How to make your organization’s story compelling

I got an email today from one of my all-time favorite organizations, Sightline Institute, that just blew me away. This is one of the best tellings of an organziation’s history that I’ve seen in a long time. It’s succinct, personal, filled with rich, specific imagery (especially for an organization that mainly trades in data and policy!) and best of all, it places the reader into the story. Sightline has a long history of top-notch writing, so it’s no surprise to seem them hit it out of the park. Any organization looking to tell its story better could learn a ton from studying this single email closely.

Dear Jon,

Twenty years ago, I lugged a refurbished library table into my cramped bedroom closet, drilled a phone line through the wall, and let myself begin to heed the mission that had been calling me: to make the Pacific Northwest a global model of sustainability.

Daunted but unswayed by the audacity of this goal, I began to do what I have been doing ever since: describing the challenge to others. And then as now, they—you—joined me. You brought your talent, grit, generosity, and faith, and the result was Sightline Institute, then called Northwest Environment Watch.

Sightline grew through eighteen books, scores of reports, hundreds of speeches, and thousands of articles and blog posts. It grew from hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of monthly readers, each a force for change in his or her own community. It grew to reach media audiences tallied in the tens of millions and to shape the thoughts of governors, senators, and CEOs.

In time, it grew influential enough to leave fingerprints on Cascadia’s future. In our first decade, we launched Stuff, studied in hundreds of classrooms and in tens of thousands of copies. We planted the seeds for a carbon tax-shift in British Columbia. We coined the term “green-collar jobs,” words that would eventually issue from the lips of presidents.

In our second decade, we inspired bold commitments to compact urban growth in key Cascadian cities. We prompted new rules on toxic flame retardants by studying chemicals in breast milk. We played midwife to pay-by-the-mile car insurance and peer-to-peer car-sharing. We designed regional carbon-pricing policies and brought them close to adoption. We unmasked the dangers of Big Coal’s export plans, revealed the folly of urban highway expansion, and championed a new, green approach to managing the rainwater that falls on our communities. Sightline’s fingerprints, your fingerprints, are on all these things and more—much more.

Now, today, pausing for a quiet moment in Sightline’s Seattle offices—brimming as usual with passionate and intelligent people—I stand in awe of these accomplishments. They have been improbable, considering that Sightline’s annual budget makes us account for just two one-millionths of the regional economy. In the animal kingdom, we would be like a gnat trying to steer an elephant.

Yet I am filled with hope for the years ahead. The challenge is no less daunting than ever, but we have grown, in concert with you—our friends, supporters, and allies—into a force to reckon with. Sightline’s influence has never been a function of our mass. It is a function of the light you help us spread. Comets such as Halley’s are less than one ten-billionth the mass of the Earth, yet they’ve been known to change the course of history. Sightline’s strategy is comet-like: a small nucleus of staff and board plus a long tail of supporters and allies. Shining outward from this body, our ideas, presented well, can attract the attention of millions and even define a new direction.

A Cascadia worthy of our grandchildren and theirs is more attainable than ever before. But it is certainly not inevitable. It’s a possibility only—a possibility whose realization depends entirely on what we in this generation choose to do. In the span of 240 months, Sightline, now giant compared with my bedroom closet but still minuscule compared with the region we aim to influence, has begun to shift the public agenda in a region of 17 million people. It’s only a beginning, but, I hope you agree, it’s a promising one. Just think what we can do together in another 20 years!

In the next two decades, together, we will shine even brighter. We can put a price on carbon. Indeed, we can move the region along the path that leads beyond carbon and dirty fuels entirely, to clean energy. We can make prices tell the ecological truth in other ways, too: from pollution to traffic congestion to habitat destruction, we can better align the power of markets with the conservation of our natural inheritance—of Creation. We can measure what matters, replacing GDP with better indicators of progress. Through better reproductive health technologies and policies, we can help create a Cascadia in which every child is born wanted; we can help men and women have the families they want, when they want them, even as we temper population growth. We can build complete, compact, walkable communities—places where motorized travel is less common because less necessary. All these things and more we can do.

Twenty years ago, I was the one at the library table in the closet signing the papers to incorporate Sightline, but the resulting improbable cavalcade of hope has never been about me. It’s been about you: Your love for this place on Earth. Your confidence that we can do better, that we can build an economy and way of life that can last. Your faith that we, here, can set an example for the world.

For your love, confidence, and faith, I thank you. Here’s to the next 20!

Alan Durning
Executive Director

Love me some nonprofit spam

Following is the only-slightly-redacted text of an actual email exchange I just had with a well-intended but utterly clueless environmental activist trying to get the word out about his work.  The original message had about 400 people in the To/CC lines.

From: XXXXXXXX
Sent: Friday, April 22, 2011 8:47 PM
To: Jon Stahl
Subject: RE: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jon: I have taken you from the list.

Thanks for suggestions, but I like sending to diverse strangers, in the field
of XXXXXX, especially gov people who live in a protected (idea) world. There
is to much time wasted, "talking to the converted".

Actually, I get very few complaints.

Best,
XXXXX
> XXXXXX-
>
> With all respect, we all really need you to stop putting your
> entire address book in the To/CC line of your emails.
>
> It is creating a huge amount of unwanted email, generating a
> "reply all" storm, and it's absolutely terrible online communications
> etiquette.  Please consider starting an email list (e.g. at
> http://npogroups.org or Google Groups) or using a simple email
> broadcasting service like http://mailchimp.com.
>
> Please remove me from your list, too.  Thanks.
>
> cheers,
> jon

Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

Improving email broadcasting integration with Salesforce

My colleagues at Groundwire and I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about integration.  How to connect various software stacks into seamless systems that solve complex problems for our clients.   It’s been really great to see the emergence of lots of great integrations enabled by the widespread adoption of web services APIs.  But lately, we’ve been realizing that, as in so many things, the details really matter.  How you design your integration is just as important as whether you integrate.

It’s in that spirit that my colleague Sam Knox has been doing some thinking about how email broadcasting platforms integrate with Salesforce.com and report their results back.  Short version: right now, most vendors’ integrations are extremely inefficient with scarce Salesforce storage space.  He thinks they can do a lot better, and has written an important blog post that describes (exactly) how.   If you use Salesforce integrated email broadcasting services such as VerticalResponse, ExactTarget or MailChimp or are an email broadcasting vendor that designs your integration, I urge you to give it a read and share your thoughts.

MailChimp and Salesforce integration: not even close to ready for prime-time

In the ongoing quest for solid, low-cost email broadcasting that has strong integration with Salesforce.com, I have had an eye on MailChimp, which offers a really slick, low-cost email blasting service that we had hoped could become a low-end replacement for Vertical Response, which has somewhat limited capabilities in its Salesforce integration.

MailChimp has a very slick email broadcasting system, and a very aggressive price point.  They claim to have a Salesforce integration, and so I logged in today and played around with a bit.

While much of the tool is really solid, the Salesforce integration is so rudimentary that it is actually completely, totally useless to us and our clients. 🙁

MailChimp can only import ALL of the contacts from your Salesforce account — no support for campaigns, reports, or getting any kind of targeted subset of your contacts. That’s bad, but I had somewhat expected it.

What’s worse is that MailChimp can ONLY import the following fields from Salesforce:

  • first
  • last
  • email
  • salesforce ID
  • city/state/zip

That’s it. No custom fields. Zilch. I confirmed this with their tech support, who were very helpful.

Unfortunately, a Salesforce integration this limited is essentially useless for any serious organizational use.  Very disappointing.

The only glimmer of hope is that the tech support person told me the Salesforce integration is scheduled for an overhaul in early 2010, but didn’t have any details on the substance. So we will have to keep on waiting.

Bottom line: I had been hoping that we could recommend MailChimp as a solid, low-end, integrated-with-Salesforce email broadcasting solution.  But unfortunately the answer is, “Nope, not yet.”

I have had an eye on http://MailChimp.com, which offers a really slick, low-cost email blasting service that we had hoped could become a low-end replacement for Vertical Response.

They claim to have a Salesforce integration, and so at Drew’s suggestion, I logged in today and played around with a bit today.

While much of the tool is really slick, the Salesforce integration is so rudimentary that it is actually completely, totally useless to us and our clients. 🙁

The details…

MailChimp can only import ALL of the contacts from your Salesforce account — no support for campaigns, reports, or getting any kind of targeted subset of your contacts. That’s bad, but I had somewhat expected it.

What’s worse is that MailChimp can ONLY import the following fields from Salesforce:

– first

– last

– email

– salesforce ID

– city/state/zip

That’s it. No custom fields. Zilch. I confirmed this with their tech support.

This renders the Salesforce integration completely and utterly useless. Very disappointing.

The only glimmer of hope is that the tech support person told me the Salesforce integration is scheduled for an overhaul in early 2010, but didn’t have any details on the substance. So we will have to keep on waiting.

Bottom line: if you were hoping we could recommend MailChimp as a solid, low-end, integrated-with-Salesforce alternative to Vertical Response, then I’m sorry to report that the answer is “Nope, not at this time.”

A Few Thoughts About Idealware’s “A Good Email Discussion List Tools”

The good folks at Idealware have added another nice article to their “A Few Good Tools…” series, this one titled “A Few Good Email List Discussion Tools.”

While the article provides a pretty good overview of the space, it leaves out a few supporting details that I think are worth noting:

  • Idealware’s article mentions that many CMS platforms have some email discussion list support, including Democracy In Action, Convio, Kintera, Drupal and Joomla, but neglects to mention that Plone also has such features, through its add-on product Listen.
  • Idealware’s article mentions the great folks at Electric Embers, DGroups and OnlineGroups as nonprofit-oriented discussion list providers, but neglects to also mention the team at The Open Planning Project, whose OpenPlans service offers a very powerful, user-friendly web-and-email discussion list experience.
  • Idealware’s article gives rather short shrift to several powerful open-source email discussion list solutions that enable more sophisticated groups to take control of their own discussion list hosting. Sympa and Mailman are probably the two leaders.  Idealware dismisses Mailman in passing, saying it and (unnamed) similar tools “aren’t as easy to use as many others, and don’t include features like archives or online groups. They can also make it difficult to view or export a file of the list of subscribers.”While it’s true that Mailman and Sympa don’t have the polished usability of some commercial discussion tools, they do include web-based archives and offer simple subscriber views and one-click export of the subscriber list.  Some hosting providers may disable archiving, but that’s not the software’s fault.

    The host-it-yourself path is not for everyone, since it does require some technical expertise to configure and maintain, but that’s also true of many of the solutions Idealware does mention.

Overall, good article, worth a read.   I hope Idealware will consider incorporating some of these additional details to round it out a bit more.

Some Observations on Nonprofit Software

My colleague Steve Andersen recently penned a short article entitled “Some Observations on Nonprofit Software” that lays out a few of the core assumptions we hold about how software tools for the nonprofit sector can and should play nice together.

The core of the argument goes like this:

  • Missions are serviced only by engaging constituents to action
  • Engagement activities aren’t unique to nonprofits, so the tools aren’t either
  • The best way to build software for nonprofits is to find tools that successfully addresses most of your needs and then add the nonprofit-specific functionality
  • Software targeted at a larger market than nonprofits will improve faster than software specifically for the nonprofit market
  • Software that has open Application Programming Interfaces makes the “build-on-top” model work
  • There is a market for nonprofit-specific software that serves a defined function and is accessible via robust APIs

Go read the whole thing.

(The article supports comments, so you can leave them there if you like)

When…

… will well-meaning activists figure out that a half-megabyte PDF file is not the most effective format for an emailed event invitation?

I’m just saying.

Now for the constructive part: it’s better to send a highly compressed JPEG in the body of the message.  And even better to send legible text and/or HTML.

Single Stacks, or Network-Centric Web Services?

Reading Zack Rosen’s assertion that building applications inside Drupal-the-framework makes more sense than loose integration of complementary applications triggered some thinking that’s been rattling around in my head for a while.

I think that the next few years are going to bring tremendous challenges for applications that do not easily communicate with other applications that are “outside their platform” i.e are written using a different language/framework, run on a different server, etc.

I think the most powerful path forward over the long haul is internet-based integration between great applications that were designed from the ground up to allow for it. 
In other words, web services APIs are going to become increasingly more important, and the particular application frameworks less so.  This the “small pieces, loosely joined” model, to echo the phrase that others have appropriated from Dave Weinberger’s influential book.
There are some great communities and significant resources behind very cool projects that provide great functionality that I really want to be able to tap. I don’t want to have either persuade them all to develop in a single platform (it’s just not going to happen) or try to duplicate all of their functions in whatever platform I’m most comfortable in. (Which, truth be told, is “none of them.”)

My colleagues here at ONE/Northwest and I would much rather focus on integrating best-of-breed applications that have strong web services APIs and are designed around the assumption that external applications are first-class citizens of their ecosystems. (Damn, that’s a lot of buzzwords.)

At the end of the day, why should I have to care if an application is based on Python, Zope, PHP, Rails, Django, or some technology I’ve never heard of? Why should I have to run all my applications off a single server? That’s not scalable. We now have a whole set of standards and technologies to let applications communicate with each other over the internet.

“Web services” is one of those complex, slippery terms that means lots of different things to lots of different people. To me, in this context, it means applications that share data with other applications over the internet. The more of your application’s guts it can expose to the outside world, the more powerful your web services API.

Some applications that I think are really moving in the right direction with web services support are:

  • Democracy In Action — powerful API, alas, not yet well documented. Little known fact: the smart guys at Enfold Systems have releaesd a Python wrapper for the Democracy in Action API, which (supposedly) makes integration with Plone possible. Haven’t tried it yet myself. But I’m looking forward to it.
  • Salesforce.com. Holy cow, these folks really get it. I’ve heard that half of their traffic is through their web services API. This is how a relationship management database should be — accessible by most any external application.
  • WhatCounts. These guys do our email blasting. Lots of folks do email blasting, some probably just as well as WhatCounts. But what sets WhatCounts apart from the pack fo us is the fact that they have strong APIs. This lets us do cool stuff like pull in names from Salesforce, or inject new subscribers from Plone, or pull in content from a Plone site. (Well, technically pulling in content from the outside doesn’t use their web services API. But the point is that WhatCounts can pull in data from outside and let other apps push data in.)
  • Another, less strictly “web services” example is Plone’s new PlonePAS framework. Basically, it’s a framework for authenticating users and retrieving user data from any old data source you’d care to write a plugin for. We’re going to try to use it to integrate Salesforce.com and Plone.
  • The whole open-source GIS software ecosystem, most especially including MapServer. My next-door neighbor, Chris Davis of CommEn Space, has shown me some really mindblowing stuff with maps that dynamically draw in data from all over the internet, thanks to open data standards and web services.

Can you see an advocacy software ecosystem here yet? I can.

And let’s not forget all the “Web 2.0” applications out there that are getting so much hype these days. One important thing about the most exciting of these tools such as Flickr and Del.icio.us is that they can be written to and read from by outside applications via web services APIs.  (Amazon has done amazing stuff here, too, albeit without getting much “Web 2.0” credit for it.)
This is where it starts to get cool. The days of monolithic application stacks that try to do everything are fading fast. A new “network-centric” software ecosystem is starting to bloom.

And the best part: nobody has to “deeply partner” or adopt a single platform to make it work. They just have to focus on building great web services APIs so that other applications can meet them halfway. That’s not easy, but it’s surely easier than getting everyone to adopt the same platform.

Some software tools that I really hope build strong web services APIs as they roll out their next releases include:

  • Green Media Toolshed
  • CiviCRM (their web services API work seems to have stalled out in favor work on a PHP API that only talks to a PHP application (like Drupal) installed on the same server. Hopefully their focus will soon return to playing with the outside world, too.)
  • Custard Melt
  • Advokit
  • All of those nonprofit online donation tools that I am too tired to list right now. You know who you are.
  • And, yes, Drupal, too. 😉

I’m probably overlooking some other apps that ought to be listed here. Feel free to suggest them. It’s late.

Getting Your Email On

Emily Thorson of EchoDitto offers some great pointers on why and how to write compelling emails, which are they key to driving online action.

Real-life fact: email drives traffic and participations.

Implications:

  1. Stop stressing about your website. Yes, it should have regularly updated content and look halfway professional. But it shouldn’t drive your strategy, it should be driven by your strategy.
  2. Figure out what organizations have big lists and befriend them. In DC, this might mean MoveOn or Democracy for America. If you’re running a local organization, it might be your local Planned Parenthood or League of Conservation Voter chapter.
  3. Always be growing. Constantly ask yourself “How can I make this into a list-growth activity?” Tell your list to tell a friend. Do campaigns that encourage signups. Partner with other organizations.
  4. Write decent emails. Just follow a simple principle: write emails as if you’re talking to a friend. There are a couple of points that go along with this.
    • Your emails should be from human beings, not organizations. Put the name of a person in the subject line. The candidate, the campaign manager, whoever.
    • I try to do a “term paper check” a few hours after writing my first draft, where I go through and figure out which sentences sound like they belong in a political science paper, and delete them.
    • No email newsletters! People have very, very short attention spans. Figure out the action you want the email to focus on, and write the email around that link. Paragraph, link, paragraph, link, paragraph, link, signature. PS: link. Even though you also want to include a link to the photo gallery, and the front page, and the campaign you did last week, and the event calendar…don’t do it! Just pick one. Just pick ONE.
    • Write out the link. This sounds petty, but it makes such a huge difference that I would be remiss in not mentioning it. Do not make “click here” into a link. do not make the name of your campaign into a link. Write the whole thing out, with the http://www. for each one. People like to know where they’re going when they click.

Ed’s Hunches…

Are usually pretty good ones, but these two hunches are, I think, especially solid. Drawing on a [recent column by Michael Stein](http://www.getactive.com/wordofnet/tsunami052605.html) noting some trends in transactional giving for post-Tsunami relief, Ed theorizes:

  • Supporters don’t want to be members. As Michael noted, people are increasingly giving on an “as-needed basis,” and I think this stems from a desire to be helpful while protecting one’s privacy and identity. People who are happy to support your cause in a variety of temporary ways are reluctant to become permanently affiliated with your organization. As I said recently, “People want to give, but they don’t want to be on your email list, because they’re not going to read your boring newsletter, and they don’t trust you to keep their address out of the wrong hands.”
  • Don’t email them, they’ll Google you (or read your feed, or search for your tags.) Michael also cites “information overload,” and I think this is significantly eroding (or at least transforming) the value of email as a mass communication channel. Everyone’s Inbox is too full these days. Non-essential messages get deleted immediately. Email’s not going away anytime soon, but relying on it as the only online channel is going to yield diminishing returns.
  • Hand that man a cigar. Web publishing is becoming relatively more important as RSS and tagging “unlock” web content from its site of origin, and let it roam through the internets.

    Email Traffic Analysis in the Enron Case — and Beyond

    Interesting article about the use of email network analysis in the Enron case in today’s NYTimes.

    >Scientists had long theorized that tracking the e-mailing and word usage patterns within a group over time – without ever actually reading a single e-mail – could reveal a lot about what that group was up to. The Enron material gave Mr. Skillicorn’s group and a handful of others a chance to test that theory, by seeing, first of all, if they could spot sudden changes.

    >For example, would they be able to find the moment when someone’s memos, which were routinely read by a long list of people who never responded, suddenly began generating private responses from some recipients? Could they spot when a new person entered a communications chain, or if old ones were suddenly shut out, and correlate it with something significant?

    While it’s great that this technology can be used to track down corporate criminals, it also other applications:

    >The scientists who are studying the Enron data said they assumed intelligence agencies are doing similar classified analyses on international e-mail traffic. Since World War II, a five-nation consortium of the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand have cooperated in a vast communications collection and analysis program called Echelon, for example, one that has assumed increasing importance since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

    It’s not a big leap from there to domestic email surveillance and analysis, say of “eco-terror” networks or “anti-war organizers.” Kinda makes you start thinking about encryption, eh?

    How about an action alert writing contest?

    We’re in the thick of a state legislative session here, which means that action alerts are flying fast and furious. I think there’s a lot of poorly written and ultimately ineffective alerts out there, but I can’t *prove* it.

    Which leads me to an idea…

    What if we organized the infrastructure to write and test different versions of a bunch of action alerts, measure the results, rewarded the winners, and wrote up the lessons learned — with statistics? We could structure it as a contest to give aspiring alert writers an incentive to participate.

    We’d need to find a couple of organizations with lists large enough to randomly sample/segment, and organize the system for the alert facts to get out to the writers and turned around quickly. This all seems totally doable.

    Elements of a good online communications plan

    In the past week or so I’ve read through a few “website plans” and “online communications plans” that have been put together for Northwest environmental groups and all in all, I’ve been pretty dissatisfied with them. None of them seem to deliver all of the elements that you’d need in order to go all the way from idea to execution. I’ve talked this over quite a bit with my colleagues [Gideon](http://blogs.onenw.org/gideon) and Drew over the past couple of days, and I’m going to try to get some of my thoughts down here.

    * Organizing goals — the purpose of advocacy communication is to inspire people to take specific actions that lead towards organizing goals. Therefore, a communications plan has to identify these goals at the outset — they will serve as a “north star” for the rest of the plan.

    * Audiences — a communications plan has to identify the target audiences for the communications. “The general public” is not a valid answer. Niether is “moms.” This is an area where we’re still really weak. Doing useful audience segmentation seems to be kind of a black art, and it doesn’t seem to come very intuitively to our organizations — we are much more comfortable describing people in geographic, occupational and demographic terms than we are at positioning them psychologically. We need to get much better at describing our audiences in terms of their attitudes towards our issues.

    * Desired outcomes — what are the attitude and behavior changes we’re trying to create?

    * Influences — our communications plans need to identify the “forces and sources” that influence the attitudes and behaviors of our target audiences. For example, who do key legislators listen to when deciding how to vote on conservation issues? How do suburban moms decide whether to buy organic vegetables or not? Our communications strategies need to focus on getting our messages into the channels that actually influence our target audiences.

    * Messages and framing — a good communications plan will talk about the good and bad language to use when talking about our issues to our target audiences. How do we create the linguistic structures that position our arguments as winners? Despite some recent good work on this by [George Lakoff](http://www.rockridgeinstitute.org) and crew at the Rockridge Institute, there still remains a great deal of work to be done on this important topic.

    * Content — what content do our target audiences need? What services do they desire? What will engage them in fighting for our issues? We need to learn to see our issues from our audiences’ points of view, and structure our information in ways that make sense to them, not according to our organizational chart.

    * Tactics — a good communications plan will contain specific ideas about effective communications tactics. Websites with features x, y. z. Press releases with specific elements. Specific advertising strategies, etc.

    * Projects — tactics will be bundled into discrete, managable projects that are sequenced in a logical order.

    * Resources — projects will have estimates of the time and money needed to execute them — and to sustain them on an ongoing basis.

    What else is missing here?

    A few thoughts on effective email discusison lists

    Veteran email marketer Bill McCloskey offers a few good [insights](http://www.mediapost.com/dtls_dsp_EmailInsider.cfm?fnl=040422) on why email discussion lists are *still* one of the most valuable group communication tools out there, and what makes a truly effective email discussion list.

    >What makes a good email discussion list? Without a doubt, it is the quality of the people on the list, and the quantity and quality of their posts. _The trick is to create an environment where people feel safe in posting (i.e. That their posts will remain confidential), and create a method by which the list isn’t dominated with a few posters and a majority of lurkers…._

    > Here is what we decided the ingredients were for creating an outstanding and active discussion list:

    >1. Exclusivity: The key to the success of any list is exclusivity. Not just anyone can get in. This is what made The Oldtimer’s so successful. On the “Oldtimer’s List” you had to have been in the industry for at least 5 years, and you had to be “cool.” In “The One Hundred Club” — or the OHC, as it is now referred to as — we purposefully limited membership to 100 of the top minds, and cut off membership at that point. Everyone on the list was nominated by someone else on the list.

    > 2. Privacy: This is a key ingredient. A good discussion list needs to be like a confessional. In order to generate interesting and useful posts, people need to know that what they post won’t be held against them, or pop up somewhere unexpectedly. On the OHC, privacy is a strict rule: like Las Vegas, what’s said there stays there. In fact, it is the only “rule” of the list that can get you permanently banned if you break it.

    > 3. Keeping the List Fresh: One of the biggest issues with all lists is that the ratio of active posters to lurkers is very lopsided. A few voices take over the discussion, the rest lurk, and pretty soon, you have a boring list. To counteract this, The OHC instituted a “no-lurker” policy.

    > Every 3 months we purge the list of anyone who has not posted during the last quarter. Members who are purged are replaced by people on the waiting list. This lights a fire under folks to post or be purged, and it provides an organic way of growing the list. In any quarter where we have 100% participation, we increase the membership enrollment by a few people, guaranteeing that new voices and new perspectives are added to the conversation regularly, and at the same time guaranteeing a very active discussion with high participation.

    This last idea is the most radical and interesting one. The vision here is one of small lists, where you participate actively or get bumped off, rather than large lists with a few active folks and lots of lurkers. It would be cool to see these a feature like this built into [Sympa](http://www.sympa.org).

    MailbyRSS: a way to convert email messages to RSS feeds

    MailbyRSS is a free service from a company called iupload that allows folks to create RSS feeds by sending email messages to iupload’s servers. This potentially offers a brain-dead way to easily create syndicated feeds for sites that don’t use content management systems.

    Scot Finnie, publisher of tech newsletter “Scot’s Newsletter” is trying MailbyRSS out, and here’s what he has to say:

    Here’s how it works: I email the HTML version of the newsletter to a special email address. From that email, iupload automatically creates an XML version and adds it to the RSS feed that it hosts for me. The theory is that I’ll be able to add that special email address to my HTML newsletter list. Then, whenever I send a new issue of the newsletter, the XML version and RSS feed will be created automatically.

    Talking with iupload’s David Carter, I learned that the company is looking to make it possible to use their free hosting service just as a pointer to a Web page. For that way of working, authors would access their RSS Feed control panel and insert the headline, link, and abstract for each item, and it would generate an RSS feed that points back to the author’s website. Although it adds a step, this is much more attractive to me.

    This is definitely worth checking out as a possible low-end solution for creating RSS feeds for folks who are currently publishing email newsletters, but can’t afford to or don’t want to make the leap to content management solutions.

    MailbyRSS is currently offering a free service that is hosted on their servers, and includes some of their branding. They say “we are working on a commercial versions that provide options to remove the branding on templates and to publish your RSS Channels and web pages to the location of your choice. “