Genesis: “This Just In”

Once I had the business plan set, I looked at the pile of upcoming bulletin board items and decided how I would format them — and started writing. Over the weekend, I designed what I thought a “plain text” email newsletter should look like, including how long I thought it should be, and finished the first issue.

I call it This Just In, after the common news phrase, but the first issue doesn’t go out by email yet since I don’t have the listserver set up yet.

One of my good online friends had suggested Netcom as a good place for an online account, in part because access to their listserver software: “Majordomo” access was included in the monthly cost, so I started work on getting an account, and asking their support team to set up the mailing list for me.

Next step: seeing who I know who had email. Since I worked at a pretty high-tech place and had a lot of friends and colleagues scattered around the U.S. and Canada, I soon realized I had a lot of emailable friends. The final initial list had 50 people on it. I was astounded — not just that I had 50 friends, but 50 friends with email!

Getting Going

Days went by as I was getting all my ducks in a row, setting everything up. But each weekend, I wrote a new column, on Sunday. After all, I was working full time during the week, and I couldn’t very well do such work from my JPL office on NASA computers! So Sunday it was.

Once everything was set up, I sent an email to the 50 friends announcing my new project, and including a sample issue. Even then, long before “spam” was an issue, I was considerate of my friends’ time and email inboxes: I made it clear that if they weren’t interested, let me know and I wouldn’t bother them with non-work-related mail again. A couple of them did reply with such a request, and I deleted them immediately.

However, I told them, if you like what you see, I won’t continue to send you issues unless you proactively request a subscription. Just follow the instructions at the bottom of the issue to subscribe. The instructions included the listserver’s email address, and the command they had to type in the message.

…3 …2 …1 …Liftoff!

After sending out the first sample, the magic started immediately. First, my buddy that had suggested Netcom subscribed: nice that he was number 1! Then several other addresses I recognized, including one from Canada. At the end of the week, for the first “official” issue, there were five — yes, just five! — subscribers. But that’s not a bad start, I decided!

Once the first real issue came out, more people subscribed, mostly addresses I didn’t recognize. The subscribers were doing exactly what I expected, what I invited them to do: forward a copy to friends, and encourage them to subscribe too. The first “really” foreign subscription then came in: from Singapore. I didn’t know anyone there. The word of mouth worked: it was going “viral” (even though that term didn’t exist online yet).

By the next issue there were 28 subscribers. The week after that, 81. Then 333, then 554, 786, 951, 1,274! And This Just In was off and running.

– – –

Once that first issue came out there new subscriptions — every day, without fail. And there has never been a day without new subscriptions. Ever.

3 Comments on “Genesis: “This Just In”

  1. I can’t help but wonder how many of those initial 50 people, most of whom did not subscribe right away and some of whom actually requested to be deleted, have since subscribed and are now enjoying it with the rest of us.

  2. I just finished reading all of the blast-from-the-past retroactive blog posts, and as I read each one I thought to myself, “Hey, I remember that!” and “I remember when that happened!”

    It’s entirely possible that I was not one of Randy’s first subscribers — not one of the original 50 subscribers, but somewhere in the first few hundred. In fact, I may have subscribed to TJI after a personal (email) invitation from Randy himself.

    Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Congratulations on more than a decade of success, Randy, and may you have a run at least as long as Herb Caen and Art Buchwald.


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