Ask Al: Group mail is being blocked, what do I do?

Recently, a reader wrote in with the following question:

I host an email group of about 450 people who share a common autoimmune medical condition. I send/receive email through a Gmail account set up in Windows Live Mail on a home PC. My ISP is RCN.  Recently, any emails sent to any group member using an AOL or account are being blocked by AOL. I sent an email to AOL asking to not be blocked and my request was denied with little feedback as to why. I was then pointed to recent changes concerning DMARC and FBL. I generated an AOL account just for those members to get the information they need but this is an awkward way to send emails, using two separate accounts.

What changes do you recommend that I make to my current setup shown above so AOL and users can get my email updates along with everyone else without having to use two email accounts? Any help would benefit our group!

Thanks for reaching out. Nowadays you really can't get away with managing a large user group (450 seems pretty large to me -- good job on bringing them all together) using your personal email account. The intent of a Gmail or AOL account really isn't to send mail to hundreds of people. You found a workaround for AOL but you're going to run into the same issue with other ISPs and will probably run into some other issues too.

You really need to use a specialized tool or service to manage this process. Here's what you should consider.

  • If you just send mail out to everybody -- it's not for group discussions, it's just they email you and you email info out to everyone, then use a tool like Mailchimp. It's free, up to 2,000 subscribers/12,000 emails per month. It would be just for you to send outbound email to your subscribers. It does not facilitate direct online discussion.
  • If your intent is to support group discussions, then you should look at Yahoo Groups or Google Groups. I personally like Yahoo Groups, but Google Groups is also quite good and powerful. It is likely that both of these services would prevent you from importing 450 people all at once -- they're probably worried that you might be a spammer -- so you might have to invite people to come join the new group.
  • If you run your own Unix or Linux server, you could install free mailing list management software like Mailman. The current version has the ability to rewrite headers as needed due to DMARC issues. Setting up Mailman is not for the faint of heart, though.

I would avoid managing the group or its mailings with any software that runs on Windows or has a name with "desktop" or "bulk" in the name. Those are usually hacky tools that try to work around limitations that ISPs have in place. They can make you look like a spammer and they are often poorly made.

Dear readers, do you have any suggestions of other tools or options that might make sense for managing this person's online group? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments below.

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