Feb 3, 2010

Timewarp: Schedule email campaigns by recipient timezone

mailchimp-timewarpThanks to our built-in geolocation service, we can pinpoint the approximate location and timezone of your subscribers.

Which means you can now schedule your MailChimp campaigns to automagically deliver based on each subscriber’s timezone.

No more timezone differences! 9am means 9am now, whether you’re on the east coast or west coast. Or anywhere on the globe, really.

We call this new feature Timewarp, and here’s how it works…

Whenever you create a new campaign, just activate Timewarp on the Campaign Setup screen.

Look for this little checkbox:


When checked, we’ll ask you for date and time. Notice there’s no pulldown asking for timezone, because that’s the magical part of Timewarp.

Then, just build your campaign as you normally do, and on the final pre-delivery checklist screen, you’ll see this new item:


Time Travel Takes A Little Adjustment

When you Timewarp your campaigns, you’ll want to remember that depending on how geographically widespread your subscribers are, campaigns might take 24 hours for all of it to get delivered. That’s because, scientifically speaking, we’re traveling to the future to deliver your emails. I know what you’re thinking and the answer is NO; we are not altering the past when we do that. MailChimp uses a special type of flux capacitor so that our emails don’t break the time-space continuum. Just something to keep in mind.

All joking aside, you should take note of the bottom of your campaign’s Timewarp map, because we break down how many members of your list are in each timezone, and we show whether or not your email has been delivered to them yet:


Within each timezone, you can see how many are still pending for "future" delivery.

You can also hover over each timezone to get the status of your campaign:


Stats are slightly different now

This also means that campaign stats like opens, clicks, bounces, etc., could take longer to show up than you’re used to.

If you think about this hard enough, you’ll understand why this wasn’t something we could add to our RSS-to-email campaigns (although that would be super cool).  It’s possible for someone to update their RSS feed (blog) with a new post before a Timewarped campaign has even completed sending. Yep. That would warp the time-space continuum.

How Accurate Is All This?

More accurate than what we all had before Timewarp — which was nothing.

Okay, to be more specific, this is based on the IP addresses given to your subscribers by their ISPs. So keep in mind a subscriber might be using an ISP located several cities (or states) away from where they actually live. But even if their ISP is in another city, it’s likely to still be in the same timezone as the subscriber.

The real question to ask is "what percentage of my list actually interacted in a way that allowed MailChimp to track geolocation?" For example, if your last open rate was around 40%, we have geolocation data for at least 40% of your list.  So when you select "Timewarp," that means roughly 40% of your list will get the email at the time you specified in their timezone. The remaining 60% of your list will get it based on your timezone (just like they always did before).

Remember, we track IPs when people:

  • go through the double opt-in process, or
  • open your email (and display images), or
  • click a link in your email

So if you manually imported your entire list, there’s no double opt-in activity there, hence no geodata. Then, let’s say you send your first campaign to that list and get a 50% open rate. Now, 50% of your list has geodata. Nice. The other 50% will be defaulted to receive emails based on your timezone (as it was before).

And as discussed in our geolocation article, MailChimp actually keeps track of each recipient’s geolocation, so we know if they’ve moved and live in a new timezone.

Timezones are whacky

Have you ever looked at a timezone map? No, I mean really, really looked at a timezone map?

Here’s the one you’ll see in MailChimp:


Sure would make life easier if all the lines were just straight verticals.

Instead, we get strange regions like this:



If you live inside that zig-zaggy region under the red arrow, or in that little red circle where all those lines sort of intersect, you probably have no idea what time it is anyway, so we’re going to just "round you off." Anyone in a fractional timezone, such as GMT +8.75, will be rounded off to GMT +9.

BTW, you might want to look into getting one of these awesome futuristic PanAm watches from the past:


Anyway, if you look at the timezone map, you’ll see there are 24 timezones. If you’ve actually got subscribers in every one of those timezones, that means we’re going to have to slice up your campaign into 24 little campaigns (don’t worry, because all your stats will be rolled up into one report). If you add A/B testing on top of that, things gets a bit "resource intensive." So for now, we’re reserving this feature for our users on pay-as-you-go or monthly plans. It’s a free feature, but is not available for users on our freemium plan.

And to think. All these timezones never existed before railroads started "transporting people across great distances quickly." We had to change the way we think of time, because we could leave home in the morning, travel all day, and get to our destination in —  well, the same morning. Will the ability to make an email appear simultaneously in inboxes across the globe, no matter where people live, change the way we think of time again? Only time will tell. Note to self: travel back in time and fix that lame conclusion someday when I’m not so busy writing about all the other new features in v5.