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Milton News

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I've been published a read only mailing list of news about the village of Milton, where we live, for a long while now. I started in December 1998 using the majordomo list server and hosted on a server at our house but as time went by I moved it to a hosted server and switched to using mailman which is easier to use having a Web interface both for subscribers and list owners.

It's called, rather prosaically, milton-news, and the list currently has 193 subscribers so it reaches around 11% of homes in Milton.

For a while now I've been working to move this forward another step. My way of doing that has been to create a new web site news.milton.org.uk where I can post news stories. These be read via RSS but RSS is still an alien concept for a lot of people so I wanted to retain the mailing list.

I also wanted to enhance the mailing format. I've used plain text up until now. That works well if the reader uses a fixed pitch font but a lot don't. I also wanted to be able to have proper hyperlinks, plus the occasional photograph.

So starting this morning I'm using some new software I've written. From now on at 6:30am every Monday and Friday morning a cron job looks for any new postings to the web site and bundles them up as an email to the milton-news mailing list. The email has both an HTML and a plain text version.

Here's a screen shot of the HTML version as viewed from SquirrelMail, the webmail client we used on our extranet:

milton-news posting

The logo is Chris Thomas' which he donated to the village for use on the village web site and elsewhere. The bullet points at the top are in message links so if there's lots of stories you can click on the link and, hopefully, your mail client takes you to the right story.

I think it looks pretty good and the feedback thus far has been positive on the whole but no doubt it will need tweaking a bit before it's absolutely right (something I've already done a little already - the footing on the next email will be different, as will the From address format).

But the really good news for me is that I now only have to post news once, to the web site, and the software does the rest for me. Moreover I can embargo entries, so for example I've got all the blood donor sessions for the year in there, but they're embargoed until a few days before. When that day arrives they'll pop up in the next mailing without me having to remember to do anything ... or even be at home!

God, I love computers.

Tags: Milton, web design Written 09/09/08

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