If you need a quick and easy way to contact all your clients, send your fans a note about what's new on your Web site, or start a discussion list, it's time to look into mailing list software. 

There are lots of choices out there today, so which one is right for you? In this article, we'll go over some of the basic things you should look for in finding the mailing list software that's right for you.

To host or not to host

If you don't want to deal with the hassles of running your list yourself, there are some companies out there that will host your mailing list for you. Some charge a fee, while others plug small advertisements in every message that is sent to your list members. A couple places to check out are Topica.com, MessageBot, and eGroups. If you'd like to see a bigger list of companies that provide this service so you can look around yourself, head to dmoz.org's directory listing for mailing list hosting companies.

You can go your own way?

Stevie Nicks said it best. If you'd rather go your own way and run the software yourself, there a plethora of options out there to choose from. I'm going to cover some of the mailing list managers (MLMs) that stick out from the crowd. Again, to get a full list of MLMs out there, head on over to dmoz's listing on the subject.

To begin, you should know that most of the MLMs out there typically run on a Unix-based OS, most of them Linux. If you're looking to host this on your own and not spend a lot of cash, Linux is the platform you should be looking at. It's free to begin with (you can buy a copy at Best Buy, though) and about 90% of MLM's are written for it, including all of the ones I mention.

Majordomo

Speaking of music, if I had to compare the Majordomo MLM to a band, it would probably be the Rolling Stones. It's one of the most popular MLMs on the Internet, but it's way past its prime in terms of ease of use and features. Getting Keith Richards to stop smoking and getting Majordomo to work rate about the same degree of difficulty. Another knock against Majordomo is its speed. If you get a list that has more than 100 people, expect to see some delay as to when people will actually receive the message due to Majordomo performance issues. There are some programs that will attempt to speed it up its mail delivery, but it's another hassle to deal with.

ListServ

ListServ is a product of L-Soft Inc. that is the definite 'heavy hitter' of the MLMs. If you have a high traffic list, or set of lists, this is the only MLM that will do the job for you. To get optimum performance, it works best with LSMTP, which is L-Soft's custom SMTP server tuned for high performance. These two programs in combination hold a number of records for email sent, the biggest being over 6 million emails in one day. There is also a 'lite' version of their MLM, and a version that runs in the WindowsNT platform, if that's your thing.

Minordomo

Minordomo is the smaller, kinder, gentler version of its big brother, Majordomo. Minordomo sacrificies many features in order to give a small, efficient, and easy-to-install MLM. If you want something quick and dirty, this is for you.

Minimalist

Minimalist is another MLM that is small and easy to install. It differs from Minordomo in that it also has a pretty complete feature set and is developed rather well. This is probably the easiest MLM to use and install out of the bunch. This is the MLM that originally ran the evolt.org mailing list for the first two months.

MajorGumbo

MajorGumbo was developed by yours truly for the evolt.org lists after my search for a robust, easy to administer, and fast MLM failed to find anything of value. It is written mostly in Python and is based heavily on the Mailman MLM. I plan to release this as soon as I get the code cleaned up which should happen within the next couple weeks. (I know I've been saying that for months, but we all have lives :)

Choosing the right MLM will save you a ton of headaches down the road. If the one you're using now doesn't work for you, or gives you problems, try another one! There are plenty of options out there to cover almost any situation, it's just a matter of finding the right software that works best for you.

If you have comments or questions for me, feel free to drop me a line or post a comment below.