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Outbox: Does anyone really want their snail mail digitized?
A new startup collects all your letters and bills and sends them to you online — just like email
 

Here's a novel idea for a startup: A new service, Outbox, sends a representative to your house three times a week. That person collects all your mail — with your consent, of course — and takes it back to Outbox HQ, where everything gets scanned, encrypted, and digitized for you to check online through a beautiful web interface. All it costs is $5 a month.

Outbox is meant to alleviate the headache of having to open and sort through all those bills and junk, while letting you enjoy your newly digital J. Crew catalog on an iPad. You'll also be able to click "unsubscribe from Sender" so as not to receive junk mail ever again, and you can request to have important mail sent back to you in a bi-weekly bundle. Everything else gets shredded and recycled after 30 days.

Some think it's a wonderful idea. In a post called, "The physical mail revolution comes knocking: Introducing Outbox," Trevor Gilert at PandoDaily reports that the Austin-based startup recently got a $2.2 million cash infusion from angel investors. Now the company is welcoming people to sign up for when the service launches nationally next year.

The value proposition of Outbox can't be understated. Instead of having to go through a stack of mail everyday at your home, imagine being able to do it on the way to work, or on an airplane, or even on the other side of the world. From a personal standpoint, this will be useful to me, due to my travel and constant moving. [PandoDaily]

But are the added logistics really worth it? Laura June at The Verge vehemently disagrees:

There are a few obvious problems with the concept and execution of Outbox. First of all, it is bloated from start to finish: Building a "revolutionary" product by piggybacking onto the nation's most laughably bureaucratic, least agile institution seems shortsighted and doomed, but it actually makes the mail experience less efficient than it is today. Whereas it currently takes three or four days for my letter to get to me from Chicago to New York it will now take... five? Maybe six? Outbox says it picks up your mail three days a week, so it seems likely that the turnaround time will be significantly less fast than if I simply bite the bullet and open the mail myself...

Outbox isn't "recreating the Postal Service" at all, it is needlessly complicating the already relatively straightforward interaction we have with our paper mail, by turning it into... electronic mail. Outbox also says it can help you get your billing strategy under control... but we've already largely solved that problem, too. I don't get many paper bills, and for most of my accounts, I have instantaneous access to years' worth of bills in a secure environment. And it's not as if Outbox is actually making you a usable, digital bill: It's generating an image of a bill, in another inbox separate from your actual email, complete with to do lists and trash bins. [The Verge]

Then there's the fact that the service, though it claims to cut down on waste, is actually, well... wasteful. An Outbox representative, after all, has to drive back and forth to pick up and drop off your mail in addition to all the gas gobbled up by the Postal Service. And as it stands, there's no mechanism for dealing with special case mail, either: What happens when your tenants send you rent checks? (Those get scanned and you have to request them back.) Or what about the yearly $6 in cash grandma sends you for your birthday? What about the cheesy sea shell your best friend mails you from her vacation in Jamaica? The company hasn't said how it intends to deal with such scenerios yet, or if it even can without opening your mail on the spot.  

Anthony Ha at TechCrunch brings up a good point, however: The system is actually incredibly useful as a disposal service. Because your mail is shredded and recycled, "Outbox is actually a more secure way to dispose of mail than what most people do now." Remember, stealing mail is one of the go-to strategies for identity thieves. And really, how many households have their own paper shredder?

What do you think? Would Outbox be useful for you? Or does the service make the process more complicated than it needs to be?

 

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