SitePoint Offers, Nov 25

Black Friday: 2 Years of SitePoint Premium for $99

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Over $20,000 worth of SitePoint web development and design books and courses for $99.

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Teaser: Here's what we have planned over the next few months...
  • Get Started with Functional JavaScript Programming [course]
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Get 2 Years of SitePoint Premium for $99 The library covers all skill levels, including topics like WordPress, CSS, HTML, responsive web design, PHP, Ruby, JavaScript and much more. All our stuff, yours to download, for just $99. Buy now and save $99! Grab this deal before it's gone! Ends midnight Cyber Monday.
Elio Qoshi, Nov 25

Open Source Email Marketing with phpList

Open source email marketing

Open Source Week

It’s Open Source Week at SitePoint! All week we’re publishing articles focused on everything Open Source, Free Software and Community, so keep checking the OSW tag for the latest updates.

Email marketing has been exploding in popularity. You might have heard of the likes of MailChimp and Emma advertising the use of their services to send a whole bunch of messages for prospects and profit. The number of ways to promote goods online is forever growing, and research shows emails are still the most effective. I like to compare it with the "desktop is dead" myth; while mobile is on the rise, desktop is here to stay. I believe the same about email.

Having said that, it’s no surprise that the number of services competing in the field have mushroomed in recent years, capitalising on demand from firms of all sizes to get access to that most personal of places, the email inbox.

While big brand proprietary platforms and their sponsorship deals have been busy establishing themselves, an Open Source alternative has been minding its own business, making regular releases and accumulating a committed base of users since the year 2000. Enter phpList, the email marketing app you can run yourself without paying for messages, subscribers, or additional features.

Why Use a Dedicated App for Sending Emails?

Marketing professionals have a habit of torturing words until they confess (usually to the greatness of their product). Maybe that’s why terminology around email marketing is confusing. If a ‘mailing list’ is just a list of email addresses, and a ‘mailing list manager’ is merely an application to handle and use these lists, then what’s the difference between Mailchimp, phpList, GNU Mailman, and mail clients like Thunderbird? Are Mailchimp and Mailman interchangeable? Unfortunately not.

Old-fashioned mailing lists are many-to-many mailing platforms; a variety of people send single messages to a group of others in a single act, and each member of the group can reply to the others (as healthcare workers at Britain’s National Health Service illustrated last week, when a 1.2 million long mailing list was crashed by 185 million unsubscription requests).

Thunderbird, on the other hand, is is a mail client which can send messages to one or more recipients, but is not designed for managing failed deliveries, recording delivery statistics, or sending to large lists of subscribers.

Mailchimp and phpList are one-to-many sending platforms; a single person sends a single message to a large number of recipients. If the message recipient wants to reply, they can contact only the sender — the other members of the list cannot be replied to directly, and are typically kept secret for the preservation of privacy. These and other popular email marketing platforms share a host of features not found in other software, including built-in email templates, easy integration of newsletter signup forms in websites and apps, and automatic email personalization based on subscriber preferences.

How does phpList measure up against the proprietary competition? Let’s compare its performance in three categories against market leaders (and no, mascot monkey-ness isn’t one of them).


HTML emails aren’t everyone’s cup of tea – packed with tables and inline CSS, the code behind them is a throwback to a less civilized era. Unpredictable rendering by mail clients makes producing beautiful messages a challenge, but some services ease the pain with a range of templates and point and click editors. phpList provides editors as plugins, with CKEditor being the best of the bunch. While it works well for text formatting and media embedding, it can’t handle complex layouts, and doesn’t apply template styles as you type. For floated images and table layouts it’s easier to do your designing in a dedicated app and copy and paste the HTML in afterwards.

When it comes to templates, most people feel the more the merrier, but phpList ships with none pre-installed, and but a handful officially available. In theory, you can use templates from any other application (including many published by Mailchimp on GitHub), but including more and better templates ‘inside the box’ would save us from hunting around.

Reports and Statistics

Once your message is signed, sealed, and delivered, you’ll be itching to see the impact it has had. Open rates, click-throughs, bounces, and conversions are all things you’ll want to check following a successful send. Like other services, phpList includes detailed statistics relating these and more going further than some, giving a complete history of each subscriber. This includes each open, click, visit, and change, including response times. It’s easy to see all subscribers who opted out of future messages, following which campaign, and for what reason (if one was given).

Unlike nearly all competitors, phpList does not include data visualisations – no bar graphs or pie charts found here. If you’re looking for a satisfying uptick in user engagement, you’ll have to use Piwik or Google Analytics (both are supported), or export the data to a spreadsheet and make graphs by yourself. Built-in graphs feel past due for phpList and some users will miss them.


Responsive web interface? Check. Fat finger friendly on tablets and smartphones? More or less. Sleek and modern? Heck no! The usability of email marketing apps varies wildly, and while phpList gets the job done across devices, its design belongs to last decade. No HTML5 inputs or modal dialogues are to be found, but pages are easy to navigate, with a practical aesthetic.

Paul King, Nov 24

Groovy, an Open Source Success Story

The history of the Groovy programming language including technical features and aspects of its governance and community that have made it successful.
Akshay Sachdeva, Nov 24

5 Ways to Drive More Traffic to Your Site with Content Promotion

Akshay Sachdeva teaches you to get more out of your content marketing efforts with five content promotion methods.
Glenn Goodrich, Nov 24

The Conventions of Contributing to Open Source

Jeff Smith, Nov 23

Talk with the Experts: Glenn Goodrich

This is a recap of our recent AMA with Glenn Goodrich, our Ruby channel editor and author behind Rails: Novice to Ninja on SitePoint. 
Kristi Progri, Nov 23

Nextcloud: an Open-source Dropbox, Google Drive Alternative

Kristi Progri presents Nextcloud, an open-source, self-hosted alternative to file sharing services like Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive.
Elio Qoshi, Nov 23

Quick Read: The JS Foundation

As part of Open Source Week here at SitePoint, Elio Qoshi takes a look at the recently formed JS Foundation and asks how it might benefit the JS ecosystem.
Design & UX
Alex Walker, Nov 23

How to Hack Brains with Cinemagraphs

Cinemagraphs are like the snow globes of the web – simple yet strangely mesmerizing. Here's how to use them in your web design.
Maria Antonietta Perna, Nov 23

How Open Sourcing Bootstrap Made It Huge

Maria Antonietta Perna shows how the decision of open sourcing Bootstrap, the popular front-end framework, was key to its growth and success.
Cal Evans, Nov 23

Pay the Price for Open Source

Cal Evans, the godfather of the PHP community, discusses the cost of using open source projects, and what you need to do to pay it.
Tim Evko, Nov 22

Versioning Show, Episode 17: What Makes a Good Engineer

In this one-on-one episode of the Versioning Show, Tim and David talk about humility, curiosity, discipline and the other qualities of a good developer.
Joshua Kraus, Nov 22

How Your Company Can Benefit from Contributing to Open Source

Joshua Kraus explores five ways that companies benefit from contributing to open source.
Christian Heilmann, Nov 22

Free as in Puppy — Open Sourcing Your JavaScript Code

Christian Heilmann and Rita Zhang look at the benefits of releasing your code as an open source project, as well as the pitfalls to avoid.
Jérémy Heleine, Nov 22

Mastering the WordPress Categories API

Jérémy Heleine covers various other functions that are available in the Categories API.
Simon Codrington, Nov 22

The Power of Open Source in the Foundation Framework

Simon Codrington illustrates the power open source brings to front-end frameworks and talks to the guys from Zurb, the team behind Foundation. 
Elio Qoshi, Nov 22

Firefox OS post-mortem - Interview with Andre Garzia

I am happy to be joined today by Andre Garzia, a Mozilla Tech Speaker, Firefox OS book author and contributor at Mozilla for the past few years. At SitePoint we tend to cover cutting edge topics and keep developers in the loop about the latest happenings around the web. This time however, we will have a look back and talk about Firefox OS, which as you might have heard, was discontinued earlier this year. We will have a look at the things Firefox OS stood for, what impact it had on the web and what lessons we can learn from it. Elio: It’s great having you here Andre! Also thanks for taking the time to cover a few things about Firefox OS, which might be a rather difficult topic, as we have all been so passionate about it. Andre: It’s my pleasure. After all this time we can have a look at Firefox OS in a less biased way, I believe. Elio: I suppose. It would be great if you could tell me more about yourself at Mozilla and how did you get involved with Firefox OS in the first place? Andre: I was participating in a hackathon, on a brazilian campus party. They had these huge hackathons there lasting for many days. People basically camp there with activities 24/7. I went to that event alone, I didn’t have a crew to hang out with and a couple of days before that event, I went to a Firefox OS app day, where they explained the system and the API-s.
Simon Ritter, Nov 21

Keeping The Community In The Java Community Process (JCP)

The Java Community Process (JCP) governs Java's future. Simon Ritter explains it and how the EC, EGs, JSRs, JEPs, the JSPA, FoU, RI, and TCK/JCK interact.
Rob Eisenberg, Nov 21

The Future of Aurelia — Roadmap and Upcoming Features

Rob Eisenberg takes a look at the future of Aurelia, from tooling to server-side rendering to a look at Aurelia UX, Aurelia's open source sister framework.
Giannis Konstantinidis, Nov 21

An Introduction to OSVR

Giannis Konstantinidis looks at the OSVR platform and headsets, and their promise within the open source movement in virtual reality.
Bruno Skvorc, Nov 21

Sourcehunt - Open Source Week Edition

It's open source week at SitePoint, and this sourcehunt is an excellent starter, listing some amazing and diverse projects from this month and the last.
Design & UX
Michaela Freeman, Nov 21

Web Layout 101: Making the Most of the Top Right Corner

The top right of screen is a difficult area of the screen to design for. Michaela shows you how to select the best images for your layout.
Ardian Haxha, Nov 21

Five Trending Open Source Projects That Use Ruby

Ardian Haxha details five of the most popular open source Ruby projects on Github.
Elio Qoshi, Nov 21

Open Source Week at SitePoint

Elio Qoshi announces the start of Open Source Week here at SitePoint!