A List of Your Own

SAN FRANCISCO (04/14/2000) - The Internet promises to make everyone a publishing magnate, so in order to boost my own Web empire (read: home page), I started my very own private discussion channel (read: mail list) using the recently updated EGroups.

The main benefit of the free Egroups Inc. service, which last year merged with mailing list provider Onelist, is ease of use.

Maybe you've subscribed to a Majordomo mailing list before (typically by sending an e-mail to a certain address with the word subscribe in the body).

Majordomo, a free mailing list program that typically runs on Unix servers, is a great way to read mailing lists, but EGroups is much easier to set up yourself. And all your messages will be archived online. This is a nice benefit for new members who quickly want to get up to speed and old hands who want to revisit a message.

To create my list, I filled out just eight fields on a form at the EGroups site, including name and birth date but nothing too personal or confidential.

Then I was asked to add a few details about my new group. Since mine was private (a choice on the form), this information wouldn't be displayed, but oddly it was still required. For my group I chose "Shopping: Antiques and Collectibles," although I had no interest in discussing either. I found out later that the description displays when an invited member goes to the site to join up.

Now it was time to contact potential members of my new group. An invitation, which I customized, was sent on my behalf. Each person I invited en masse could join simply by clicking a link.

Where's the Preview Mode?

Here is my main complaint about EGroups: The invitations sent out, essentially my first meeting with prospective list members, offered little in the way of a preview. It was hard to tell what was being sent on my behalf. A better, full preview of the invitation should be available. The letter sent out was written in the first person, which felt a bit odd since I hadn't seen the message before.

Though EGroups offers additional collaboration tools, I wasn't impressed by its online database, because there was so little apparent instruction. While the e-mail list setup was a wizardlike affair, the database setup process seemed cryptic. I found the help file somewhat useful, but I'm still not completely sure if I can create the sort of database I want.

Besides these minor complaints, I found EGroups very friendly to a first-timer, and I was ready to make contact in less than half an hour. Now my list members can contact each other using one e-mail address, create online polls, share up to 20MB of files online, and share an online calendar. Most of these features are available elsewhere, but EGroups has done a nice job of placing them together in one online space.

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