New Email Discussion List Solution, Integration with WP Mailster

The WordPress for Toastmasters solution now includes a new email discussion list solution, based on integration with WP Mailster, that offers a tighter integration than was possible with the Mailman utility I worked with previously.

Users of the toastmost.org service associated with the WordPress for Toastmasters project who had requested a mailing list have been converted to the WP Mailster solution because the web host for the service is dropping support for Mailman.

Discussion lists can allow members to share information and discuss issues of interest to the club, such as dues and budget proposals. You write to a single address, and your message is distributed to all members (as are the replies to your message). At Online Presenters, for example, the member email list is op@toastmost.org. Non-members who write to that address, will get their message bounced back (unless we’ve made a specific exception), but any member can use that address to share whatever they want to share.

The WP Mailster plugin adds its own menu item to the administrator’s dashboard. Beneath that, as a submenu, I’ve added a link to a Toastmasters Lists screen that provides easy access to the functions I think a Toastmasters club will most commonly need:

  • See the status of your member and officer lists. If they are not completely set up yet, any remaining steps will be spelled out here (mostly applies to those who host their own club websites outside of Toastmost.org).
  • Add email addresses that should be allowed to send to the list to a “whitelist” – useful for members who use multiple email addresses, in addition to the one associated with their login.
  • Add non-member email addresses to the list, for example if you want an honorary member or area director to be included on the “members” list.
Toastmasters Lists for Mailster

You may wish to configure other lists, in addition to those for members and officers, or you can alter the settings, by working directly with the WP Mailster plugin. I’ve tried to shorten the learning curve and provide settings most likely to work without letting your messages get caught in spam filters.

Toastmost.org Users

Clubs that use toastmost.org will get email lists for both members and officers, set up with a reasonable set of defaults, configured for them upon request. All club members with active WordPress accounts will automatically be added to the members email list.

Note that if you try to activate the WP Mailster plugin on your own, I will still need to complete a couple of steps to create the corresponding email accounts on toastmost.org.

It is possible for more technically adept webmasters to instead host the email accounts elsewhere. For example, you might be able to configure an email address associated with a domain name you own even if your site is hosted as a subdomain of toastmost.org.

The how-to details for more complicated scenarios are addressed in the following section, aimed at webmasters who operate WordPress for Toastmasters sites outside of toastmost.org.

Self Hosted Clubs

If your club uses the WordPress for Toastmasters software (the RSVPMaker and RSVPMaker for Toastmasters plugins) on its own web hosting, you will need to complete some additional steps.

I recommend you use the free version of WP Mailster, but if you try the Pro edition I’d love to hear about your experience.

As long as you have the latest version of my plugins, lists set up according to my suggested defaults will be created as soon as you install and activate WP Mailster. However, although a list email address and password will be displayed on the Toastmasters Lists screen (the submenu under WP Mailster), you will still need to create corresponding email accounts where incoming messages will be queued before being relayed to list members.

Typically, web hosts provide a utility such as CPanel that allow you to configure email accounts. If your web host does not include email accounts with your plan, you may be able to get them through another service provider. For example, if you registered your domain through GoDaddy, you can get email accounts through them for an additional fee.

Each list needs its own dedicated email account. The password for the email account must match the one recorded in WP Mailster. Once you have set up your email accounts, you will need to add the email server parameters to WP Mailster.

I suggest using the POP3 protocol for incoming messages, rather than IMAP. With POP3, messages are deleted from the server after retrieval, whereas with IMAP they are retained on the server (requiring a bigger mailbox).

You will also need the configuration for an outgoing server that uses the SMTP protocol.

For each of these, you will record a server host name (such as mail.myclub.org) and a port number. Then click the Test Connection link in WP Mailster to make sure it works. In my experience, sometimes you have to try a few of the variations your web host supports before you find one that works.

Once you have done all this, activate the list so it will start checking for new messages.

Recommended Settings

Before you change the default list settings I’ve established, here are a few notes on why they are recommended:

  • Sender Settings screen, Use WordPress Mailer: no. While WordPress can send out messages without SMTP settings being specified, your messages will be more likely to be trapped in spam filters if you change this setting.
  • Mail Content I suggest a custom header that specifies who the message is from and provides a link members can click to write back to that member directly, rather than writing back to the list. A custom footer provides a link to the Unsubscribe function in RSVPMaker so we can honor this request for both WP Mailster messages and other system messages.
  • List Behavior screen, Allowed to send / post – Restricted to list members (who will also receive the messages), list administrator, and members of the whitelist group.
  • Sending Behavior From name and From email address are set to the list name and list email address. Spam filters do not like when the From email address doesn’t match the account they are receiving a message from. This means that replies go to the list by default, not the individual sender.

These recommendations my change as my club and others get more experience with the software.

Gains and Tradeoffs

The integration with WP Mailster is greater than I was able to achieve with Mailman, allowing almost all configuration (other than the initial setup of email accounts) to occur within the WordPress environment. Mailman is an old, reliable piece of software that has to be managed with a separate password.

As a lower-level Linux utility, Mailman does have some advantages in terms of access to the email system.

Because WP Mailster periodically checks for new incoming messages, rather than receiving them instantly, there will always be a delay between when a message is sent to the list and when it goes out to list members.

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