Looking for Discussion-List Tools

We need a way for our most-active and motivated members to share ideas and plan the future of SpokenWord.org. As 20th-century as it may sound, I think the best way is via an email/discussion list. Normally I’d just create one in Google Groups or Yahoo! Groups, but I’d like to link the subscriber list to our membership database. This would allow members to opt into (or out of) the group from the SpokenWord.org web site. As far as I can tell, neither Yahoo! nor Google have an API suitable for this.

What’s the best alternative? Python Mailman is a well-tested package, but I don’t think it’s particularly easy to link to our membership database in MySQL. What other choices are there?

2 thoughts on “Looking for Discussion-List Tools

  1. Doug,

    Integrating Mailman with a separate database has its challenges. It is relatively easy to setup a script/page that handles subscribes/unsubscribes to mailman while making the right notation in the database. In this case, you’d close down the mailman public subscribe/unsubscribe facilities and have your community use the page you set up. I could likely show you a simple perl script that handles this piece.

    The problem with the above approach is the database and mailman are still very loosely coupled. Events can happen on the mailman side (e.g., unsubscribes after a certain number of bounces) that aren’t going to get back to your MySQL database unless you write some other custom script – perhaps the easiest way to do this would be some sort of cron job that might periodically look at the mailman subscribers and compare it to your MySQL database and give you a report of whose email is bouncing/unsubscribed. You likely don’t want to automatically purge your MySQL database as I’ve found that “stuff happens” – email servers go down, email accounts go temporarily offline which might cause unsubscribes even for some of your very solid community members who haven’t gone away.

    I’ve lately been taking a look at a module for Drupal called CiviCRM. I’m pretty amazed with it in terms of its flexible capabilities to quickly set up a member-management platform. CiviCRM has a built-in mail feature – but likely is more suitable for announcements rather than full-blown discussion lists. However, within the CiviCRM community there are people who have worked out some of the issues in terms of mailman integration. For example:

    Hope this information proves useful — The above is based on a few years of my dabbling in this. I’m sure there are people even more knowledgeable than I. I’d love to hear other ideas as well.


  2. Thanks, Chuck. I know what you mean about the loose coupling between the systems: a real pain to track down and change all the places in Mailman so that changes are only made via the other system. Still, it may be the best solution.


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