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Commercialisation of PHPList ... ?

PostPosted: 3:06am, Wed 23 Jun, 2010
by andrewmfern
Hi All,

This could be a bit long but bear with me, there is a point. I could get caned for this, but it's got to be said. I really like this software but it's just way too hard to use. I believe that there is a risk that the thousands of hours of effort developing it to date will end up being wasted as people move away from it for this reason in the near future.

To put this in perspective, we have been running PHPList for about 4 years. In terms of capture, it has done exactly what we wanted, although it's not at all easy to get it to look like part of your existing site. PHPList does some really complex things very well, and to be honest I am amazed that applications like this are available for free. What I don't need is the current system hosted. The survey running right now is asking the wrong questions. Would I pay $50 for a hosted service, of course. Would I pay $50 for PHPList hosted in it's current format ... well no, because it's simply not as good as the other stuff available out there at the same price. The problem is, that it is really hard to do simple things that everyone who uses a email marketing list needs.

What are those simple things:

1. build a simple form that incorporates into your own website without being a coder.
2. throttle outgoing mail and ensure that ALL phplist functions adhere to the throttling (they don't)
3. customise thankyou and other pages per list and otherwise incorporate these easily into your website
4. change ALL the configuration options from the gui
5. HIDE ALL THE CODE because most people using this software are marketers, not techies
6. statistics / analytics are not something you should need to enable ... everyone needs them
7. creating a new campaign / message should be simple ... it's not
8. throttling / send functions that keeps working if you log off

There are others, but you catch the point.

Out of frustration I have been looking at and testing other solutions in the past month and I have to say that PHPList does things the others don't but it's just really difficult to navigate.

I tried as a hosted service this month. They supposedly have 30,000 customers. The formbuilder is just OK, but its message builder is awesomely simple to use. It's was easy to integrate into our website and the custom thankyou pages etc are simple to enable. You don't have to worry about throttling because it's hosted. BUT, there are some things I can do in PHPList that I couldn't do easily such as mass mail all unconfirmed users (we get lots of them), force a user I enter to confirm and they also don't have anywhere that people can edit their own details which is a must. I still have my phplist install there and will be reverting to it in the next week because madmimi has things (as mentioned) that are on their 'roadmap' that are simply not optional.

I also took a look at which is just released whilst a lot more 'user friendly' than PHPList, it is still pretty 'technical' to get around also. With their solution, there's no throttling which is a must on a hosted environment. Still, it's highly functional and it'd be interesting to see how phplist rated against their list - ... penEMM.pdf ... from a user perspective, it's still too hard to use, although it's lot easier than phplist.

Yesterday I had a look around the OmniStar Mailer demo. It only costs US$287 including setup on your server, so for all intents and purposes, it's just about free. ... it seems to do just about everything, although there were some things I like in phplist that it didn't do. For example, PHPList knows I am an admin and allows me to cofirm users if I enter them manually, or will automatically ask them to confirm their subscription if I choose not to. Great logic and exactly the way it ought to be, however other packages don't use this method.

There are stack of other products available.

So, getting to the point. Examples of the commercial opportunities as:

1. A basic admin interface for the product that makes it more usable and which is competitive in terms of functionality with comparable products. This would be a charge product and I would be willing to bet that most people who are 'bound' to the product would pay $50 or $100 to be able to get around it more easily without hacking PHP files and writing HTML to do simple things. What if of the 300,000 downloads say 50,000 people were interested in this? It makes it worth doing.

2. A hosting company to compete with the others mentioned above. After having a look around, I am convinced that PHPList has a lot of the things on the other companies 'roadmaps' already well tested.

3. Consulting / integration.

4. Versions of the product that are specifically integrated with specific CRM packages or a 'data bridge' that has some pre-configured options or a GUI in the same manner that products like Mercator deal with this issue. EG: there are hundreds of thousands of GoldMine CRM installations and there's very little in the way of integrated email marketing. Could be a 'product' but it's a real problem for everyone that runs CRM ... you can't manage it easily from inside the CRM system, and you end up importing and exporting CSV files constantly to do email marketing.

There are, no doubt, other people out there who also have commercial software backgrounds in large companies. 300,000 downloads = a huge opportunity to create a commercial product. Sure, keep the open source version (I get it) but put together a serious effort to turn it into a commercial product which starts with building an admin interface that a 'nuffy' can get around. Get a free account at any of the commercial site / / etc

It seems to me that the difficult things have been quite well done within PHPList but it needs a lot of attention to the administration / user interface. It needs to be able to be driven by a marketing person with no coding ability. They are NO CHANCE right now.

The first step, if there's any interest, would be some market research. A feature matrix needs to be built ... there doesn't seem to be one. There are plenty of resources that could be used to construct this - http://email-marketing-service-review.t ... index.html and http://email-marketing-software-review. ... and also the pdf mentioned above at OPENEMM. After assessing PHPList against the feature matrix, and other applications available, this might be considered too hard. This would involve every admin screen being re-done and every subscriber related screen being re-done in addition to making it making the current 'hacks' do-able in a GUI by a 'nuffy' from the marketing department (sorry marketing). There should be no reason to edit config files for any reason.

If you are interested please post a reply ... if you think I am missing the point because it's open source, then I probably am. Open Source doesn't have to equal unusable unless you can code PHP / CSS / HTML.

The days of RTFM are gone ... RTFM = customer will choose another product and just 'deal with' the loss of the things they liked from PHPList. This would be a shame because it looks like it's 90% there and better (in some areas) than many of the commercial products which are making good money.

Over to all of you.



Re: Commercialisation of PHPList ... ?

PostPosted: 11:37am, Thu 24 Jun, 2010
by eazeegeek
I wish I had a witty remark about how you do not respect the effort of the guys working on PHPlist! But I have to admit that your post feels like the "Voice of the Customer"!

Scary AND True!

Hopefully everything you wish for in PHPlist will be implemented before you stop using it! :-)

By the way, why not hire a PHPlist expert to do the mundane tasks while you focus on marketing? I have not done any cost comparison but doesn't this sound as a valid workaround?

Re: Commercialisation of PHPList ... ?

PostPosted: 8:10pm, Thu 24 Jun, 2010
by NYChris
Well Andrew, that should stop any development dead in it's tracks.
Open Source by it's very nature, exists for programmers so they can modify a program for their own specific needs... and then we boast about our mods by sharing them in communities like this where development teams may use our work. Some open source progs (ex: Mozilla) have thousands of programmers that contributed in some way or another. And that's why it's usually better, more secure, and more customizable.

I also have to agree with liveazee... your post does ring of the "Voice of the Consumer"!

In addition, I would like to point out that some programmers take open source modding to an extreme.
For example, I've looked very closely at a mass mailing service called JangoMail. The cost of using JangoMail is prohibitive by most standards.
To me it sure seems like it's nothing more than a very modded older version of phplist. ...but it's commercial and the source is proprietary now. I don't think there will ever be a massive upgrade in capabilities over there... while phplist evolves more and more.

Re: Commercialisation of PHPList ... ?

PostPosted: 7:45pm, Sun 27 Jun, 2010
by andrewmfern
NYChris wrote:Well Andrew, that should stop any development dead in it's tracks.
Open Source by it's very nature, exists for programmers so they can modify a program for their own specific needs...


... while phplist evolves more and more.

Thanks for the reply ...

Everything I wrote should all be taken as a compliment to the folks who've developed it and also those who've bothered to post fixes to problems. It's a great application, but the bit you might be missing is that the users are not programmers ... they are marketing people.

The 'application logic / functionality' is better than most of what's out there, and that's why I bothered to post. Reliability for me has been high, but having worked for a large software vendor in the past I know there are a lot of things that wouldn't have got through QA.

If it's meant to be a great application for developers who need mass mail capabilities, that's OK. However if you want to be a competitive application in the space, I think you need to stop being offended, look at the stuff mentioned in my first post, and engage the users (the marketing guys) and ask them what they want.

Ultimately, it depends whether you want it to be a great application for developers or a great application which it indeed could be.



Re: Commercialisation of PHPList ... ?

PostPosted: 7:51pm, Sun 27 Jun, 2010
by andrewmfern
liveazee wrote:I wish I had a witty remark about how you do not respect the effort of the guys working on PHPlist! But I have to admit that your post feels like the "Voice of the Customer"!

Scary AND True!

Hopefully everything you wish for in PHPlist will be implemented before you stop using it! :-)

By the way, why not hire a PHPlist expert to do the mundane tasks while you focus on marketing? I have not done any cost comparison but doesn't this sound as a valid workaround?

Thanks ... it was all meant in a positive way. It's a great app. I see more functionality coming, but there is no major interface project ... which means people like me are just dead in the app until this becomes a priority.



Re: Commercialisation of PHPList ... ?

PostPosted: 3:59am, Fri 03 Sep, 2010
by TechLady
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. You said what I felt better then I could say it. I too got the feeling that PHPList was turning toward the commercial route, if this is not the case then an overhaul of the home page is needed.

I have been trying unsuccessfully to get my PHPList working for about a year now. As a website designer I am not afraid of a little code so some of the config edits have not been to bad, and I had only a little difficulty with editing the html for the subscription pages and such. But when it come to understanding the fundamentals of e-mail enough to know why I can not mail out I just want to bang my head against the wall. That is the customer experience I think you were talking about. It was tough to find the information on the website to install the program and then it has been tough to trouble shoot. And, yes I did use the forum to try and troubleshoot my issue.


I do really like what this program can do, and compared to the commercial programs I did try if I can get this to work it will really out pace them. I just wish it was more user friendly. I work for a not for profit organization myself as a volunteer so I know what it is like to put in a lot of effort on projects that may not get the credit, but that is what we signed up for isn't? The goals of this project are fantastic and Andrew you did a great job pointing out the weaknesses. As developers we always have to take note of the weaknesses and try and improve those areas if we can. If we can't then we need ask for help from those who are experts in those areas, like marketers.

Re: Commercialisation of PHPList ... ?

PostPosted: 7:53pm, Fri 03 Sep, 2010
by vancoovur
Andrew et al

PHPList is opensource software developed by a dedicated group of programmers and testers and is provided free to all. That's a given and we're all quite aware of what most can expect these days for free but I think PHPList delivers much more than comparable (and pricey) apps, hosted or otherwise. We're also aware that the software *does* work (although it still has a bug or two) and does the job it's designed to do amazingly well. I understand your frustration regarding configuration, graphic customization and other salient points but at this point the software requires a certain level of technical ability and may be beyond those with limited nerdy know-how.

Does this mean that PHPList may not be the choice for those looking for slick commercial applications and point and click convenience? Yes, at this point that's probably the case, but for those that take the time to learn how to pull its various levers and knobs, it's a magical application that does the job exceedingly well. PHPList is always evolving and, if we continue to support and offer our input, mods and plugins, will eventually surpass the available commercial applications and become the preeminent mass email system. Fingers crossed.

I can only hope you hang in there, work through the problems you may have and, if you continue to have issues, feel free to PM or email me directly and I'll do what I can to help.