Major TidBITS Mailing List Change Coming
Seven years ago, in “The Web Crossing Begins” (5 January 2004), I wrote about the process of switching all of our Internet services to the Web Crossing server software, running on a then-state-of-the-art dual-G4 Xserve. That Xserve, and Web Crossing, has faithfully distributed TidBITS issues every week since, but as the hardware ages and our nearly 4 GB Web Crossing database suffers from bit rot, the time has come once again for a major transition.
At best, mailing list software has stagnated since I last looked into it, with open source solutions like Mailman presenting interfaces from the turn of the century and Mac-based packages like ListSTAR and LetterRip Pro simply fading away. Large companies would be happy to handle our distribution duties for a fee, but with over 30,000 subscribers, the ongoing costs would be exorbitant. And free solutions like Yahoo Groups simply don’t provide the kind of features and control we need. (Mailman may look as though it’s a decade old, but it’s still highly functional, so we’re now using it for the TidBITS Talk discussion list along with some small private lists, and we’ll also soon be relying on it for the Dutch and Japanese translations of TidBITS.)
So once again, we’ve rolled up our sleeves and designed our own database-driven mailing list management software. Implemented elegantly in perl by the estimable Glenn Fleishman, our new mailing list software has been working behind the scenes for a few months to deliver Take Control-related mail. With Glenn’s latest enhancements and extensions, the TidBITS Publishing System will handle not just our Web site and issue generation, but also email distribution. It’s amazing how, in this day and age, getting the features one wants still often requires writing custom software.
For you, very little should appear to change when we make the switch, which may happen as soon as next week, if our testing works out. The email headers of TidBITS issues may look a little different, with messages coming from a machine named sparky.tidbits.com instead of emperor.tidbits.com. It’s conceivable that inflexible spam filters might freak out over that change and start marking TidBITS as spam, but we certainly hope not, and you can whitelist sparky.tidbits.com ahead of time if you’re worried.
What will change, and this is merely the first of many account-related changes, is how you subscribe, unsubscribe, change passwords, and otherwise manage your subscriptions. The interface is simple, and we’ll be working this week to make it even more so. The key to remember is that if you have a Take Control account (which you do if you’ve ever purchased a Take Control ebook), your TidBITS account is merely a different face on the same data, so you’ll use your Take Control account’s password to log in to your TidBITS account. If you were to change your password for one account, it would automatically change for the other. And, if you end up with separate TidBITS and Take
Control accounts because you used different email addresses for each, you can log in to your Take Control account and merge the two (or, if you prefer, you can leave them separate, but then you’ll need to manage each individually).
If all goes well, the next message you receive from us should welcome you to the new system, providing you with a temporary password if we created a new account for an email address not currently in the Take Control account database, or reminding you to use your Take Control password otherwise. Fingers crossed that the transition goes smoothly!
Is this related to the recent changes to the TidBITS-Talk list? From my perspective, those appear to be all bad. In the former system, if I saw an interesting message in the digest I would click on the included URL to see a web page with the whole thread displayed for me to read at my leisure and write a reply if I wanted. Now I either have to wade through a whole load of emails or navigate a rather old-fashioned and inflexible archive page, which doesn't appear to be flexible.
Apologies if this is off-topic. TidBITS issues are arriving in my mailbox without any problems.
It's tangentially related. We're retiring everything off our older Xserve (the newer one has already been scrapped), which is where Web Crossing runs. We haven't been able to get everything we need from Web Crossing, and while it does great email list archiving, we can't keep that software running just for TidBITS Talk and a couple of other lists.
We looked into other list-hosting software and archiving options, and haven't yet found anything we're more satisfied with than mailman, which offers the bare minimum. We hope to find a better way to archive and thread posts in the future.
FWIW, Mailman's upcoming version 3 promises to provide a more aesthetically-pleasing web interface and a better archiving system.
As Glenn said, the TidBITS Talk switch was purely to get off the old server and server software, and to reduce the non-trivial amount of work it was taking us to moderate the TidBITS Talk list (and I couldn't even stop moderation, because the server software wasn't working properly).
Frankly, I strongly recommend getting TidBITS Talk as individual messages; Mailman's digests stink. But I'm no fan of digests to begin with.
Just a note that we've delayed the release to work through some more test cases...