Many years ago, I had two mailing lists: one for my writing and one for my company.

Then Web 2.0 took over and the free mailing list service I was using went under and I realized that, since Feedburner gave me the option to let people subscribe to my blogs via RSS or email, wasn’t having a mailing list overkill anyway? I was already writing the same content on the blog that I used to send out to my newsletter, why not kill two birds with one stone? So I didn’t bother to find a new mailing list service and instead set up two RSS feeds per blog: one that was the entire blog, one that was just the email marketing-like posts. I called one the mailing list and called one Subscribe to this Site or something and went from there.

However, over the years, keeping these two RSS feeds became not only a pain to manage and confusing to readers but detrimental to the blogs they supported. The mailing list type posts were often recaps of the regular posts and I began to worry about how that looked to anyone that subscribed to the whole thing. On the flip side, were people who only wanted mailing list type posts annoyed by the rest of the blog? What happened when people subscribed to both? How exclusive could I make any mailing list deal if it was posted on my blog for all to see? I was trying to make one feed serve two masters and I didn’t think it was working.

So I eventually combined the two feeds from each site into one, normal, subscribe to the whole blog feed and abandoned the idea of the mailing list type feed.

Now, I’m left wondering if that was a bad idea.

Personally, I hate mailing lists. I never join them. The only ones I belong to are the ones for sites I write about regularly (eBay, Amazon, etc) because they give me ideas for posts. I don’t find them useful as a customer. I would always much rather subscribe to something via RSS than email and I subscribe to a TON of RSS feeds. But I know that my opinions aren’t everyone’s and I wonder if I’m doing myself and my business a disservice by not offering a service my customers might want. Do people still join mailing lists? Am I wrong in thinking they are obsolete?

I do recognize the value in having a list of contacts for your business, especially one that you can take with you from service to service. Though Feedburner gives me an exportable list of the addresses subscribed to my blog via email, they can’t give it to me for RSS which does limit the marketing info I have about who is reading (of course, I think this is the appeal of RSS to me as a customer… I don’t want you to know my info or that I’m following your site most of the time). It’d be nice to have that list of email address. But if my customers want their privacy, I don’t want to deprive them of that option.

But the number of free mailing list services has gone down drastically and the paid services that remain all seem to be ludicrously expensive for my needs. (Do you have a mailing list? Whose service do you use? Are there any good free ones left out there?) While I understand that some people use their mailing list as the backbone of their business (people who offer email “classes,” referral marketers, etc) does the average person with something to sell have a need for direct email lists anymore or has Web 2.0 changed the field?

What do you think? What works for you as a customer or as a seller?