• MailChump

last modified April 18, 2019 by strypey

As I (Strypey) said in 2017 in a Disintermedia blog piece entitled, 'Hey Activists, Don't use MailChimp!', I have watched with dismay over the last few years as more and more activist groups and other community organisations make the same mistake I did, turning to corporations like Google, and even worse startups like MailChimp, to host their mailing lists. Worse, I’ve even noticed open source communities using MailChimp to send out news emails. In my mind there is no reason for an open source community running their own servers to do this.

Email mailing lists are one of the oldest “social media” forms on the net, and there are a plethora of free code packages available for running listservers or sending out email newsletters. For example, Permaculture in NZ use CiviCRM as their membership database, allowing them to send out newsletters to their members without giving their members’ contact information to anyone outside the organisation. If you need the extra-for-experts stuff that MailChimp offers on top of the standard listserver features, there is a free code package called Mautic that offers these, which can be used as a commercial service hosted by the developers, or you can follow the example of the Open Educational Resources Foundation and roll-your-own Mautic server. 

For non-geek groups who don’t have the resources to run their own servers, there are plenty of hosting organisations that exist to serve their users, and that run on free code. I’ve been part of activist email lists using using a number of services including RiseUp.net, OnlineGroups.net, and of course, CoActivate.org. There is also forum software like Loomio and Discourse, which provide sufficient email integration that these can be used like mailing lists. Loomio host their own trial service at Loomio.org, and one place you can try Discourse is a gratis, privacy-respecting host called Disroot. As awareness continues to grow about the risks of using proprietary, corporate-run “cloud” services, tech activists have been working on creating new hosting organisations, and finding ways to make it easier for people and groups to host their own services. Watch this space.

While we’re on the subject of mass email, the “service” that seems to make MailChimp so attractive is that is uses HTML to add a bunch of trackers to the email sent through its servers. Putting aside the ethics of enabling companies to use email to track people we like, I strongly discourage people from sending HTML by email. Email is designed as a text-only medium, and works better this way. HTML email massively increases the amount of space email takes up in someone’s inbox, how much of their data allowance is used looking at it, and how much of the total resources of the internet are used by email that may not even be wanted or seen. HTML email also creates vectors for viruses and malware to spread through email, vectors which do not exist in plain text email.

If you want to show someone a page of HTML, it’s better to put that on a website, and include a link to it in a plain text email. That way people can read the email anytime, then look at the linked web pages when they are using fast, un-metered internet. This is also helpful to people still using dial-up connections, or slow rural broadband.

In summary, please, please, please, don’t use MailChimp!