Free Speech

Looking for E-Mail Distribution Service That Won't Limit What We Write


Google's FeedBurner, which we use to deliver the Volokh Daily e-mail to our ≈3,000 subscribers, is stopping its e-mail service. My plan was to move to Google Groups instead, and we still might if we can't get a good alternative, but I'm not wild about its content limits, including on whatever speech Google views as "Misleading content related to civic and democratic processes," "Misleading content related to harmful health practices," "hate speech," "bully[ing]," and more.

Naturally, I don't think our posts fit any such categories, and it's probably unlikely, at least today, that Google would think that they do. But I want us to make these decisions for ourselves, and have our users decide for themselves what they choose to read, rather than being subjected to the tender mercies of Big Tech. And while I haven't heard of Google enforcing its Google Groups content policies yet, a lot of tech companies have sharply stepped up their restrictions in recent years—the trend seems to be towards greater and greater exercise of control by such companies.

Can anyone recommend a convenient and reliable e-mail distribution service, with a built-in daily delivery option as well as post-by-post delivery (I expect all such services have them), but without these sorts of content limits? I'm basically looking for a service that views itself as akin to a phone company or UPS or FedEx or the post office—infrastructure with a hands-off attitude to content (setting aside outright illegal content, which they may have a legal obligation to block once they know about it).

I realize that the most blacklist-resistant alternative would be to run this on our own servers, and perhaps things have come to the point where we can't really trust any third parties on such matters. But I'm also looking for convenience and technical reliability, and appreciate the virtues of division of labor for promoting that. So if there is a good third-party service to which we can outsource the technical work, I'd like to use it. Please let me know if the comments if you have some recommendations.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, we'd be happy to use a for-pay service, assuming it's convenient, technically reliable, and trustworthy, though of course we aren't eager to pay more than necessary.

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  1. Hi! I haven’t used it, but Dan Bongino recommends “StartMail” ????

  2. Professor Volokh…Proteon. Super secure, also.

    1. Do you mean Proton, as in ProtonMail? If so, I agree. If not, not sure what you’re talking about.

      1. Protonmail has great security and works just fine as a regular mailbox but it does not, to the best of my knowledge, do email list management or bulk mailings well. You’d be kludging things in with the contacts list. There’s no automated subscribe/unsubscribe function. In short, it’s not a competitor to FeedBurner.

      2. Yeah, I fat-fingered. Unfortunately, no edit button.

  3. We use Mailchimp.

  4. As the comments so far are making clear, you’re probably going to have to pay for what you want. The free services are always going to want to have some flexibility to decide that they don’t want to deal with whatever hassles you are creating for them, and are going to give themselves a lot of leeway in their ToS.

  5. The Volokh Conspiracy — which has repeated imposed viewpoint-driven, partisan censorship — is sorely troubled by the prospect that Google Groups might enforce “content limits.”

    Carry on, clingers. Without any self-awareness, it appears.

    1. RAK,
      Your post is pointless.

      1. You didn’t get the point, therefore there wasn’t one. Nothing wrong with that logical analysis.

        1. The demonstrated hypocrisy hits hard enough that the proprietor’s fans reflexively try to defend him.

    2. Yes, why would volokh want to avoid vague, poorly defined, arbitrarily enforced, opaque, unapealable content limits?

      1. “Yes, why would volokh want to avoid vague, poorly defined, arbitrarily enforced, opaque, unapealable content limits?”

        Because Prof. Volokh wants to use other people’s stuff to spread his message(s).

  6. One advantage of buying an existing service is the people running it know how to avoid getting blacklisted for spamlike activities. If Microsoft Exchange decides to trash all your email they may have a contact to call and fix things. Exchange is consistently marking one weekly non-political newsletter I get as spam and the individual sending it out has no way to fix the problem.

    1. One way to fix the problem is to stop acting like a spammer.

      1. Can you tell me the difference between a spammer who sends out 1 million emails a day and a mailing list that sends out 1 million emails a day? I’d like to know so I can make a better spam filter.

        1. The people who already make spam filters mostly know the difference. You could try asking them, but they’ll want to sell you something.

          1. The problematic “spam” filters are not for sale. They run in the cloud. If they use deep learning the people who made them don’t know what they trigger on. I don’t think they are 100% inscrutable AI yet. I have heard of a web site with tens of thousands of users being able to contact a human and get a dropped email problem fixed in a month or two. There might be a whitelist involved.

            1. spam filtering services are absolutely for sale, and they aggressively market themselves.

    1. I’ll second substance, it’s perfect for this.

      1. Grrr…. Substack. Damn auto correct.

    2. Yeah, Substack is the “service” answer, here. Effectively free if you don’t really pitch the subscriber-only version.

      Sendy is another option for more of a “do it yourself” level of control, sending using AWS servers and minimal costs.

      Mailchimp/Mailerlight are a couple of other service options, but their terms and conditions may become problematic.

  7. Google is not to be trusted.

    1. If you don’t like the way Google runs it’s systems then don’t use them. Why is this so hard to grasp for so many?

      1. If you don’t like someone’s opinion, why do you respond to it?

        1. You tell me.

    2. Credibility pointers from Trump fans are always a treat.

      Is this blog genuinely the best right-wing legal academia can manage?

      1. Yes. Yes, it is.

  8. Just curious, Professor Volokh. The material you want to send, will you thereby be publishing it?

    1. Yes, that’s the idea.

  9. I think you’re looking at this the wrong way.

    Wouldn’t it be way more interesting to see if anything you post is in fact in violation of Google’s standards? By never finding out you’re denying yourself a really interesting post calling them out on it.

    Then you can switch services.

    1. Unfortunately, switching services is not free. It takes a certain amount of effort and in the mean time you’re taking a hit to your product. You may also lose users during the transition & downtime. Also, who’s to say Google wont be doing shadow banning like Twitter does?

      1. “Unfortunately, switching services is not free.”

        It costs the same if you do it sooner or do it later. Except that if you do it later, you have time to do all the planning and don’t have to stay late to get things done correctly.

        1. And you can get a fun blog post out of it when they censor you.

          I see procrastinating as a no lose proposition.

          1. Alas, nobody ever listens to the IT staff about how best to do IT tasks. Instead, it’s all “do it now, no matter how hard it is to meet an arbitrary deadline.”

  10. Most people I know use mailchimp for such mailing lists. But for what you described, I really think you’d be best off running your own server. I don’t say this because I love email servers. Quite the contrary. Normally, I’d advise against setting one up unless absolutely necessary. But your particular use case doesn’t require a full email server — just an ad hoc smtp server that runs once a day.

    You don’t need a continuously reliable internet connection, you don’t need a permanent hole in your firewall or a permanent server listening on it — with all the attendant security issues. If you wanted full email (continuous, reliable sending and receiving), then these would be a concern. The old way would be to colocate, the new way would involve AWS — and both are awful headaches.

    But since you’re only blasting out a bunch of emails once a day, why not just setup a simple SMTP server on your home or office computer? You only need it for a few minutes a day, and you can decide which few minutes. That means internet reliability isn’t a major issue. If your connection is down when the batch normally goes out, just send it an hour later when your connection is up. Nor is security a big issue. The server (and requisite hole in the firewall) only would be up for a brief period each day.

    I don’t have a lot of hands-on experience with smtp servers, but I doubt it would be difficult to configure a simple one on either a mac or pc (and it’s definitely a breeze on linux). This solution would be easy to maintain, give you complete autonomy and control, cost you nothing, and easily transfer to a new computer should the need arise. If you want to go the extra mile (and have a super-portable solution which would be agnostic to the host-OS), you always can run the server in Virtualbox on a minimal guest version of linux (again, just kicking it off for the few minutes a day you need it). I don’t think you’d need to bother, though.

    1. You send out an email blast and somebody says “WTF? I didn’t subscribe to this!” and clicks the report spam link. People report spam sometimes even if they did subscribe. And sometimes even if you remembered to provide an industry standard unsubscribe link with backend processing to make it work. The big professionally managed systems with credibility with Google’s and Microsoft’s AIs survive. Your little mail server might be in trouble.

      (I remember a pleading email from authorities at work asking us employees not to delete unread the nuisance emails they sent several times a day. Gmail learned, correctly, that they could be treated as spam if everybody just deleted them.)

      1. This is a fair point (and one I probably should have anticipated on a forum largely populated by lawyers :). I assumed the email blast was between consenting and friendly parties. If you have to manage unsubscribe buttons, angry requests, or more complicated transactions, then this wouldn’t work (or would require a lot more effort to maintain).

        Mailchimp manages all that stuff reasonably well, though 3000 mails a day probably would require the $10 or $15 a month plan. Sounds like that isn’t a big deal, though. Mailchimp’s templates take a little getting used to, but work pretty well once setup properly.

        As for Proton mail, which somebody mentioned, the principle behind it is excellent but the execution not so much. A friend of mine who uses it often has emails dropped (both incoming and outgoing). Maybe they’ve gotten better recently, though. My sense is that they’re still bleeding edge. My own (minor) experience is that the company can be quite a pain to deal with, but that’s just one data point.

        1. “I assumed the email blast was between consenting and friendly parties.”

          Even if so, I run a mailing list with a few hundred subscribers. I routinely get admin emails saying ‘subscriber Fred removed from list because they reported an item as spam’, followed 5 minutes later by ‘Fred has subscribed to the list’. Apparently a lot of people ‘report spam’ by mistake.

          And I agree that just pushing smtp traffic from your own domain is risky. I’ve done it for small lists, but if you get erroneously blacklisted as a spam domain a lot of your traffic will get blocked, and it can be hard to get off the blacklists. I presume the bigger players, who are known to try hard to suppress spam, are probably whitelisted so an occasional missed spammer doesn’t lead to a site wide blacklist.


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  12. “I’m glad I’m not young anymore.”

    1. That might be the most healthful, productive approach available to a clinger.

  13. If having total and complete authority over what gets sent is your prime consideration, then building your own mail system is your only choice, and even that doesn’t guarantee that whoever operates your recipients’ mail servers doesn’t treat you like spam.

    Ultimately, this is a case where being able to get along with others takes care of the problem. Having a service provider that has authority to decline to transmit your messages is only a problem if you have messages that other people want to not be associated with.

  14. There are 3 recommendations for Mailchimp in this thread.

    Guys: Mailchimp has gone woke! They have shut down conservative organizations for spreading wrong think by email.

      1. Here are the MailChimp terms and conditions:

        Mailchimp also does not allow the distribution of Content that is, in our sole discretion, materially false, inaccurate, or misleading in a way that could deceive or confuse others about important events, topics, or circumstances.

        1. Well, if they won’t let you lie to people, then it’s anti-conservative by definition.

  15. Prof. Volokh:

    If your site uses WordPress, you could consider a WordPress plugin named MailPoet. It can use your own web site’s mailing facilities or be configured to use MailPoet’s sending service.

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