March 1, 2013
Traditional mail is in decline. However, despite the U.S. Postal Service's decision to drop Saturday delivery later this year, it isn’t going away completely, at least any time soon. The folks at Texas-based Outbox have recently launched a new service that they hope will successfully bring actual mail delivery into the 21st century. Available exclusively in San Francisco, Outbox allows users to receive their mail electronically. For $4.99 per month, Outbox will pick up your mail and scan it, and deliver it electronically three times a week. Users can read their mail on a Mac, PC, or iOS device. From there, you can request which pieces of mail should actually be delivered. Unrequested mail is shredded and recycled after 30 days. Within Outbox, you're able to sort mail according to category. And no electronic mail is deleted unless you say so. In addition, Outbox offers a to-do list capability to help users keep track of due dates for bills. Finally, magazines and packages are still delivered to customers. In this case, however, Outbox is the one doing the delivering, not the postal service. In terms of security and privacy, Outbox says that every employee they hire goes through a “stronger background check than U.S. Postal Service workers go through.” And mail is opened by custom-built machines, not by people. Once mail becomes digital, it is securely stored and backed-up using “modern encryption technologies (SHA-512) and a random encryption salt." Take a look: Personally, Outbox sounds like a terrific service whose time has come. Still, I’m not sure how a private company could extend this nationwide without cooperation from the U.S. government. At the minimum, it could provide a test case on one of the ways the postal service could become solvent again. On the downside, Outbox does slow down mail delivery since it takes time for mail to be picked up and then converted to electronic format. In addition, most companies already offer (and encourage) electronic billing for free. Therefore, much of what Outbox scans could be junk mail, which we'd throw out or recycle anyway. We will keep an eye on Outbox to see how it develops, and alert you when it arrives in other locations. In the meantime, if you live in the Bay Area, you can sign up for the service here, or take a look at the Web demo. The free Outbox Mail app is available here.