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United States Government The Internet Technology

How the USPS Killed Digital Mail 338

Posted by Soulskill
from the my-mailbox-might-as-well-be-a-recycling-bin dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In 2013, a startup called Outbox drew a lot of attention for its ambitious goal: digitizing everybody's snail mail. It was a nice dream; no more walking down your driveway six days a week to clear out the useless junk it contained. But less than a year later, Outbox shut down. This article explains how the United States Postal Service swiftly crushed their plan to make mail better. The founders were summoned to a meeting with the Postmaster General, who told them. 'We have a misunderstanding. You disrupt my service and we will never work with you. You mentioned making the service better for our customers; but the American citizens aren't our customers—about 400 junk mailers are our customers. Your service hurts our ability to serve those customers.' The USPS's Chief of Digital Strategy said Outbox's business model 'will never work anyway. Digital is a fad.' The USPS wouldn't work with Outbox to forward customers' mail, and that eventually destroyed the business."
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How the USPS Killed Digital Mail

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  • Incomplete (Score:5, Funny)

    by binarylarry (1338699) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:07PM (#46873929)

    They left out the part where the Postmaster General had SEAL Team Six round up the executive team, waterboard them and remand them to the guantanamo detention center where they could learn the error of their ways.

    • There's nothing to joke about here. I used to work next to the local Postal Police offices. Yes, they have their own cops. Yes, they have their own guns, and lots of undercover cars. They also have one of those fully-loaded mobile command centers that show up at major incidents. This vehicle is exactly the same as what any other government agency would have.

      It's so loaded with gear and antennas, Google's map photos block out the whole vehicle to prevent anyone from seeing the equipment.

      So go on making

  • Obligatory (Score:5, Informative)

    by jhstuckey (2556816) <jhstuckey@NOsPAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:09PM (#46873943) Homepage

    Do you like golf, Mr. Kramer?

  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:10PM (#46873951)

    Frankly, the idea of a company opening my private mail for me, reading it, scanning it in, then making it available to me bugs the crap out of me.

    Were these guys trying to get a contract with the NSA? Or did they just want to read my stuff themselves?

    • by n1ywb (555767) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:16PM (#46873993) Homepage Journal
      I was BEGGING for this service a few years back when I was spending extended periods at sea. I'm sure anybody who goes on extended overseas trips would love it.
    • You can specify senders whose mail is to not be opened. Basically, it's $5 a month to have someone throw your junk mail away for you.

    • Ditto. There's a big difference between congresspeople or businesspeople having staff open their office/business related mail; after all, that's what an office bureaucracy handles. But at a personal level, forget it.

      And the article was sort of stupidly self-consciously hipster. There should be no surprise that the true customer of the Postal Service, and for that matter any delivery service, is the people who PAY them - not people who receive deliveries. "Disruption" is a word in the English languag
  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:13PM (#46873975) Homepage

    Think about it -- for $n/year, USPS would filter out your junk mail for you. People would pay for this.

    • by mythosaz (572040) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:25PM (#46874067)

      Are you willing to pay them more than the combined members of the Direct Marketing Association, who'll crush the USPS like insects if they allow you, the product, to opt out of their service?

      Direct Marketers own the USPS, lock, stock and barrel.

      • Are you willing to pay them more than the combined members of the Direct Marketing Association, who'll crush the USPS like insects if they allow you, the product, to opt out of their service?

        That's a good question. As a start, it would be nice to know the number that the USPS is being paid to deliver junk mail to my house. I'm sure I could beat it for my house alone, I'm sure it comes out to cents per month, but we wouldn't know that without knowing the actual amount.

        • by afidel (530433) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @09:17PM (#46874413)

          In 2010 the USPS brought in $17,300 [npr.org] million dollars from standard mail, there were 117.5 [wikipedia.org] million households in 2010 which means the USPS was paid roughly $147 per household to deliver bulk mailings.

          • by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @09:42PM (#46874577)

            That's a good question. As a start, it would be nice to know the number that the USPS is being paid to deliver junk mail to my house. I'm sure I could beat it for my house alone, I'm sure it comes out to cents per month, but we wouldn't know that without knowing the actual amount.

            In 2010 the USPS brought in $17,300 [npr.org] million dollars from standard mail, there were 117.5 [wikipedia.org] million households in 2010 which means the USPS was paid roughly $147 per household to deliver bulk mailings

            So if the above is correnct and I haven't screwed up the math, that would be about 1225 cents per month?

    • by rahvin112 (446269) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:31PM (#46874113)

      The postmaster General is right, those 400 junk mailers are paying for the entire system. That letter you send once a year for $.50 doesn't even come close to paying the billions those junk mailers pay that provides the money the USPS needs to have 100K employees and a fleet of vehicles and planes that would dwarf some governments.

      Contrary to what some small government people claim, the USPS is the envy of the world. The overhead is near non-existent and the delivery network is world class in efficiency. Private companies can't come near the efficiency of the post office. The reason we have a system so efficient is that the natural monopoly was recognized and non-profit corporation beholden to government was created. It's a good thing that the post office recognizes that the customers paying the bills are the junk mailers. It's also a good thing that the USPS is overseen by government regulators (except of course congresses attempt to kill the USPS by mandating that they contribute 75 years worth of retirement in 10 years). That government regulations guarantees that it's a crime for anyone to open my mail, and that the courts have precedence putting searching the mail as equivalent to breaking into your house and reading your diary. This "service" would be a field day for the NSA because the digital records would not have the same protection that he physical envelope does.

      If private run companies like UPS were doing first class mail the delivery charge for a first class letter would be several dollars.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        I send quite a few letters per year, since I don't do automatic bill pay and try to send actual checks to charities instead of a credit card, and I receive a lot more since I want bank statements to be physical instead of electronic delivery.

        I know I'm not the only one as I see a lot of neighbors checking their mail and pulling out actual envelopes instead of the weekly pennysaver.

        • by rahvin112 (446269)

          As soon as you are sending mail by the truckload let me know. I did a one day temp job at a local junk mailer. This local very small junk mailer sent mail several times a day with a 40' semi truck and unloaded directly into the post office in presorted containers with the zipcode on the container. The larger junk mailers send mail via full size semi's with pup's in a near constant stream, literally billions of pounds of paper every year. Even if you are spending $50 a year on stamps you aren't even in the b

      • That government regulations guarantees that it's a crime for anyone to open my mail

        And you are so sure the postal workers have never been asked to take an hour break while steam of men in suits come in with steamers while they are gone...

        Surrrreeee. That it's a government agency makes that way more likely to happen than a company like FedEx.

      • by Rick Zeman (15628)

        The postmaster General is right, those 400 junk mailers are paying for the entire system. That letter you send once a year for $.50 doesn't even come close to paying the billions those junk mailers pay that provides the money the USPS needs to have 100K employees and a fleet of vehicles and planes that would dwarf some governments.

        Yep, this. Look at this way: I can send a letter first class for what, .50cents (with forever stamps I don't remember what they cost now) clear across the country for less than the price of a candy bar. If the junk mailers effectively subsidize that...more power to them. I have a recycle bin to toss their shit into. Like spam and tv commercials there's some appeal to someone (just not to me).

      • by afidel (530433)

        In 2010 first class mail brought in $34B, standard mail (ie junk mail) brought in $17B, not sure what 2013 numbers looked like but I know they've taken on a LOT of final delivery services for Fedex and UPS so the numbers are likely similar or perhaps even a lower percentage for bulk mail.

      • by m00sh (2538182)

        Contrary to what some small government people claim, the USPS is the envy of the world. The overhead is near non-existent and the delivery network is world class in efficiency. Private companies can't come near the efficiency of the post office. The reason we have a system so efficient is that the natural monopoly was recognized and non-profit corporation beholden to government was created. It's a good thing that the post office recognizes that the customers paying the bills are the junk mailers. It's also

      • by KermodeBear (738243) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @10:17PM (#46874773) Homepage

        I don't know what USPS service you have, but in my experience:

        1. USPS is rarely less expensive sending packages than FedEx or UPS.
        2. USPS has slower delivery times than FedEx or UPS.
        3. USPS has a much higher rate of package damage than FedEx or UPS.
        4. USPS has a generally less helpful and less polite staff in the offices than FedEx or UPS.

        It is inferior in every way. We can talk about delivery of letters to mailboxes, but I'm sure you know that the mailboxes on the side of the road are considered to be property of USPS. It is illegal for anyone other than USPS to deliver a letter, package, or anything else to that mailbox.

        This means that if FedEx or UPS wanted to enter that business they would forced to set up secondary post boxes or deliver directly to the house by foot. I don't know how much this enters into the economics, but god dammit, that's my fucking mailbox.

        I paid for it. I dug the hold. I set the post. I poured the concrete. It's my mailbox. Their dictatorial annexation of the mailbox that came from me is exceptionally douchey and for that alone USPS should be smacked upside the head.

        If you have USPS service so exceptional that you find it to be truly better than all other alternatives, well, great, good for you. It just doesn't seem to mirror the experience that I and everyone else I know has.

        • by evilviper (135110)

          1. USPS is rarely less expensive sending packages than FedEx or UPS.

          That was true a few years ago, but no longer. They've updated their antiquated parcel rates, and now they're faster and cheaper. Or look at a cheap retailer like Amazon, who uses USPS extensively.

          Cheap services from FedEx / UPS (like "Smart Post") are just piggybacking on the USPS, anyhow, and will be delivered by your postal carrier.

          2. USPS has slower delivery times than FedEx or UPS.

          Not true anymore. Their "Express Mail" service is usu

      • by spasm (79260)

        "the USPS is the envy of the world"..

        Australia Post made a post-tax profit of AUD$311.9 million (USD$289.6 million) in 2013 (http://auspost.com.au/annualreport2013/financial-report.html) in a country with a population of 20 million people scattered across an area close to the size of the continental US. This despite making more than 90% of income from activities where it competes on the open market (ie without government monopoly) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia_Post).

        By contrast, USPS made a loss

    • And for $n/year, the Mafia will not burn down your business.

      Paying for people to not perform a "service" you don't want performed to begin with is called extortion.

    • If mail spam in particular is a problem, this [paperkarma.com] is a fairly efficient solution.

    • by arobatino (46791)

      Think about it -- for $n/year, USPS would filter out your junk mail for you. People would pay for this.

      True, but the reason there's so much junk mail is that the USPS is "required" (I put it in quotes because they don't exactly need a gun to their head) to deliver it, so the junk mailers are effectively able to force it down people's throats. If people could pay to opt out, the junk mail would be much less lucrative, so the USPS would lose most of it. And then they'd lose the money for opting out, too, since most people wouldn't get enough junk mail to bother anymore.

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      Think about it -- for $n/year, USPS would filter out your junk mail for you. People would pay for this.

      Wow. That's almost as logical as finding a random assassin and paying them not to kill you.

    • by spasm (79260)

      You don't have to pay for it. Per 39 CFR 3008 'Prohibition of pandering advertisements' (http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/39/3008), you can tell the USPS that you find mailers from any sender to be offensive and the USPS is required to issue an order that no more mailings be sent to you by that mailer. The form you need is PS1500, available at http://about.usps.com/forms/ps... [usps.com]

  • When I first heard of Outbox (here?), I quickly submitted my email address to them to be notified when it hit my city.

    I unsubscribe from nearly every mailing I can manually, as well as use the Direct Marketing Associations's Mail Preference Service and a 5-year blackout from credit card companies.

    You can reach all of these from: https://www.dmachoice.org/ [dmachoice.org]

    ---

    And I still get junk. They're all assholes.

    • I don't bother. There's a garbage bin between my mailbox and my house. The mail gets filtered before I get to the door and left in the garbage bin....
      • by Cryacin (657549)
        Manual spam filter in other words.
      • by Lumpy (12016)

        I have a stamp that says "return to sender" for junk mail. the USPS get's to eat that.

        They are not working for me, but the spammers, then screw them.

      • by mythosaz (572040)

        For me, it's a matter of having to search for my real mail (I still get some) between the loose pages of this week's coupon clipper.

        Too many direct marketers sending me REFINANCE NOW! junk mail (because property records are public) that comes in the same envelope as an EOB from my insurance... They might only take a few seconds to figure out, but those seconds add up week after week after week...

  • Officially Government Sanctioned Spam is still Spam.

    It would have died of its own accord anyway, because the junk mailers would have figured out that it was a waste of effort and money and found ways to configure their junk mail to foil scanning. And citizens don't want people opening their mail to scan it either.

    I can't imagine what there wasn't a three letter agency behind this scheme anyway.

    The story is remarkably DATE Free. Without the date in Leno clip you can't tell if this was 1985 or 2013.

  • Can now rest easy.
  • I would still have a hard time getting too angry with the USPS. Not sure why.... Oh cool, my electric bill can go paperless now.
  • who in America, even pre-Snowden, would ever approve the gov't opening everyone's mail and scanning it in. This didn't die because of the junk mailers, this was DOA from a fundamental standpoint.
  • You don't need it (Score:5, Informative)

    by mattack2 (1165421) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:49PM (#46874229)

    You don't need something like this anyway.
    1) get your bills electronically, and/or set them up for automatic payments
    2) use dmachoice.org and optoutprescreen.com to stop virtually all junk mail (former for 'regular' junk mail, latter for the credit card offers). Yes, they're run by the junk mail companies, but they work, and no, I don't work for them.

  • by beaverdownunder (1822050) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @09:25PM (#46874461)

    Rather than continuing to bitch about how your darling child idea didn't work out, maybe you should just come up with something else and move on?

    This is getting a bit old...

  • I knew of Derek Khanna, but didn't know that his skill wielding English was so deficient; if that is now his day job, he should most definitely quit. That was the most poorly written article I've seen at a journalistic Web site in many years.

  • Before I even moved in, every organization with foreknowledge of the sale apparently sold my information to whoever was paying. My mailbox was PACKED with junk mail in my name before I even moved in! And, it was all targeted (Home Depot, furniture stores, pest control, etc.). To this day, I'd estimate that 60-70% of what I get is junk mail. There's no way these companies can be paying the going rate I pay as a US citizen to mail letters.

  • by keith_nt4 (612247) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @09:59PM (#46874675) Journal

    Sorry this really seemed like it had to be inserted in here some place...

    e-mail, i like. i don't really like the use of the word mail in e-mail. using the same term that we're using for the postal service. i don't see a lot of overlap between these two systems. one of them occurring in digital fiber optic hyperspace. the other a dazed and confused distant branch of the cub scouts. [ laughter and applause ] bumbling around the street in embarrassing shorts and jackets with meaningless patches and victory medals. driving four miles an hour, 20 feet at a time on the wrong side of a mentally handicapped jeep. [ laughter ] i love how the postal system has this financial emotional meltdown every three to five years that their business model from 1630 isn't working anymore. i can't understand how a a 21st century information system based on licking, walking and a random number of pennies is struggling to compete. what is the reason? [ laughter and applause ] so, they always sent the postmaster general -- he always have to make a big speech about what a tough time that they're having. and he comes out and he's freaked out. he's got rings under the eyes, no shave, pulling all-nighters. we can't do it anymore! we've got to go up a penny on the stamps! there's no way ad ! [ laughter ] we're trying to get some breathing room. the cost and the infrastructure. and we're all like -- hey, dude, do whatever you've got to do. we don't give a damn. what is a stamp anyway? we don't even know what it costs. 43, 48, make it a buck. you're going to get there. you have some money left over, buy yourself some pants and a a real car. [ cheers and applause ] it's like, if i could talk to the post office, if i could say if you really want to be helpful to us, just open the letters. read them and e-mail us what it says! thank you very much!

  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @11:02PM (#46875011)

    http://postalnews.com/postalne... [postalnews.com]

    If nothing else, TFA doesn't sound like a particularly unbiased source.

  • by Sir Holo (531007) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @02:10AM (#46875799)
    After wiping away the flecks of foam sprayed by the article's writer, I had a few thoughts.

    * The US Postal Service is a lifeline service provided by our government. Without a reliable source of communication, it would be hard to sustain such a large country.

    * Yes, the junk-mailers have been the major profit center of the USPS for a few decades.

    * Vast and long-established laws and rulings forbidding tampering with mail (e.g., opening it) protect this basic form of communication. Such legal protections do not (yet) exist for digital communications. Your email is like a postcard.

    * Tons of other companies provide the same "digital mail" service. I use them when I travel. Emailed pics of all letters, they open and scan any that I request, or just send everything to me in a big envelope every week or so.

    The article kind of smelled like an ad.

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