Thursday, April 19, 2012

MailChimp - A Better RSS to E-mail Solution

I'm using Twitter to power the Omer Learning Project, which means that people can easily get content deliver to them via SMS, RSS and Twitter. And while that's all well in good, after talking to folks, I learned that we needed to offer an e-mail delivery solution, too. No doubt about it, E-mail is still king when it comes to tapping into content.

No problem, I thought, I'll use Feedburner's E-mail Subscription functionality to automatically convert the RSS to e-mail nightly. I went ahead and did this, but quickly learned that there was some issues with Feedburner: (1) the e-mail deliver wasn't reliable. I'd schedule it for 9pm, and some days it would be sent off, and other days it wouldn't. And (2), the RSS feed that Twitter generates is turned into an ugly e-mail. This isn't really Feedburner's fault - the RSS feed from Twitter puts the Tweet text as both the headline and body. The result is an e-mail mess.

The fact that the e-mail was blah was actually less of an issue than the missed deliveries.

Having had some good experience hacking the MailChimp API, I thought I give them a try to see what their e-mail options were. Turns out, they too offer RSS based e-mail campaigns. And a test showed that when I scheduled delivery for 9pm, sure enough, it went out pretty much at 9pm. The template for the e-mail was fairly trivial, just including the magic tag:

*|RSS:POSTS_HTML|*

Alas, the e-mail was still ugly, but again I chalked that up to the cruddy RSS feed from Twitter.

While poking around, though, I learned that Mail Chimp actually gives you quite a bit of control when working with RSS e-mails. In fact, the default *|RSS:POST_HTML|* is jut that - a default and not your only option. A went ahead and updated my e-mail to say:

*|RSSITEMS:|*

*|RSSITEM:TITLE|*

*|END:RSSITEMS|*

The result is an e-mail with all the Tweet text just spilled out in the e-mail, in nice neat paragraphs. No links, no duplicated headline, no Google+1 button. Just a nice clean e-mail.

On time delivery and clean e-mail? I'm sold. Nice job MailChimp.

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