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Why I unsubscribe from MailChimp

University clubs and societies maintain email mailing lists of members and interested people, and I've signed up on `interested lists' even for societies whose activities I have only a passing interest in hearing about (as in "I'll skip most of your events but keep me informed in case there is one I want to drop into"). This works well if they use the University's email lists system, but the more recent trend of societies switching to the external provider MailChimp has caused me to unsubscribe more often. Here's why:
  1. MailChimp makes it difficult to write folder rules. When I'm subscribed to a lot of lists, I'd like most `list' messages to go into separate folders that I check weekly, instead of everyone assuming they're `urgent' enough to require immediate attention. Now, I realise people who run some email lists might prefer it if every message gets immediate attention, but I simply don't have enough time and energy to give that option to everyone---I'm afraid in most cases it'll have to be "either let me write my own rules or I unsubscribe", so not letting me write those rules makes me more likely to unsubscribe.

    With MailChimp, there's typically nothing in the email headers that clearly identifies which list the message is coming from. Sometimes the list managers make sure to clearly identify themselves in the From field, but sometimes they don't---and we have to recognise their personal name or some obscure club abbreviation, both of which can change from year to year so I keep having to update the rules. Sometimes the only way to confirm which list I'm looking at is to follow MailChimp's "Unsubscribe" link to get the "you have been unsubscribed from the XYZ list" message and finally I know (too late) which list it was.

    Yes it is possible to write one general filtering rule that puts all MailChimp email into a single "MailChimp" folder, but this is an "all or nothing" situation---there's typically no way to write rules saying "I'd like these more interesting lists to go into this more interesting folder, and those other lists into that other folder I'll check less frequently" unless the list managers have gone out of their way to make the message identifiable. Messages sent via the University's list system are always clearly identifiable, by means of standard headers that tell you (and your rules) which list the message was sent through, from which it's easy to look up the full officially-registered name of the society any time you need a reminder.

    A less-bad situation is when a society uses MailChimp but sets it to distribute the outgoing messages through the University's lists system, which at least makes them more identifiable. But this is bad practice, because if anyone accidentally clicks MailChimp's "Unsubscribe" link they will decouple the list address from the MailChimp campaign, creating hassle for the managers. I therefore advise not using MailChimp at all.

  2. MailChimp works badly with archiving. The University's lists system now has an integrated archive---if you want to double-check a message that was sent out last term, even if you haven't saved the message in one of your own folders, you can log in and check it online (unless they've chosen to disable this function). Not only does MailChimp lack this, it also makes sure its messages are more difficult to archive elsewhere, because every URL in the message will have been replaced by a MailChimp tracking link, and these tracking links will expire---if you need a reminder of what URL was sent out a few weeks ago, you can't get it from an old message, because that one won't work anymore even if the underlying page is still up. MailChimp URLs are also more difficult to manipulate in text-only environments due to their length, plus they are more susceptible to being damaged by faulty MIME encoding, and it is not possible to rescue the original URL just by looking at part of a broken tracking link as it is with some other systems.
  3. MailChimp provides no way for subscribers to see a summary of all the lists they are on. The University system does this, but MailChimp cannot.
It seems that MailChimp is geared towards "marketing campaigns" i.e. their customers are the people who send the messages, not the people who read them---so, while they will provide 'unsubscribe' options to keep themselves out of legal 'hot water', they're less likely to make readers' experiences a priority in their design. The University lists system was designed with both senders and readers in mind. I therefore highly recommend use of the University lists system rather than MailChimp if you want to keep subscribers.

"But what about making my email look good?"

Email doesn't have to "look good". If I've opened your message, you already have my attention---you won't need to use any additional type of presentation that some commercial company may have caused you to believe is necessary (although in reality they simply want more people to use their company, so any suggestion that you can't do without them is unlikely to be true). But if you must have a graphical 'email design tool', you could try the "email template" feature in Thunderbird or Outlook---these can be used without requiring you to sacrifice the superior distribution system of University lists.
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