenEMM and lacks some other features. Still people are using Pommo.
I did actually tried to install Pommo on a shared hosting server I use just for testing out things like this but there was an PHP issue I tried to install Pommo. It won't work with the current version of PHP installed on most shared servers and throws an error code. There are some workarounds but honestly I haven't had time to figure to figure it out and fix it. Unsure if I really want to considering the other options above are supported.
If you have money, time, resources, and skills feel free to find developers to resurrect Pommo. I'm sure a lot of people would be really happy. Unfortunately I don't but it would be nice to have Pommo as a usable option.
Sympa, like Mailman, is a popular email list management software used at colleges and institutions. I've read on some forums people have successfully installed this on shared servers and VPS hosting environments but most people seem to use Sympa on dedicated servers.
Sympa supports Galician, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, and German in addition to English and they are working on translating more languages. Sympa features that other email newsletter managers don't have is users can review each other, you can upload pictures, and more.
If you are going to use Sympa it does have a fair amount of documentation but it's a bit hard to understand if you are not a computer geek. For that reason it's probably best if you stick with another email manager listed above especially. It's mainly used for college classes and sport groups as far as I can tell.
Email List Management Software Options
If you got to the end of this article you are probably wondering, “What email newsletter software should I go use?” My recommendation would probably be to stick with PHPList or OpenEMM. Dada Mail is also an ideal option even if you have to pay for a pro license. I listed Mailman, Sympa, and Pommo merely as email list management software options you could consider just for kicks. I just don't really recommend people use them. PHPList, OpenEMM, and Dadamail are all actively developed and have documentation that can be understood by normal human beings.
I hoped you liked this list and round-up. If you have anything to add or have any comments please leave them below. Do you like or hate any of these email list managers? Have a suggestion of a newsletter manager I missed? Let me know below.