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May 10, 2001
How To

A Solution to Email Newsletter Publishers' Intellectual Property & Email Forwarding Woes

SUMMARY: This article is a must-read for everyone who publishes an email newsletter. Fred Langa, Publisher LangaList, reveals his secret solution for encouraging readers to forward articles ... without losing attribution. This will definitely improve your viral marketing success. 
Several MarketingSherpa readers have written praising the tactics the LangaList email newsletter uses to get readers to forward individual articles without breaking copyright or losing attribution. We were impressed with the system, but wondered if it only worked for HTML newsletters.

Thanks to MarketingSherpa reader Kevan Judah of Adventure Publishing, we learned that Langa's text-version includes easy-article-forwarding as well. So we contacted Publisher Fred Langa to get the details on how this works.

Langa was happy to reveal his forwarding secrets in the letter below:

"It's actually easier than it looks, although (as with many geek-ish things) it may seem complicated at first.

Conceptually, it's simple: a web page Form gathers data, adds it to whatever boilerplate you've built in, and send it to a server-side mail handler that creates and sends the form contents as an email.

In practice, you need to work it backwards. Start with your web server, and see what it's running. Depending on the answer, you'll need to use an appropriate server-side mail handler.

Most Unix/Linux servers (and many NT servers) can run "CGI" scripts--- based on the "common gateway interface." The Langa.Com servers, for example, run the Apache web server on Linux boxes: CGI support is built in. In fact. my web host has already installed "CGImail," a free an hugely popular mail handler. (http://web.mit.edu/wwwdev/cgiemail/) CGImail can take the output from a script on your web pages and mail the results wherever you specify.

NT/Win2K servers may be able to use CGImail, but a conceptually similar tool called ASPmail is more commonly used there. (http://www.serverobjects.com/products.htm)

Once you've picked a mailing package, go through the docs and see what it wants in terms of input, and adjust your forms accordingly.

In my case, I provide a boilerplate text file that contains most of the explanatory info about the issue that a reader is sending to a friend, but there are three main variables: the reader's email, the friend's email, and the portion of the issue being recommended.

To provide readers with a running start, I provide a mini table-of-contents as the "what's recommended," but that can adjust that (by editing the form's text filed) as desired.

When the reader has filled in their address and the friend's address, the form then bundles the form content and sends it to CGImail.

CGImail then creates a new message, on my server: the FROM is created from the form variable containing the reader's own address, the TO is from the form variable containing the friend's address, and the body is a combination of the boilerplate I provide and the "what's being recommended" variable.

Again, this sounds opaque, but if you follow the steps above, and read the docs (both mailing apps are well-documented), you'll do fine.

Many commercial Web hosts also pre-install one of the above mail tools, and usually offer online help, too. Experiment with a private page at first until you're sure it's working ok, and then go public!

I use this kind of form in three places:

1) the "send this item to a friend" in every newsletters (example: http://www.langa.com/sendit.htm )

2) a general "recommend and win" page (http://www.langa.com/recommend.htm )

3) and a gift-subscription form (http://www.langa.com/plus_gift.htm ) This latter one has a fully-editable body text--- the entire text of the note is a form variable."

Fred Langa, Publisher, LangaList: http://www.langa.com/newsletter.htm
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