SMS to Email List

By JoCo March 9, 2009

Poor Scarface has been inundated with questions about how I managed to set it up so that people can add themselves to my mailing list by sending a text message. It was actually pretty easy to do once I found the right site – the trick now is me remembering to stop my set and tell the audience to do it. I remembered in Ann Arbor, but I think probably I forgot in the last couple of shows before that, because I am a big fat dummy.

The trick: I signed up for a free account at, which lets you choose a unique keyword (I chose JoCo, for obvious reasons). You can then set it up so that when someone texts a message to the Textmarks number (41411) that starts with your keyword, stuff happens. In my case, I set it up so that Textmarks parses the message, grabbing everything after the JoCo, which I assume is the email address. It then composes and posts to my “add this email to my mailing list” URL, passing that text as a parameter. The URL happens to be from the email list tools that are built into Hostbaby (my web host), but it would be pretty easy to do just about anything you want once you get the email into a page on your site – database access or some other further processing. Or if you’ve got some other mailing list management solution, as long as you can add with a URL you can use this method.

There is my secret. Go forth and SPAM.


Steve Dembo says

Dig it. Love TextMarks.

Would really love it if ya sent more out via the mailing list than just concert dates!

Ricky says

I tried sending you my e-mail address - ';DROP TABLE but it just doesn't work. Why, JoCo? Why?

Zach Totz says

I regret to inform that Murphy's Law has struck and I'm gonna have to post the shows tomorrow since I need to re-do a lot of the edits. Also, the old free file hosting service I used to use is no longer online, anyone got a suggestion for a new one?

Colleenky says

@Zach: Try Free account = 1 GB storage + 25 MB max file size.

Mike says

Or unlimited storage, max file 100 MB (for the free account).

Jonnie says

I subscribe to the Lefletz Letter, a music blog/email listserve generated by Bob Lefletz, who is a pretty well known music journalist. He actually had a posting on one of his recent emails about Jonathan Coulton's use of this text function to add people to his email list at his concerts as a stroke of modern-music genius. Nicely done, JC!

Kirsten says

Coincidentally, we were just looking for this exact same functionality recently, so it was exciting to read about you doing it... alas, Textmarks isn't available here in Canada. Waah.

JoCo says

I appreciate the praise for being forward-thinking about this sort of thing, but I'm pretty sure I got the idea from Obama.

Two-Memer says

Stupendous show in Ann Arbor, by the way!

Khag says

Anyplace to track down more technical details of what the backend process looked like? Just trying to copy the success!

JoCo says

Not much to see, most of the backend stuff is handled by Hostbaby scripts that I didn't write and don't ever see. But the flow is like this.

On textmarks, I have the response set to\0 (the \0 is a parameter that textmarks replaces with the email address from the text message)

smsemail.php is a page on my server that basically takes the list_email parameter and passes it to the Hostbaby mailing list signup script. The details of this page will be very different depending on your mailing list solution, but for me it's as easy as requiring the Hostbaby script, which does all the work for me.

Xarrion says

Trick to remembering to tell the audience: Get a few 'tour shirts' made up with the number on the front - then it doesn't matter if you forget to mention it out loud. :)

Vanessa says

Great advice for getting people to add themselves to the mailing list! E-mail lists like these are incredibly valuable for disseminating information like concert dates, last minute deals, or shows etc.