Despite the increasing relevance of social media tools like blogs, twitter, facebook, etc, the best place to connect with people remains their email inbox. Especially in Africa, email mailing lists such as Pambazuka News, WOUGNET-L, and African Democracy Forum remain essential online platforms enabling civil society activists and practitioners to connect, inform and support one another on a daily basis. We helped start all three of those lists back when Kabissa provided traditional domain hosting services, but have since moved on to promoting social media. Now to go forward while going back: let's revisit mailing lists.
The limits of blogging on Kabissa
When we launched our new platform in 2008, we moved "beyond" mailing lists and focussed our attention on enabling Kabissa members to create Kabissa Groups for their organizations to connect around blogs, news, polls and wikis. This has been very powerful and useful for some members, especially those already with a social media strategy and blogging skills. However, for the vast majority of members, their engagement with Kabissa has been mostly one-way. They receive and take advantage of newsletters, special mailings and notifications of new blog posts via email, but comments on the blogs have been few and far between.
Bringing email discussion lists to Kabissa Groups
Now, however, there is an exciting new opportunity to provide each group with an email discussion list, which means that group members can participate directly by email. Write an email to a Kabissa Group email address. Respond quickly and comfortably by simply replying to emails received from the Kabissa Group. All posts and their replies are posted automatically on the site and distributed to other members.
I am testing the mailing list functionality currently and would welcome input from the Kabissa community on needs and priorities on this topic, as well as volunteers to help test it before we make it available to all users. I also need help on the documentation (see below).
A look under the hood
The new discussion list functionality is provided thanks to the freely available open source software that powers the Kabissa website called Drupal and the work of Kyle Matthews. Kyle has been hard at work all year developing the new OG Mailinglist module for Drupal as part of Eduglu, a Drupal-based social learning platform that also shows alot of promise.
Since Kyle announced the OG Mailinglist project this spring I have been actively following it and contributing many feature requests and advice that helped to make it suitable for the needs of the Kabissa community and Africa generally. In the last few weeks I have been actively testing and reporting bugs, and Kyle has been very responsive and helpful in fixing them.
Not all features have been fully implemented. For example, file attachments only work partially (send a file attachment by email and it will be redistributed to all members by email, but will only be posted if it is the first post in a discussion thread. Post via the website and it will be saved for both new posts and comments, but only attachments to new posts are sent out). It also is not possible to change subscription settings directly by email. For that you have to log in and access a page where you can join/leave groups and change subscription settings for each group to mail, nomail, or digest mode.
Nevertheless I am excited about this module because it means that, for the first time, anyone with a Drupal site using Organic Groups (and a suitable server - it won't run on every type of server) can now also turn on email mailing lists with all the typical functionality that people expect from listservs, for free and with comparatively limited effort. As a Drupal module, OG Mailinglist can also be extended to serve more specific needs. For example, it is possible to combine it with Drupal's multilanguage support to create multilingual discussion lists, or to provide support for SMS/MMS for mobile phone participation.
Beta release announcement from Kyle Matthews
Full details from Kyle about the First beta release for Drupal-native mailinglist module below.
First beta release for Drupal-native mailinglist module
Today I rolled out the first beta for my Drupal module, OG Mailinglist, which provides native mailinglist functionality to Drupal similar to Mailmanor Google Groups.
OG Mailinglist provides complete email integration for Organic Group-based Drupal sites. Many people find it easier to participate in online conversations through email rather than having to visit a website continually. OG Mailinglist provides this email integration for your site. My company is supporting the development of this module as part of our development of Eduglu, a Drupal-based social learning platform.
OG Mailinglist was started as a student project at BYU for the site I built there, http://island.byu.edu. Since its creation, OG Mailinglist has successfully supported 1000s of discussions.
OG Mailinglist has a rich array of features. Current features include:
* Full integration with Organic Groups.
* Each group has its own email address.
* You can create and reply to posts via email as well as through the web site.
* Full HTML Digests. They are loosely modeled after Google Group's digest emails and are very readable.
* Emails include the list-id header to make filtering easy in your email client.
* Low latency. Emails arriving at your site are resent immediately instead of waiting for the next cron run. Other group members will typically receive your email within one minute of you sending it. This can greatly speed up group conversations on time sensitive issues.
Installing and configuring this module requires root access and fairly advanced sysadmin skills. Right now, there is instructions for integrating with Exim4 and Qmail. There's already efforts at way to support Postfix, so please join in on this issue if you have Postfix expertise.
OG Mailinglist has come a long long way since the project started 1.5 years ago but there's still plenty of bugs to share. So please pitch in and help make this module even more awesome.
Help me with the OG Mailinglist documentation
I have started writing the OG Mailinglist documentation and I need help! I'd like the manual to include everything necessary to install OG Mailinglist, to help improve the module by contributing features to the issue tracker, as well as hands-on guides for site admins, group managers and group members.
If you are interested in deploying OG Mailinglist, please also share your use case so that we can gather information on the different types of deployments and technical needs and functionality that OG Mailinglist might be able to support in the future.