Dec 13, 2010

New Features Coming: Templates, RSS, Paid Subscriptions, Events and more

Just a heads-up that we have some new features going live this Wednesday the 15th (server gods willing). New RSS features, a boatload more templates, a way to bill your subscribers for premium content, and some new merge tags you can use to add great new content and social sharing to your newsletters. More details will be posted after launch. For now, here are some quick summaries of what’s coming.

36 new "start-from-scratch" email templates

Not to be confused with the Designer Templates we recently launched, the templates we’re launching Wednesday will be replacing our default "start from scratch" templates. Those 4 or 5 old templates (technically, they were more like "layouts") were built to be infinitely flexible, and do anything you want. But it was like handing someone a blank sheet of paper and asking them to create a work of art.

The new templates we’re launching are still extremely flexible and allow you to do just about anything you want, but they work more like those "paint by numbers" projects you had as a kid. We do 90% of the work for you. You just fill in the blanks with your content, and move the modules around. There are 36 new templates to choose from, under 6 categories:

Here’s an example of how we’ve pre-built a lot of the columns and placeholder content, so that all you have to do is click and plop-in your content:

Hover over the blue image placeholder, and you can either upload an image, or remove it altogether to make it a text block.

There are even templates optimized for mobile devices:

and we’ve added new options to editable content areas, like the ability to "hide" stuff. For example, these templates will have social sharing links (that automatically populate if you use any of our social integrations), but if you want, you can remove the Facebook link and keep Twitter:

and a way to recover your content whenever you switch from template to template:

Fabio, our in-house template guru, will be blogging about all these new templates, and all the behind-the-scenes coding stuff that went into it, after it all goes live. Really interesting stuff here. I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of what it could mean for future templates, or for our Email Templating language.

New RSS Feature

We just released a new RSS-to-Email feature a few days ago, but we’ve got another one to announce: we’ve created a merge tag that lets you insert content from an RSS feed into *any* newsletter (even if it’s not an RSS-to-email campaign).

*|FEED:http://example.com/feed/ [$count=2]|*

You can even use this merge tag to pull in content from multiple feeds, and put them in distinct sections of your email (instead of mashing them all up with Chimpfeedr).

So you could have one section of your newsletter that pulls in the title+summary from one RSS feed, and another section that pulls in nothing but titles. Stay tuned for more details after launch.

Paid Newsletter Subscriptions

We’ve noticed a trend in "tiny newsletterly" services popping up, allowing writers to charge subscription rates for their content. Personally, I think it’s a reaction to the age old problem of, "Man, writing good stuff is hard. Maybe if I charge for it, I’ll be more motivated to write, and my readers will be more engaged." I’m afraid the end result for most will be a bunch of angry people who’ve been billed $2 per month, but haven’t received any newsletters, because the writer got too busy. Kinda like the email equivalent of that exercise bike in your basement.

But there are people out there who want to provide extremely valuable content, research, and opinions. And they deserve to be paid for it.  For them, we’ve created a new feature that allows you to bill your subscribers a monthly fee (we’re using Amazon Payments).

More details to come, but here’s a quick peek from the list settings screen:

Local Events Content

Use a new merge tag (LOCAL:EVENTS) to insert local events from your neighborhood into your newsletter . So a restaurant could build a newsletter where the main content area features their own upcoming events, but in the side column, we can automatically insert other local events your subscribers might be interested in. You’ll be able to specify how many events to show, filter by event categories (music, arts, business, or whatever’s appropriate to your audience), geographic radius to cover, and choose how much of the event details are displayed.

Here’s a rough idea of what it’ll look like (we’re still refining the display and styling):

Groupon Deal Feeds

We’re launching a new coupons merge tag (LOCAL:DEALS) that’ll insert a Groupon Deal Feed into your email. So if you publish a local "foodie" newsletter for example, you can insert Groupon Deals for local restaurants. I’d consider this feature beta because Groupon says that it’s still in testing. We just couldn’t resist trying out this idea, because we figured if Google would pay up to $6B for Groupon, maybe they’d give us a couple hundred million for this merge tag. Small, unmarked bills please. In one of those awesome steel briefcases.

More Customizable Social Share Links

A while ago, we built some social share merge tags that automatically inserted Facebook and twitter icons into your emails. We used the most standard icons we could find on the intertubes, but some of you asked for the ability to use your own icons. So we’ll be introducing a new merge tag that only inserts link code, which you can wrap around any image you want. Will post the code for this after launch.

Launch Date
We’re in the final stages of production on these, and if all goes well, expect to launch everything late Wednesday night (the 15th). Though the features are pretty big, there’s very little changing to the backend, so we don’t expect any downtime and your signups and tracking won’t be affected.

[UPDATE – 12/16/2010, 1:29PM ET] You guys are still delivering a ton of email for the holidays. In previous years, the 15th would’ve been the day emails virtually stopped. Since there’s so much activity still going, we’re not gonna rock the boat. Waiting till this weekend to launch.

[UPDATE – 12/19/2010] The features are live now, with the exception of the paid subscription service. We anticipate that will launch in a few days.