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One great use of the internet is historical preservation. There are several ways to post an email chronicle, but each requires a little work.

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.

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.

Article C2945 - February 26, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

3 Comments
Greg
February 27, 2007 6:55 AM

Self-publishing via email
with LifeTrackers

http://www.springwise.com/weekly/2007-02-22.htm#life

Lou Gascon
March 3, 2007 4:22 AM

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

Lucian
December 5, 2010 4:46 AM

The best way if you want a long term website where to post your email chronicles is to host your own wordpress. Here is a guide that contains everything you have to know from hosting setup to installing wordpress: http://www.flamescorpion.com/2010/01/how-to-quick-install-and-start-your-website-right-away-with-wordpress/

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