Digital Crystal Ball

Digital crystal ball

For many people, checking email is part of the daily ritual of staying in contact with friends and family, conducting business transactions, and checking the latest ads from frequented website vendors. If one postal organization implements a new program, it could also mean checking your email for a glimpse into future.

Currently in the test phase of development, Real Mail Notification is a new program designed to send Postal Service customers an email notification that contains images of items that will arrive in the mail along with a time of delivery. Images will include actual photos of mail covers such as letters and advertising pieces, not contents included in the items. Email notifications can be accessed on any device a customer would normally view emails, and can be archived or printed as an individual would any other email message.

Enhanced visibility is a vital component of future technological innovations as the demand for greater transparency in transactions continues to increase. Online retailers use similar tools to inform customers when they’ve made a purchase and when an item is shipped from the store. The process not only keeps customers up to date on important activity, it might also help identity fraudulent activity.

If a fraudster conducts a transaction with someone else’s web-based account, the real owner will receive an email regarding the transaction, so long as the fraudster hasn’t changed the email address. Similarly, if a postal customer receives an email that an item will arrive in the mailbox at a certain time, but the item isn’t there when checked later that evening after it should have arrived, a person can take action to determine if it was removed by an unauthorized individual.

As virtual and physical worlds continue to move closer together each year, the public reaps the benefits of the merging realms.

Do you think email notification of soon-to-be-delivered mail will be a valuable tool for you?

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Imminent Delivery

Imminent delivery

Many people appreciate when a friend or relative calls or sends a message to let someone know ahead of time that they intent to visit. It only takes a few moments to send the alert, but it allows time for the person visited to prepare for the arrival. If a new feature was introduced to a different type of visitation, it’s possible that the experience could be a welcome one.

Every day, people look forward to mail dutifully deposited into their mailboxes by their neighborhood carrier. Though someone might be able to guess the approximate day when an individual could have mailed a particular item, the person’s best guess might not be as accurate as they would like it to be. This could leave the individual longing for clairvoyance as to when to expect the item’s arrival. If the Postal Service were to introduce an email alert system to inform a customer about an item’s pending arrival, clairvoyance would be an unnecessary luxury.

For a customer to receive that email alert, the Postal Service could send a scanned external image of a mailpiece item to an email associated with the address of the customer. A customer could register with the service through the usps.com website and specify contact information.

The additional service wouldn’t exactly offer the same benefits as a digital mailbox, but it could provide a welcome benefit to eager customers without a prohibitive startup and maintenance expense.

Do you think a USPS email alert system for imminent mail delivery will help increase mail customer satisfaction?

How Would You Like Your Mail?

How would you like your mail

As the light of dawn peaks over the horizon, Samantha powers up her tablet PC from the comfort of her couch and skims through her latest collection of emails. She sips gingerly on a cup of steaming, fresh roasted coffee when she finds what she’s after.

With eager anticipation, she opens the secured email sent to her from her publisher via the Post Office’s encrypted transmission service. Reading the details of her first commission statement, Samantha allows herself the luxury of a satisfying smile knowing that her hard work has finally paid off.

A digital financial statement delivered through an encrypted email service might seem like a possible Post Office offering in the future. For Swiss Post, however, that future possibility is a new reality.

Swiss Post recently unveiled its latest E-Post Office venture. Merging physical mail with a digital counterpart, customers participating in the new service can still opt to receive their physical mail in the traditional way. They can also choose to access it through a secured online platform or by a secured email delivered directly to their inbox so long as the companies they do business with participate in the E-Post Office program.

Customers who take advantage of the service will have greater flexibility in how they receive their mail. An individual can choose to have her mortgage statement delivered to her physical address and the rest of her monthly bills delivered via encrypted email. Each customer will be provided with 5 gigabytes of online storage capacity via the E-Post Office service – at no charge.

Swiss Post is already working on expansion possibilities for the service, including adding a bill pay feature to give customers access to a one-stop payment center.

What hurdles do you think the US Postal Service would encounter if it attempted to introduce this type of service to its customers?

A New Chapter in Digital Mail

A new chapter

It wasn’t long ago that a collection of promising digital mail service providers attempted to transform their budding startups into lucrative ventures. While several are still working toward profitability, some haven’t fared as well as others and were forced to close their doors. Though the course charted by digital mail providers is a challenging one, a new startup seeks to succeed where others haven’t.

Scan Mailboxes Solutions LLC recently launched a new service designed for individuals who would prefer the option to receive mail electronically. Based in Austin, TX, the service accomplishes the digital conversion process by instructing its customers to direct their mail to the company’s processing facility. The customer adds a special PMB number to the address that associates specific ownership of the mail, and all mail with that identifier is stored and secured for that individual until the company receives instructions on how to proceed with it.

Items received by Scan Mailboxes can be sent to the customer unopened to an address on file, picked up at the company’s facility in TX, or opened and scanned for the customer to read online. Scanned mail is encrypted to protect customer privacy and stored on the company website where images will remain archived so long as an individual’s account is active. Shredding services of discarded mail are also available at no additional cost.

Prices for the digital mailbox service start at $9.95 per month for the Starter plan and go up to $39.95 for the Business plan. Additional services such as Unlimited Check Deposit Service, Registered Agent Service, and Selective Mail Forwarding Service can also be added for an additional fee.

Do you think USPS could employ a similar business model for a digital mail service of its own?

Secure Email

Secure email

Last year, many classified documents were leaked to the public regarding covert data acquisition techniques. With the release of the information, some questioned the security of electronic means of communication. Though one can never be certain how many unintended individuals view their electronic forms of communication, there is one form of communication that remains both secure and efficient – the U.S. Mail. If a new start-up has its way, however, emails might prove to be just as secure as their physical counterpart.

ProtonMail is a crowdfunded venture start-up based in Switzerland. The primary objective of the company is to provide its users with an encrypted way to send a secured electronic message to a recipient without preying eyes gaining access to it.

Rather than encrypt messages on their own servers, ProtonMail provides users with the ability to encrypt messages on a web browser before they’re transferred to a distribution server. In doing so, the company can avoid the unintentional or compelled release of their customers’ email content to a third party.

The company intends to offer the service for free and ultimately expand it into encrypted chat and online file storage services.

Do you think there be will enough demand from paid users of ProtonMail’s services to offer a viable long-term business model to support its free features?

Augmented Reality

Sample Augmented Reality navigation image.

Sample Augmented Reality navigation image.

In a popular movie about a cyborg that travels back in time to alter the future, the metallic creation uses an enhanced visual display to provide it with critical information. The data, ranging from the dimensions of objects to environmental conditions, is overlaid onto the live visual display of the cyborg’s vision. While this might have seemed like a vision of futuristic fantasy when the movie was originally released in the 1980s, the reality of modern technology has made such visual displays readily available to the general public through standard smartphones.

Augmented Reality (AR) is seen in everything from sports games, to GPS navigation, to medical process enhancements, and in recent years, has migrated its way into applications for smartphones. One of the growing uses of such smartphone apps is to scan mail items enhanced with AR technology.

Similar to facial recognition technology, application software uses a mobile device’s built-in camera to scan and recognize an image printed on a mail piece. The technology then utilizes the characteristics of a specific image to trigger a digital response, displaying videos, an assortment of widgets and other useful information.

While use of the technology is expanding every year, potential applications of its abilities are still in the infancy stage of development.

How do you see AR technology expanding in the coming years?

Digital Deflation

Digital deflation

It wasn’t long ago that many touted the benefits of digital mailboxes. Offering an array of services from storing electronic versions of mail to warehousing digital copies of passports, driver’s licenses, and other important documents for greater accessibility on the go, digital mailboxes were set to become a staple in a modern lifestyle. Not every staple, however, has a place in the future, and one particular service recently announced its withdrawal from the business.

Digital Post Australia (DPA) was a promising startup three short years ago when digital mailboxes were seen as the next evolutionary step in mail delivery. As reviewed in a 2013 article, the service, replete with bank-level encryption, was offered free to customers. Times have changed, however, and a recent email to subscribers proves that the service may not yet be a viable business model.

In its letter, DPA states, “After three years of working to revolutionise the way mail is delivered in Australia, we have made the very difficult decision to close Digital Post Australia. All of us at Digital Post Australia think that digital postboxes are a great idea, but without enough senders supporting this channel our service is just not sustainable at this point in time.”

The email also announced July 31 as the official closure date of the service. In a related article, Zumbox, another digital mail service provider, recently announced the closure of its service.

While the concept of digital mail might be an interesting one for individuals who want to access their documents anywhere in the world, the business model may not yet offer a compelling solution for profitability.

Serving Digital Storage Demands

Clouds and data privacy

An increasing megapixel count for photos, higher definition videos, and more graphically capable presentations all have one thing in common – greater file size. As technology continues to advance in leaps and bounds with each passing year, so too does the size of files needed to store that digital data. The capacity of hard drives, flash memory, and other avenues of data storage increase in size to house these larger files, but remote access to this information becomes progressively cumbersome if many large files clog a mobile device’s storage capacity. Cloud data storage is seen as a potential cure-all to this problem, but trust, reliability, and longevity could be a potential obstacle in selecting a service provider. Could a certain well-known and trusted organization take on a new role to serve this need?

The Postal Service is the world leader in providing secure delivery of correspondence from sender to receiver. In addition to its physical delivery expertise, it also houses a large collection of addressing data to serve the needs of its customers in delivery accuracy and expediency. With such a vast array of computing capability and expertise, could the organization adapt its storage proficiency to house the data of its customers as well?

The American public trusts the dependability of an organization that began more than two centuries ago at the dawn of the country. The Postal Service ensures that every citizen from densely populated cities to the most rural areas have access to the delivery services they rely on wherever they may be. By growing and adapting its storage capacity, the organization can also ensure that citizens have access to the data they need wherever and whenever the need it.

As technology continues to advance, remote access needs to vast quantities of data will continue to grow at an exponential rate. When it comes to securing that data, there’s only one organization the country can turn to that has both a long history of trust and dependability that stands behind it – the U.S. Postal Service.

Would you select the Postal Service to store your electronic data if such a service were made available in the future?

Is Digital Mail a Passing Fad?

Is digital mail a passing fad

There are a number of companies across the world that envisioned the lucrative potential of scanned physical mail arriving electronically online as the next evolution of mail. If the experience of one particular firm over the past five years is any indication, that prospect might not be as lucrative as once believed.

Digital mail is touted as a way to provide customers with electronic versions of documents previously delivered to a physical address. Billing statements could be viewed on a single account online rather than multiple accounts from various billing companies. Users could upload their own documents for storage in their online account, without a storage size limitation. The service was also free to account holders, with all fees paid by the mailers themselves. The catch was that the income generated from the venture might not be as profitable as digital mail providers envisioned.

Recently, the digital mailbox company Zumbox announced that it was pulling the plug on its operation. An official statement on its website states, “…the time and cost required to deliver on the vision is more than the market is prepared to invest.” Nearly all links on the company website are now disabled, and only their main page and closure announcement remain.

Customers of the business who stored their documents on the website are unlikely to be pleased with the development and could possibly return to receiving mail from a business that isn’t in danger of going out of business – the U.S. Postal Service.

Do you think digital mailboxes could still be a viable business opportunity if initiated by the Postal Service?

Mailing on the Go

Mailing on the go 2

It’s late in the evening. Daylight has drifted away, replaced by the darkness of cold night air. The luxurious comfort of the couch has you in its soft embrace, pampering you after a hard day at work. Nothing can remove you from the relaxing evening you’ve been planning in your mind throughout the entire day – at least not without herculean effort. The light on the television flickers as a birthday scene unfolds on your favorite program. The pleasing event sparks a drift down memory lane, lifting your spirits as you recall some of your most memorable birthday moments with friends and family. That’s when a shrill alarm bell sounds in your head. You snap back to the present and realize that you forgot to pick up a card for your mother’s birthday.

A torrent of options begin to swirl in your mind. Do you remove yourself from your comfort zone to pick up a card this late at night? Perhaps you could leave early in the morning and make a quick stop at the store before going to work. Your thoughts begin to engage in a quiet debate between the two options when the perfect solution unfolds. An app you recently downloaded offers the ideal solution, and you don’t even have to leave the couch to send that special birthday message.

Many new services are available on mobile phones and other portable devices that offer the convenience of digital messaging with the personal touch of receiving a physical card in the mail. The following apps offer both expediency and physical appeal of digital mail hybrid alternatives to people on the go:

Card’s by Apple offers the opportunity to send personalized printed cards using your own photos and messages in the mail through your mobile device. Prices start at $2.99.

Red Stamp has many pre-generated messages and postcard designs available to broadcast special sentiments. Prices start at $1.99.

Postagram transforms a personal photo into a postcard to share special moments in time with others. Prices start at $.99.

Postcard on the Run provides users with the opportunity to not only share photos with others in the form of a postcard sent in the mail, the app can also add a GPS map of your location as well as your digital signature drawn with your finger on a touch screen. Prices start at $2.49.

Postography is a postcard service that uses your personal photos, or any others from its library, and prints them on postcards made from recycled material using vegetable-based inks. Prices start at $1.29.

In a world of increasing digitization, finding a way to transform fleeting electronic messages into something with a lasting impact is becoming easier than ever. Thanks to the expansion of many hybrid mail alternatives sprouting up on mobile devices everywhere, sending a physical message in the mail is as simple as few button presses on a touch screen surface.

  • Hello, I'm Benny the Blogger: I'm the world's most famous postal employee. My hobbies are snappy quotes, kite flying and publishing. I was born Jan. 17, 1706, but don't call me old.

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