Friday, January 4, 2008

Special Delivery

Last night as we were getting things ready to head to the hospital in the morning for the delivery of Elizabeth, I decided that I had to find a better way to let everyone know the details of our special delivery. 

For the delivery of the first two boys we did things the "old fashioned" way and just called people.  This is very time consuming and not really what I wanted to be spending my day doing.  Taking care of my girls being the activity of choice.  This is a relatively inefficient means of getting the job done, plus I wanted to be able to send real-time photos out to our family and friends.

SpecialDeliverySo, I thought about this a little and decided that ultimately the easiest way to get this done had to involve using a camera phone to send TXT & PIX messages.  But, I couldn't just add a bunch of recipients to the message every time I wanted to update people because the camera phone I planned to use would only let me add four recipients and I wanted to get the message out to almost 200 email addresses.

My first proposed solution was to just setup a distribution list (group) called "Baby List" in Gmail with all the intended recipients.   Then I would setup a forwarding rule that would forward any messages that arrived that were sent from the camera phone to my Baby List group.  This is where I ran into the first snag.  It turns out that Gmail will not let you setup a forwarding rule that forwards to a group.  In fact, it will not let you forward to more than one person for a single rule.  I could have setup 200 different rules, but that would have taken longer than just making the calls...

Then I had another idea...  I could use Microsoft Outlook to check my Gmail account using POP3 and setup the rule there.  Outlook will not let you forward to a distribution list, but it will let you attach an almost infinite list of email addresses to the rule as long as they are separated by a semicolon.  So, after doing some data massaging to get a semicolon delimited list of the addresses I had stored in Gmail into my Outlook rule, it was time for a test.

For the first test, I set the rule to just forward back to my Gmail email address.  This way if something didn't work, 200 people didn't know about it ;)  I took a picture with the camera phone and sent it via a PIX message to my Gmail address.  MS Outlook, which was running on my home computer, then picked up the message from Gmail and processed the rule which automatically forwarded it back to my Gmail address.  Success!

Then it was time for the real test...  I put the 200 or so email addresses onto the rule and repeated the test.  I had been concerned about having so many email addresses in one message and it turned out that my concerns were warranted.  The first 50 or so people received the message without any problems and then I got a message back stating that there were "too many recipients". 

Well, the solution to this was easy.  I split the mailing list up into three equal size lists and created three identical forwarding rules but with different distribution lists for each rule.  Problem solved.  Time to get some sleep before the big day.

This solution worked like a charm.  I was able to snap photos of Elizabeth during delivery and instantly forward them out to all my friends and family without ever dialing a single phone number (assuming they were checking their email).

Had I decided to start on a solution to this problem farther in advance, I probably would have written a more robust solution using my PocketPC phone.  But, given the short time constraint that I had to solve this problem I think it worked out pretty good.  If you ever need to solve a similar situation where you need to keep a long list of people notified of an activity in near real-time, give it a try.


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