Subscribers to my Rows Garden series (which you can subscribe to here) found something a little different in their inboxes today. They received this year's Puzzle #7, but the e-mail that it came in looked a little different. That's because I have transitioned the e-mail delivery system away from using my personal e-mail account to a web-based bulk mailer called Mail Chimp. Let me briefly explain the reasons why I'm making this switch.
1) Gmail sucks at sending bulk e-mails. This is the primary reason for the change. Because of Gmail bulk sending limits, I would send out the puzzle in four or five separate e-mails, manually BCC'ing subscribers along the way. It was a tedious process that has become more tedious as my subscriber base has grown.
2) No, Gmail really sucks at sending bulk e-mails. Compounding this process was that the e-mail featured at least six attachments, and I've run into problems with subscribers having especially aggressive e-mail filters who would not receive the e-mails at all. One subscriber just cannot receive any e-mails from my Gmail account, to the point where I had to send a posted letter to the subscriber's Paypal snail mail address in order to work out a solution. And hey - I love stamps and envelopes as much as any self-respecting Luddite, but that's pretty ridiculous in 2017.
So why Mail Chimp?
1) Makes my job easier. Sending bulk e-mails through a web-based provider is a more consistent, reliable way for the puzzles the be delivered. I can hit the "Send" button just one time, and the e-mails are all delivered in a timely fashion.
2) Data is my friend. Perhaps most importantly, I gain the benefit of analytics. Using Mail Chimp, every click on every link in an email is recorded. This will give me valuable feedback as to how subscribers are using their subscription - for example, what the most popular solving difficulty is, how often large grid versions are downloaded, etc. This feature will also help resolving technical problems that solvers may encounter. The solver doesn't have to do anything additional to give me this feedback, either - but the benefits from my end are quite significant.
Now, I do anticipate there to be a few growing pains with this transition. One drawback of using a bulk mailer is that some e-mail providers automatically categorize mail sent from a bulk mailer into a Promotions or Social folder in your e-mail browser. For your convenience, if you find the puzzle in such a folder, move it to your Personal or Primary folder - wherever you find your most important e-mails - and mark the Mail Chimp e-mail address as a trusted sender.
Puzzles are now included as links in the e-mail body rather than as e-mail attachments. So far, the majority of solvers are reporting no issues accessing the puzzles. Problems that do arise usually have to do with an outdated or incompatible version of Adobe Reader, which is the most popular program used to view PDF files. If you have successfully received the puzzle e-mail but are having problems when trying to open the puzzle files, first make sure your version of Adobe is up to date. Also, I have a reported compatibility issue with Firefox; if you normally use Firefox as your browser and can't access the PDFs, try using another browser for now.
Thanks for bearing with me through this transition. In the end, I know subscribers care mainly about the puzzles, and not so much about how they are delivered. The good thing is that the Rows Gardens themselves will not change - still expect the same fun there. Hopefully Mail Chimp can help me not spend so much time and energy and frustration on the technical side of things, and focus more on creating the best puzzles I can.