Early September – Internal Email
With the new database system in place, things really started to accelerate. I was able to allow new groups to be created, which jumpstarted our growth. And Scott and Ethan could now devote their time to other issues besides just the database.
Here is a collection of internal emails that I sent to Scott and Ethan during the first part of September 1998. Some of the emails are talking about features and the system. Some of the emails are comments from our users that I forwarded on. Notice in these internal messages my disturbing lack of capital letters. I think I was too tired to press the ‘Shift’ key. Or I was trying to be ‘hip’ and ‘cool’. As must be painfully evident by now to you, gentle reader, I’m a bit deficient in those areas.
In hindsight, the predictions I made in this first email are fairly accurate. This message was sent to Scott and Ethan on September 1, 1998. On December 1, 1998 we passed 1 million users. So I was a little off, you say. Well, people have been telling me that I’m a little off all my life. Thank you, I’m here all week, try the fish.
On to the email:
From: Mark Fletcher
Date: Tue Sep 1, 1998 11:09am
if our current growth rate is 1.5 percent per day, then, given 320,000 users, in 30 days we will have over 500,000. in 60 days we will have 784,914. in 90 days we will have 1,229,301.
Date: Tue, 1 Sep 1998 10:51:18 EDT
You people are terrific! I am more and more impressed with this service. I love all the new features you’ve put in. It is a very sophisticated and classy system and in stark contrast to the tacky and noisy advertising at places like Listbot. I dread the day the advertising appears at ONElist but hopefully it will be discreet. Keep up the wonderful work!
Sunlight and Ruminations List Manager
Date: Sun, 06 Sep 1998 00:12:16 -0400
From: Jed Barton
Subject: nice system
Hello folks, i just thought i would send you an email saying that this onelist sight is wonderful. I have been wanting to setup a list for a long time and have done so. This is wonderful. Keep up the great work. Thank you —-Jed Barton
Thu Sep 10 04:28:46 1998
I love my Onelist. It is wonderful! I have made some wonderful new friends and found that I even have contacts in common from twenty years ago with one contact! It is amazing and I love being able to share experiences and information with each other. It is just wonderful. Thank you for Onelist and for making it free!
Betty Leonard, Arabians Onelist owner
Thu Sep 10 04:42:19 1998
Congratulations on your most recent updates! You guys just keep getting better and better. The people on my lists are /so/ happy with them, and with the ease and reliability of use. Thank you!
Cheeptrills Maine Coons
MCBFA Breeder Member since 1985
From: Mark Fletcher
Date: Thu Sep 3, 1998 8:57am
looks like we are continuing our 1.5 or so percent growth rate. we are at a little over 335,000 users today. i’ve just written a program that will run as a cron job to get the count every day, so we have exact numbers.
i added a few things last night. we now have some extra confirmation screens when people want to unsubscribe or change their subscription to no mail. it was confusing some people, so an extra confirmation screen should help.
i also added an advanced search screen. we can search for lists on key words right now. the advanced search allows you to also specify language and/or maturity level. pretty simple stuff, but hey, it’s a decent feature.
i also updated some of the FAQs and other screens.
yesterday, i also added the multiple moderators stuff to the web site. you can now click on a user from the subscriber list of your list and make them a moderator. you can then list the moderators of your list and delete them.
it looks like our set cache size is currently 10. that seems really low to me. can we bump it up to 100 or maybe even 500? that will help in performance and we shouldn’t take a big hit on memory.
From: Mark Fletcher
Date: Sun Sep 6, 1998 7:32pm
Subject: my weekend
just to let you know what i’ve been up to… i’ve added some functionality to the add users function. previously, when adding people to a list, the people would have to respond to a confirmation email before being subscribed. i’ve added an option where the users will be added automatically, and not have to respond to a confirmation email. hopefully this will help some people who want to transfer lists to onelist.
adding this also meant that we had to support unsubscribing through email. so i’ve added a good chunk of that as well. i’ve also tried to make the existing confirmation messages easier to use.
i also have been mocking up the survey tools, and hope to implement those cgi programs later tonight and tomorrow. i think it looks pretty cool. the results will be displayed with a nice little bar graph with up to date information.
oh yes, and i’ve been answering email as well. our users have been really pleased with the changes, especially everything the new database system gives us. i try to forward some of the emails when i can. you guys have done a great job!
September 9 – ONElist Status Update
From: ONElist Tech Support
Date: Wed Sep 9, 1998 8:46pm
Subject: ONElist Status Update
Status Report for ONElist.com
Over the past several weeks, we have completed our internal upgrades. Our system will now be able to support our continued growth for a long time to come, while providing the high level of service we hope you’ve come to expect from ONElist.
We have also been able to add several new features, including:
- Multiple Moderators
Each list can have several moderators. You can add and remove moderators through the Manage List screen.
- No Post and No Mail
Moderators can now disable subscribers’ ability to post to lists. Also, subscribers can temporarily turn off mail delivery.
- Private Archives
Lists can now specify that archives are only viewable by subscribers.
- New List Center
Within the User Center, for each list you are subscribed to, there is a link to the List Center. The List Center contains links to the list archives as well as another new feature, group bookmarks.
- Group Bookmarks
Each list now has a Bookmark Center, where subscribers can share links to web sites.
- Message Trailers
List moderators can specify a message to be appended to each message sent to the list.
- Unlisted Lists
List moderators can specify that a list is unlisted, which means it will not show up in list searches or on the New Lists page.
- Advanced Search
Users can now specify a language and/or maturity level when searching for lists.
Each list now has a special address that will send email to the list moderators for that list.
- Adding Users improved
The Add Users function has been improved. Moderators can now add people to their list without the users having to reply to a confirmation email.
- Improved Moderator Control
Moderators can now switch users between normal subscription and digest subscription, through the Manage List screen.
We are continuing to add new features and improve the ONElist system. Our goal is to make ONElist the best possible mailing list community system. To do that we need your help. How can we make it better? How can we make it easier to use? What features are missing?
Please email your comments to email@example.com
The ONElist Team
September 10 – Link Exchange
With our fixed database and resumed expansion, other companies began to notice us again. We had had interest from a couple of people the previous spring, but the summer was quiet. Things started picking up again, and first up was Link Exchange.
Link Exchange was a successful web-advertising network based in San Francisco. They had recently bought a service called Listbot, which was a minor competitor to ONElist, and they wanted to talk with us.
So, over lunch at Mistraal’s, a local bistro, I met with Ali Partovi and Scott Bannister. Looking back, it’s clear that they were just on a fishing expedition. What that means is that they just wanted to get as much information about ONElist as possible. They said they were interested in acquiring us, but that was clearly a ruse.
I talked with them over the next month, but nothing came of it. Near the end of October 1998, they stopped returning emails. A week later, Microsoft acquired them.
September 13 – Searching for Rick Springfield
We’ve all seen the Behind the Music special. I think this is one of the greatest emails we received the first year. Just try to picture the following scene.
Date: Sun, 13 Sep 1998 00:36:06 EDT
Subject: Looking for Rick Springfield List
Hi, I went to a Rick Springfield concert tonight and everyone had on buttons with your web address on it so I talked to one of them and they said there was a list for him. I tried searching under his name and got an error message. I then tried to look under the music categories but received the same error message saying there was no such site. I used the “links” on your page for “music” and “Rock”, “80’s” and got the same message. Please let me know what I am doing wrong.
September 17 – Database Meltdown
For the 3 weeks that ONElist had been running under the Oracle database, things had gone smoothly. But good things don’t last forever (or even a month in this case). First, a bit of a set up. I had two phone lines in our house, the normal line, and a line I used for the computer. When I started ONElist, I had to include a phone number with the domain registration. I submitted the second phone line. You would see this phone number if you did a look-up on the domain name, which required a bit of nerd knowledge. But otherwise, it was not generally advertised. I attached an answering machine to that line, which would catch the occasional person calling for customer support.
On September 17, I knew there was a problem when I awoke to the sound of someone leaving a message on the ONElist answering machine saying that the service was down. This is generally not the way you want to wake up in the morning. Especially the morning of your 28th birthday. You get that sinking feeling, where it feels like there’s a 20-pound stone in the pit of your gullet.
Sure enough, the system was down. I traced it to the database machine, which was off-line. After a couple of frantic calls to the hosting facility in Virginia, it was determined that the machine had died because of a disk problem. That’s something you really don’t want to hear when talking about a database machine. It became apparent that this was going to take some time to fix, so I emailed my boss at Sun (remember, we all still had day jobs), telling him I wasn’t going to be in for the day. A day off on my birthday. I just wish I could have enjoyed it.
Skipping all the nerd details, we finally got the system back on-line in the afternoon. But the luckiest part of the entire experience is that the database was ok. We didn’t lose any information.
Late September – Kate Shambarger
It was time for ONElist to grow again. While Carisa had been doing an admirable job helping me with customer support email, we really needed someone dedicated to the job. Luckily, Scott knew just the person, in the form of his sister-in-law, Kate.
At Scott’s invitation, I went over to the townhouse Kate and her husband Rob shared one evening after work. The way that we handled customer support email at that time was really primitive. You had to log into a Linux computer across the country and use a bare bones email program. So I sat down at her computer to show her the many steps required to answer customer support. As I was working the computer, her Siamese cat innocently came up to me and chomped on my leg. Ouch. This was an inauspicious start, to say the least.
Many of the users were abusive and the process of responding to them was tedious. But Kate picked things up quickly, and turned out to be a natural for the job. I now had one less responsibility, and only a little blood loss. A fair trade, in my book.