Creating a mission-critical infrastructure, designing a Web site and managing inventory and payment are all parts of the gargantuan task that is building an Internet-commerce site. But all that expended money and work could be wasted if you don't treat your customers right.
One way to enhance customer relations, while you project and reinforce your brand, is with an e-mail list server. You have probably seen sites that offer a choice of receiving company and product notifications via e-mail, but list servers can also be used for newsletters and e-mail-based discussions.
List servers have been employed in the Unix world for years, but these tools are typically hard to manage. Fortunately, a new breed of list servers offers graphical user interfaces to ease configuration and administration headaches. One such product is NTList, Version 4.0, from Gordano. I liked NTList because it was simple to get running and its administration is easily handled with a Web browser.
NTList requires a Pentium-based PC running Windows NT 4.0, but it works with any e-mail server. In the unlikely event that you aren't already running an e-mail server or are looking for a new one, Gordano also offers NTMail, a companion product to NTList.
The advantage to using NTMail is having the same interface for both your e-mail and list servers. NTList offers the choice of storing data in any ODBC-compliant database, such as Microsoft's Access or SQL Server products.
NTList's most intriguing feature is its browser-based administration. Although the interface is very good, it is not as completely intuitive as I would have liked. For example, because the first thing an administrator would typically do is create or add a list, I expected an add-list function to be the most prominently displayed feature. Instead, it was second in line after the user-management option.
Also, although NTList comes with good context-sensitive help, I would have preferred wizards to help me create new lists and accounts.
NTList is very powerful and flexible. Lists can have as many as 1 million members, and message content can be in plain text, MIME, PDF or HTML format. NTList can assign certain users as moderators so they can approve, decline, ban and otherwise manage a given list.
You can also design lists as discussion forums, in which users send e-mail to the list server, which then forwards that e-mail to everyone on the list.
Because some discussions can be extremely active, I liked NTList's digest-format option (a digest is a single e-mail that includes all member contributions over a period of time).
Digest format is advantageous on both ends of the pipe. Users often find digests more efficient to read, and digests reduce the e-mail that a server has to handle. If they prefer, users can opt to receive discussion e-mails individually.
Users can subscribe to NTList lists by sending an e-mail to the list server with a natural-language command such as "join reviews-talk." Alternatively, administrators can include a piece of simple HTML code on their Web sites on which users can click to subscribe to a list. In both cases, I liked the fact that NTList sends the user a confirmation e-mail when the user subscribes to a list.
However, I was disappointed to discover that if I wanted to import existing Microsoft Exchange users to a list, I had to do so manually. I hope NTList will add an import facility in the future.
I liked the flexibility that NTList gives moderators. For example, a moderator can approve or decline every request to join a list, or screen messages for offensive or nonrelevant content. If a list member is spamming the group or being abusive, the moderator can suspend them temporarily or remove them permanently.
Maintaining good customer relations is more essential than ever in the Internet age, and a list server can help. NTList, with its capability to handle as many as 1 million members, is an extremely scalable list server, and its browser-based administration eases management chores.
Now you just have to find 1million customers.
THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD
NTList Version 4.0
Summary: A quick-to-install and easy-to-manage list server, NTList is a perfect way to deliver targeted information such as newsletters and product updates to your customers.
Business Case: A scalable list server such as NTList is a natural part of a growing Internet-commerce endeavor. But the product is expensive for both small and large lists.
+ Good compatibility with a range of e-mail servers+ Easy installation+ Browser-based administrationCons- Windows NT only- ExpensivePlatform: Windows NT 4.0Gordano Ltd., Clevedon, North Somerset, England; http://www.ntlist.co.uk