There are many ways of setting up a listserv. One popular option is GNU Mailman. GNU Mailman is a free open source package for running email discussion groups. It’s installed on a server and then handles the redirecting of list emails and gives you an admin interface. But is GNU Mailman actually “free”? Let’s explore some pros and cons of using GNU Mailman for your discussion list.
GNU Mailman is open source and, thus, free to download and install. Free is always good.
With GNU Mailman you have full control over your list because it’s in your space, installed by you, and maintained by you.
GNU Mailman has some features that other free options like Google or Yahoo groups don’t have. You can find a full list of those features here. On the other hand, it doesn’t have support for features like calenders, clickable attachments, or searchable archives.
In order to run this software, you’ll need to have server space. If you already have server space, then this might be convenient. If you don’t, you’re going to have to rent server space for at least $10 a month. So that’ll cost you money.
If you pay for a cheap $10/m server, you’re going to be sharing your IP address with lots of other people. Now, you may be an angel, but some of the people you’re sharing with may not be. Which may mean your IP is blocked for sending spam, which means your discussion list emails aren’t going to get where they need to.
What to know if your server’s IP is blocked? Use this tool from mxtoolbox.com.
On the other hand, you could spend more money not to share a server with someone, which means…more money.
GNU Mailman doesn’t have a one-click install. It doesn’t have instructions that could be followed by your average computer user or even your above average computer user. You actually have to know what you’re doing to use it, which means you’re going to have to add it to your IT person’s workload or hire someone to install it. Either way, it’s going to cost you money.
Once your IT person has setup GNU Mailman, he’s going to have to keep it updated and fix any problems, eating up more time and money.
Not only will your IT person have to maintain your server, but he’ll also have to deal with the fact that, since GNU Mailman is shareware, its support is also shareware. In that, support is crowdsourced and not dedicated. Plus, if he needs bugs fixed he’ll have to wait for the inconsistent updates that usually accompany software that’s written for free.
GNU Mailman may seem free on the surface, but in the end you’re still going to have to pay money to run it. And that’s money that won’t get you dedicated support or a server. You’re better off putting up with Google. Or just putting that money toward a service like Mail-list.com.