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What's the best way to publish an email chronicle?

I have about 600 emails chronicling the last few years of my mom’s life. I
would like to make these public, in the original email format, but if people
started replying to individual posts it would soon become unreadable. I know I
could cut and paste them into a word document but I feel that would detract
from the format, plus the added work for me. (There’s a LOT of emails) I
thought about creating a Yahoo or .mac account and just forward them all there
and make the password available, but if people began responding to individual
posts it would become a mess. Do you know of a way to make such a thing
read-only?

First, let me say what a cool idea this is. What a wonderful way to
memorialize your mom, while simultaneously letting people know more about her
and her life.

If I were in your shoes, I would approach this a little differently. I’d
definitely retain the “look and feel” of email, but I wouldn’t use an
email-based solution at all.

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Unfortunately to do this I think you’re looking at some amount of work. I’m
not sure exactly how much, because it depends on the technologies you
ultimately end up choosing, and the actual format of those emails.

The approach I would take would be to create a blog. This doesn’t have to
cost anything – head out to Blogger.com, WordPress.com or LiveJournal.com. Of
course there are premium services out there as well, including things like
TypePad.com.

In fact, you could even do this using MySpace.com, if you wanted to.

The work involved is two-fold:

  • Set up – in addition to learning about and setting up the
    blog, you’ll probably want to customize the layout to preserve the “email look
    and feel” of your mothers messages. This depends on a lot of things including
    just what it is you want things to look like, and what portions of your mom’s
    emails matter to you. For example, do you want each item to start with “From:”,
    “To:” and “Subject:” lines, or is it enough that the email contents and date
    are displayed? All is possible, of course.

  • Posting – depending on how you’ve set things up, each email
    will have to be posted. In the simplest of terms each message would be
    copy/pasted into the blogging interface, and published. It’s possible that
    there’d be a little bit of tweaking of each post as well, to make sure it looks
    proper. This might be a project that you spread out over some time; a couple of
    posts a day for a year, for example, would make this not only easier on you,
    but could present a pretty compelling story for your readers.

“The approach I would take would be to create a
blog.”

Now, I believe that *some* of the blogging tools mentioned above, or add-ons
to them, may allow you to post via email. By that I mean that if everything is
set up “just so”, you might be able to forward each message to a specific email
address and have it automatically be posted. You’ll have to check with the blog
hosts to see if they provide this functionality, and what limits there might be
on it (it’d be a high risk feature because of spam).

This is also where it helps to be a little techie.

I’ve done something similar to all this. Not with my mother’s writing, but
with many of the questions I get here at Ask Leo!

Have a look at the Ask
Leo! mailbag
. Here you’ll find individual posts that “look like” email –
because they are. They’re my emailed responses to some of the questions that I
get that don’t make it onto the main site.

What’s germane here is the look and feel. The mailbag is a MoveableType
based blog which has been customized with a look and feel that preserves each
message’s “email” characteristics. Each email message is just a post on that
blog.

Full disclosure: (and here’s where the techie part comes in): I
post to that blog via email. Because I control all the software involved, I was
able to set up an email address that does a couple of security checks (to make
sure it’s really coming from me) and then polishes the post a little and
publishes it. So I quite literally only need to BCC someone on my response to
them to have it show up in the mailbag.

In all honesty, for your project, I’m not sure I’d do it that way anyway.
I’d probably go the copy/paste route I mentioned above, simply to make sure
that each message appears exactly as I intended.

But either way, as I said, it’s a very cool project and I sincerely hope
you’re able to make it happen.

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3 comments on “What's the best way to publish an email chronicle?”

  1. On the assumption that your comment is fairly recent, may I offer my deepest sympathies for your sad loss.
    I lost my own mother unexpectedly in 1982, she was 64 – and I 34…
    I was absolutely devasted.
    Good luck with your chronicle. I hope this helps to share her memory with all concerned.
    kind regards
    Lou Gascon

    Reply

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