Affectionately Yours, Postcardly

Zouch, October 7, 2011.

Around mid-September, The Rapid City Journal reported that a knot of 50 residents in a small South Dakotan town, west of the Missouri River, had gotten together to worry collectively. They’d assembled to discuss an urgent municipal matter.

Enning’s only post office was facing closure.

It’s one among the 3,700 post offices nationwide that don’t do enough business (that is, earn a yearly revenue of, at least, $27,500) to remain open.

If that does come to pass, townspeople will have to trek six miles to the nearest town to pick up and drop off mail. And that would cause no small an inconvenience.

The Postcardly logo.
The Postcardly logo.

But how much of their pickings is personal mail?

Once, one waited expectantly for the hushed rustle of the mail being slid under one’s door.

The arrival of the mailman could mean news of one’s near and dear ones; a postcard from a friend in a foreign land; a lettre d’amour from a secret lover; a paycheck; or a money order.

Does anyone spare the messenger a glance from behind the curtain in the attic dormer today?

No. Mostly, he comes and goes unnoticed. That’s largely because he’s a bringer of commercial litter.

Last year, according to a report in NPR StateImpact, the total volume of First-Class mail was 78.2 billion pieces, while that of Standard Mail (or Advertising Mail) was 82.5 billion items.

That’s where a service like Postcardly comes into the picture.

Maybe, it can do nothing to prevent public post offices from going away, but it can ensure that one gets more personal letters. The Seattle-based start-up offers a novel twist on traditional mail.

It turns e-mails and attached photographs into paper postcards, and then, has them delivered by U.S. Mail.

Most innovations aren’t born in a void. The trigger for this happens to be baby snaps.

In an e-mail interview, Paul Hughes, one of the three founders, told me that he and his buddies, Tom Marshall and Eric Fredrickson—all three of whom have been in the field of I.T. in one capacity or the other—hit upon the epistolary idea when they became dads.

Being the techies of their respective families, they found themselves happily saddled, almost overnight, with a “new part-time job” of sharing photographs of their newborns with their circle of relatives.

For those who had e-mail accounts, or a presence on Facebook, it was easy to do so. They’d simply toggle between the “send” and the “update” buttons.

But for those of the older generation, those somewhat trailing in the digital department, they’d have to scurry to the neighborhood drug store, toting little memory cards in their pockets, get into scuffles with inkjets, stand in long lines at the post office—just to be able to show a step-grandpa his precious bundle of joy.

This is how they began.

Within three short months since its launch, the company has garnered a user base the size of a “small—and friendly—town.”

The Postcardly logo, a black bird with a nifty, green carrier bag slung over is wingtip, is refreshingly reminiscent of the pigeon post, an avian delivery service that was in existence well until the early 20th century.

So far, the little birdie has received a grab bag of requests to drop off pictures of vacations, graduations, first day of school; invites, save-the-date notes, birthday greetings, thank-you cards, and more.

A parenthetical digression: According to the Web monitoring service, Royal Pingdom, in 2010, roughly 1.7 trillion e-mails were sent out. If only a few of those could be turned into snail mail, wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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