Majordomo Newsletters for the Novice
Newsletters may be a great marketing tool, but using Majordomo is not for the novice. As someone once put it, “Majordomo is not for the fainthearted.”
So why are you trying to use it? Determined, aren’t you!
Just what is Majordomo? It is mailing list management software that resides on your Unix Web server and handles the everyday subscriptions, unsubscriptions (is that really a word?), and mailings to everyone whose e-mail address is on the current mailing list. It is a good program, written in perl by Brent Chapman several years ago. You can configure it remotely, entirely via e-mail once you learn what you’re doing.
But let’s just say Majordomo is not especially “user friendly.” There are a few things you’ll have to learn.
Befriend your system operator
First, you’ll need to work with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) system operator (or, if you’re my client, your Web site designer) to configure the program for you. To prepare Majordomo up for a newsletter, tell your ISP that you want it set up for:
- administrivia = yes
- subscribe policy = auto
- moderate = yes
- private_who = yes
- [if available, see technical note below]
These things are pretty technical, but you can learn to configure you own list via e-mail once you master Information for Majordomo list owners: the Gory Details. At this level you’re on your own.
Need to know
To use this program you must learn to:
- Subscribe some people manually
- Unsubscribe some people manually
- Find out how many subscribers you have
- Use passwords to send messages to the list
- Tolerate a bunch of “junk mail” in your box notifying you every time someone subscribes or unsubscribes.
You’ll need to be patient in trying to learn to use this. There is no Windows drop-down menu. Only written commands via e-mail. So please, read the directions carefully, again and againif need be. Please don’t call me to explain or I’ll have to turn on my terrible “clock” and bill you for the time.
Rule Majordomo with only four commands
Information for Majordomo list owners: the Gory Details explains all the commands, but we’ll only touch on four necessary commands here. Each of these requires use of a password. For purposes of example we’ll invent some names
- Your password will be secretword Shhhh! (Inventive, I am!)
- The newsletter or list name we’ll call mynewsletter.*
- Your domain name will be business-success.com.* For today, we’ll pretend that you have this domain, but you know that you’ll substitute your actual domain name here, don’t you?
- We’ll be working with a subscriber email@example.com*
Are you with me so far?
You need to remember that:
- All administrative commands are sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
- All messages for your newsletter are e-mailed to the listname itself: email@example.com
If you send administrative commands to firstname.lastname@example.org they won’t work, and visa versa. How do I know? I’ve probably made all the mistakes there are to make.
You may subscribe a person with the e-mail address email@example.com in the following manner:
E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org the following message:
You’ll probably get a lot of people who can’t read instructions, but will send you an e-mail message directly, insisting that you unsubscribe them right now! …. And hurry. Then, too, you’ll probably get a lot of notifications back that such-and-such a user is unknown. Probably it means that they didn’t pay their bill, or transferred to another ISP. Save these notices in a folder in your e-mail folder. You’ll have to unsubscribe manually. This is how you do it. Send to email@example.com message:
I cut the offending name from the e-mail message on the left side and paste it to the word processor on the right side, followed by a carriage return. After I’m finished, I’ll set up my word processor (Microsoft Word for Windowsin my case) to search for
It may sound complicated, but after you do this once or twice you’ll get the hang of it.
Before you mail out a newsletter you’ll want to see how many people are on your mailing list. Send the following command to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are using Majordomo to put out a newsletter, you don’t want anybody else to be able to send out things to your subscribers. Therefore, to send a message to your newsletter subscribers, you’ll need to send your message to email@example.com. Notice that you send the actual message for the newsletter to the listname of mynewsletter@ not to majordomo@!
On the very first line of the message text, put the words:
I set up my newsletter on my word processor (Microsoft Word for Windows) as follows:
- 5-1/2 inch (65 character) margins
- Courier New 10 (which is actually 12 characters per inch, like elite type used to be)
After I proofread it carefully (I always seem to miss something, no matter how hard I try!), I finally save it as “text only with line breaks”. This puts a space and a carriage return at the end of every line. If you don’t do this, your lines may be sent out at your e-mail’s default of 70 to 80 character lines. But when people receive it, their e-mail program may force each line wrap around and look ugly. That’s why I set each line for 65 characters; it tends to look neat when people receive it. Except ….
Problems and woes
One of my biggest problems has been = 20 symbols appearing at the end of each line making my text look messy and hard to read (and making me look exceedingly stupid!). To keep this from happening I knock on wood, pray, cross my fingers, and follow these superstitious procedures (though they may not be really necessary):
- Always attach the file as text in your e-mail program, never cut from your word processor and paste into your e-mail program.
- Make sure you don’t have any exotic characters or symbols, such as accents over letters, etc. I once ruined a newsletter by using the word “café” rather than “cafe”, if you can believe that! I think it turns on some kind of “special characters mode” in the MIME protocol, but I’m not sure.
- If you have a way to test on a dummy mailing list first, do it.
- The dread =20 bug sometimes strikes. This comes from the space before the carriage return at the end of every line. Now I do a search and replace in Word to remove any space before a carriage return.
Okay, that’s about it. Of course, there’s always more to learn, but this will get you started with your Majordomo newsletter. If you run into problems, I’ll smile and say “I warned you, didn’t I.” And if you’re my client, I’ll try to help you solve the problem. (If you’re not my client, please don’t even ask.)
If you’re some kind of Unix guru and familiar with perl scripts like Majordomo, you might be interested in technical information about Majordomo which is available on the Internet:
- Information for Majordomo List Owners. This is must reading if you have a new list.
- Majordomo List Owner’s Guide, University of Chicago
- Majordomo Home Page
- Majordomo Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- Chapter on Majordomo by Jerry Peek, from Managing Internet Information Services(Nutshell Handbook; San Rafel, CA: O’Reilly & Associates, Inc., 1994), up-to-date to March 1994. Does not cover the current version of Majordomo, but contains helpful information.
- The Mailing List Management Software FAQ, 1.2, October 28, 1995.
- Asha Dornfest, “How to Set Up and Run Your Own Mailing List,” C|Net, November 27, 1996.
*At the time this article was written those domain names were not taken. Any resemblance to any company, domain name, or person, living or dead, is purely co-incidental.
Technical Note: Just for the fun of it, why don’t you try sending to firstname.lastname@example.org the command