An internal email newsletter?

Here’s an idea for those wanting to get some engagement going within your organisation. Send some emails.

Actually, let’s be more specific. Send some really good emails.

People are inundated with email at work, and adding to the burden might sound counter-productive. How about sending an email that reduces the burden though?

Since I’ve been publishing daveslist, I’ve had some great feedback from people. Some of it has been commenting on the links I have shared, but most is just conversation, often responding to the brief introductory paragraph, which is often not particularly tech-related, but a brief note about what I’ve been up to.

It strikes me that email is great way to engage with people, when you get the tone and the content right, and it’s a lot easier for people to just hit ‘reply’ to provide a response, rather than visiting a blog post and filling in a comment form, say.

So how about you start an internal email newsletter within your organisation? Maybe do it weekly, on a Friday, and summarise the important stuff that has been going on that week that people really can’t afford to miss. You don’t even need to use a sophisticated newsletter delivery service like MailChimp – to get started just use the BCC field.

This could take the form of links to useful and relevant blog posts and news items online, or an intranet update that people may have missed.

Or, how about you use your email newsletter to curate the best and most important of all the other emails people may have received, and not quite got round to reading? In other words, saving people the bother of having to work out which are the emails they have to read.

Starting an email newsletter for your colleagues to opt-in to might be a great way to start getting your message across – why not give it a go?


Did you know I have an email newsletter? You probably do, and are fed up of me going on about it. Sorry.

It’s called Daveslist, and you can sign up for it at

The newsletter is basically a list of five or so links I have spotted lately, cobbled together with a little bit of commentary explaining why I think they are interesting.

You might just find it a simple way to keep on top of interesting tech stories without having to dig them out yourself.

I’ve just hit send on the latest issue, which you can read on the web, if you like. Try before you buy! (Although, it’s free).

I put it together using a fantastic tool called Goodbits, which makes curating an email newsletter so easy it’s untrue.

Rethinking email

emailOr maybe not actually rethinking email, but taking it back to what it was meant to be about…

Working with a colleague the other day in a government organisation, I saw him looking for a document, that he was sent in an email. He was looking for it in his email client (Outlook in this case), in an inbox that contained thousands of emails, and lots of email sub folders, all of which contained hundreds, if not thousands, of more emails.

He tried clicking his way through, sorting and resorting folders in different ways, without success. He tried the search function, also to no avail.

This, I thought, is madness. Many people in many organisations do exactly the same thing. They keep hold of thousands of emails, many kept unread for one reason or another, because they might be needed in future, or because they act as reminders to do something, or because they have file attachments that might be useful.

Here’s the thing though. Your email client was set up to receive emails, and to send them. It’s not a task manager. It’s not a file store.

Of course, it’s not individuals fault that they are misusing their email in this way. After all, if a genuinely better, more usable alternative was available, they would use it. But sadly the productivity and document management tools available to your average worker in a big organisation are rarely very usable.

I’d be really interested to know how big a problem this is for people – as I have a little idea around something that could help.

So, are you drowning in email you don’t feel like you can delete? Let me know below!

Starting up DaveMail

I had a go at doing an email newsletter once before – put a signup form here on the blog, got quite a few people to subscribe, and then never got round to sending a single issue. Useless!

Part of my trouble then was that I wasn’t that comfortable with the software. Recently though, for a few projects, I’ve been playing with MailChimp and been dead impressed with it. So, I thought I would have another go.

Click here to sign up for DaveMail, a weekly email newsletter that will feature a fresh article that won’t get published here on the blog, plus a list of great links for anyone wanting the best of the web’s coverage of digital engagement and other technology stuff.

I’ll be publishing every Sunday, so there will hopefully be at least one nice email waiting for you on Monday morning!

Gmail gets better with labs

If you are a Gmail user, you’ll be used to the many benefits that this webmail service provides, like massive storage, great search, powerful filtering and labelling of email, inbuilt instant messaging and voice calls over IP, and the ability to access your email anyway you like with POP and IMAP controls.

However, for a while now Google have been sneaking extra features into Gmail, which you can find by clicking Settings on the top right of the Gmail screen, then on the Labs tab on the settings screen. You’ll then see a big list of extra features you can add – some useful, some silly. Here are the ones I have enabled:

1. Tasks

The Tasks feature is great – building in a simple task list to Gmail, which makes it a doddle to create as many lists of stuff that needs to be done as you like, and attaching emails to them is made really simple: just select the email and then click on ‘Add to tasks’ under the ‘More Actions’ menu. I’m using this at the moment to list all the emails I need to reply to.

2. Quick Links

Adds a box on the left hand side of the Gmail screen allowing you to add as many bookmarks as you like. I’ve got things like admin link for the various blogs I am managing at the moment listed on mine.

3. Superstars

Superstars enables you to click through different types of stars to add to emails to make them stand out a little bit more. Makes things a little more colourful if nothing else.

4. Default ‘Reply to all’

I’m always forgetting to choose the Reply to all link when responding to group emails. This, as it says, makes reply to all the default. Must be careful with this when being rude about people…

5. Forgotten attachment detector

Not perfect, but this scans emails for words like ‘attachment’ or ‘attached’ and, if there isn’t a file attached to the emails, pops up with a warning when you click send. Useful for avoiding those occasional d’oh! moments.

6. Custom label colours

Just like Superstars, helps you differentiate between the different labels you give to emails with colours.

7. Mark as read button

Dead handy this, let’s you mark emails as read with a single click rather than the, er, two clicks it took before. Seriously, I save nanoseconds with this.

8. Google Docs gadget

This gives me a sneaky peek at my Google Docs, letting me open them from within Gmail, which is quite handy.

There are a few other gadgets I don’t use, but which, like the ones I have outlined above, help to make Gmail a kind of portal (I  know I’m not meant to use that word…) to all your online organisational stuff. For instance, there’s a Google Calendar gadget which gives you a preview of what you have on that day. So if you are a user of all these Google services, you can make Gmail your home page and not worry about the rest.

What – if any – of these gadgets are you using? And how do you feel about your inbox becoming the hub of your online life?

Sign up, sign up: as if you have a choice

A little while ago I threatened to start an email newsletter service. Well, I am finally getting to grips with it.

My newsletter will be a monthly affair, providing useful hints, tips and links about digital participation, with the usual social media / web 2.0 slant to things. It won’t be the same stuff as I publish here, so even subscribers to the blog should find some value.

I’m really hoping though that I might be able to reach a few people who don’t really see themselves as RSS junkies or blog readers, but for whom an email every four weeks or so is just enough.

So do visit my newsletter page to fill in the form and sign up, and pass it on to anyone who you think might be interested!

Creating an email newsletter

Partly to be helpful, and partly to do a bit of profile-raising, I have been thinking of putting together a regular (weekly or fortnightly) email newsletter, full of social web news, views and other tidbits. It might go some way to filling the need for the govweb group blog I mooted earlier, though I should imagine it would be written in sufficiently broad terms to make it applicable to non government folk too. I think there are a number of valuable things about email lists like this, as opposed to a site:

  • People use their email all day everyday, pretty much, so if they register, they will always see the emails in their inboxes
  • If I stick to plain text, I don’t need to worry too much about accessibility and whether things render well in Internet Explorer 4
  • People see email as work, the web as play

My newsletter will feature a few regular sections:

  • A feature on a recent cool bit of webbery from a public or third sector organisation
  • A roundup on news and development in the social web space
  • An introduction to a social web site or service
  • A multi-part how-to guide (eg setting up a blog, or a wiki)

There are a number of ways of setting something like this up, and I have been playing around with some of them. Here’s what I have found.

1. Do It Yourself

It would be the most simple option to gather in email addresses via a HTML form on a page on this blog, store them in a text file, then write the emails in my mail client, and paste in the email addresses to the BCC field and hit send. Unsubcribes would have to be done manually, and any analysis of subscriber numbers, etc, would have to be done in a spreadsheet or something. Also, there may be issues with the emails getting past spam filters, etc, as I use gmail to power my emails. I would also have to make sure I don’t use any funky formatting in my emails so that they can be read easily in different mail clients. So, this option is easy to get up and running, but difficult to manage and maintain, and there may be access problems. It’s cost free, though.

2. Use Mailman

Mailman is a remarkably configurable mailing list manager, and (like all the best things in life) is open source. I could set up a one-way mailing list, allow people to sign up to it as they pleased, and likewise unsubscribe. One of the problems with Mailman, though, is the interface which is used to manage the service and through which users can change their settings, which can seem a little unfriendlyto the uninitiated. To set it all up as a one way service would mean quite a bit of messing about to remove certain options from view, etc. So, whie this option might make some things easier, it will add complications elsewhere. Again, though, this would be free for me to use.

3. Use a dedicated service

The third option would be to use a service to manage my list of subscribers and to handle the sending of the emails themselves. They provide statistics, too, so I can track which newsletters are more popular, etc. These services also provide the ability to send HTML or rich text emails, making them easier on the eye and easier for most people to navigate. Given my target audience, though, I am tempted to stick to plain text – ugly but pretty much guaranteed to work! Some of the services I have looked at include MailBuild (suggested by Steph), AWeber (recommended by Chris Garrett) and Blue Sky Factory (used by Chris Brogan). All look pretty good. The obvious disadvantage is that they will cost me money, but they all need quite a bit of time dedicated to them to get set up properly.

So there we are. I think I am going to go for one of the dedicated services, but not sure which just yet. Of course the real challenge will be to produce regular, quality content that people will want to read, but by wittering on about which tools I am going to use I can put that one off for a day or too!

If anyone has any feedback on the ideas I have set out here, please leave them in the comments. And if you would like to be a recipient of the inaugral newsletter, say so in the comments or drop an email to and I will add you to the list. Ta!

Blogs vs. email

I’ve touched on this before, talking about people liking email more than things on the web because they see email as work and the web as messing around, having fun. It’s interesting because while on the one hand people are always saying that email is ‘broken’, or that there is too much of it; they are also saying that it is still the internet’s killer app, and the best way to build and develop online communities. Which is it?

One rather surprising development in this area happened over the weekend, when Jason Calacanis, the chap who has done as much as anyone else to promote the blog as a communications medium, with his foundation of Weblogs Inc (now owned by AOL), announced he was quitting his blog. What’s more, he was launching an email list that he would use to publish the stuff he would normally blog. He says:

Starting today all of my thoughts will be reserved for a new medium. Something smaller, something more intimate, and something very personal: an email list. Today the email list has about 600 members, I’m going to cut it off when it reaches 750. Frankly, that’s enough more than enough people to have a conversation with. I’m going to try and build a deeper relationship with fewer people–try to get back to my roots.

Now, we should probably not read too much into what a blatent self-publicist like Calacanis gets up to, but this really is an unusual step – not least because it would appear from my short membership of his mailing list that it is a really one-way affair – I can reply to Jason, but not to the whole list. So this really is a Web 1.0 style push medium. It isn’t open or transparent, for you have to be a member to see the archives – i.e. you can’t dip your toe in to see if you would be interested, and there doesn’t seem to be a way for conversations to flow between readers, just between the author and readers.

In a sense, the subscribers to Jason’s list are his audience – and I really thought we had moved on beyond that.

This debate brings to mind a comment Tom Steinberg posted to the UK & Ireland eDemocracy list a little while back when we were discussing the Stratford Council Twitter feed. Tom asked:

As for Straford’s site – it lets people visiting the homepage find out about twitter, but doesn’t have a top-central-located box for gathering email addresses to turn into email updates more akin to the 50,000 leaflets mentioned above. As far as me and my cynical troupe are concerned, that’s an inexcusable prioritsation of buzz word compliance over tried and tested approaches that have far more user recognition. Barack Obama doesn’t do this – why should Stratford?

In other words, everyone – well, except for John McCain – uses email, so that should be the first port of call for online communications. He’s probably right – hence why in my wiki guidance and elsewhere I stress that it’s important to allow people to contribute using whatever method they are comfortable with, even if it is something as uncool as email.

But I would argue that Jason Calacanis is wrong, and that he will soon find his personal mailing list an echo chamber that doesn’t provide the richness of interaction that he had before with his blog.

Mozilla Messaging

TechCrunch announces the launch of a new Mozilla (the guys behind open source projects like FireFox, to name one) site called Mozillla Messaging. This site aims to ‘fix’ internet communications, firstly by driving the development of the new version of Thunderbird, a desktop email client that replaces things like Outlook Express on Windows machines and Mail on the Mac.

Thunderbird has never really taken off like Firefox, largely, I would imagine, because people just don’t use desktop email clients much, unless it is a heavyweight like Outlook or (bleugh) Lotus Notes at work, so there isn’t much to replace. Indeed, the success of Firefox in making web based email applications even more usable, like Gmail and the new Yahoo! Mail, has reduced the possible market for Thunderbird.

Still, giving the email app. a bigger online presence, out of the shadow of Firefox, is probably a good idea. Mozilla Messaging hasn’t completed replaced the former Thunderbird online places though – you can still get it from the site.

It’s not just about Thunderbird though. In a blog post, the new CEO of Mozilla Messaging David Ascher says:

It is worthwhile considering what the right user experience could be for someone using multiple email addresses, multiple instant messaging systems, IRC, reading and writing on blogs, using VoIP, SMS, and the like. What parts of those interactions make sense to integrate, and where? I don’t believe that stuffing all of those communication models inside of one application is the right answer. But the walled gardens that we’re faced with today aren’t the right answer either. There is room for innovation and progress here, and we need to facilitate it.

There has been plenty of writing recently about email actually being the hub that links all of our social networks, rather than being replaced by them. However, I’m not convinced that a desktop application is the answer. Indeed, I would imagine that you can pretty much manage all your online social networks through Gmail in FireFox now.