GroupServer is a web-based open source web-based mailing list manager developed by OnlineGroups.Net. If you know OnlineGroups.Net, you’ll know that GroupServer is its engine. For that reason, we’re pretty excited to be able to call GroupServer “1.0?”, and to make it available for free download.
We have released GroupServer before, but we try not to talk about that now. Like most software developers, we want our product to be perfect before anyone sees it. Well, it isn’t perfect now, but it’s a lot better than the previous version.
I could explain what has changed in the new version but that won’t mean much to you, unless you’ve been following GroupServer closely. What I will do is give a quick overview of what GroupServer is, and where it fits.
GroupServer is a mailing list manager. It has all the email interface features of systems like GNU Mailman and Google Groups. Unlike Mailman, however, GroupServer has an integrated web interface, similar to that of Google Groups. This means that users can read and send posts, and manage their subscription settings via a single web interface. Unlike Google Groups, however, but like GNU Mailman, GroupServer is open source. This means that administrators can take complete control over the implementation and management of their site, and even develop enhancements to the software, rather than having to use the service exactly as it is provided.
It is possible to interact with GroupServer almost entirely via email. It has email subscription and unsubscription, digests, moderation, spam-handling, bounce-handling and vacation-message loop-handling. It tells you if you can’t post to the group you have tried to post to, and tells you why. When people join and leave groups, GroupServer sends notifications to the group member and administrators.
Via the web, GroupServer looks like a web forum. Each group is located on a website, usually with other related groups. One GroupServer instance can support as many sites as you like, so that you can keep unrelated groups separate. Some groups are visible to the public, so that anyone can read posts without logging in. Other groups are private, and can be joined by approval. And other groups are secret, so only logged in members can even see the existence of the group. Once a person is logged in, they can carry out a single search across all the groups they are a member of. They can also define email addresses that work with all of their groups. Unlike Mailman, each group member has a profile, and can assocate as many addresses as they like with it.
A good example of a GroupServer site is the GroupServer site itself. This site has several groups related to the exploration, administration and development of GroupServer. A larger GroupServer site is the E-Democracy.Org forums site, which has over 130 groups and over 13,000 members. The site processes around 9,000 posts per month, and supports groups such as St. Paul Issues Forum with nearly 700 members, and Minneapolis Issues Forum which has nearly 1,300 members.
Those and many other sites run on the same code that is free to download and install. Making installation easier has been one of our main priorities for 1.0 Beta. The installation process is scripted using buildout, and is well-documented. It is still not as smooth as we would like, however, and we are working hard on improving the installation process for the next release. After that, we will be releasing a swag of enhancements that support one the main tasks of online group administrators: helping people to join and leave groups.
We think that GroupServer is a useful alternative to Mailman, as it provides a much more usable web interface. We have created a feature list comparing GroupServer with Mailman and Google Groups. If it is just the web interface that you want, however, Google Groups is a serious contender. GroupServer fits in custom installations, where greater control is required. As the source code is freely available, you can look under the hood, and inspect the exact mechanisms that GroupServer uses to manage users’ data. GroupServer administrators have direct access to the databases, system log and other behind-the-scenes components. Developers can create custom enhancements, or influence the core development of the system.
Now that GroupServer is approaching 1.0, we are looking for feedback from experienced open source mailing list administrators. What are the problems that you have with Mailing List Managers? What do you want to achieve that you currently can not? How could GroupServer help your users, and group administrators?