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February 27, 2013

Outbox Turns Snail Mail Digital

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

If you’re frustrated with postal mail – and who isn’t? – you may be interested to hear about a San Francisco-based startup called Outbox, a way to turn your physical mail into social, digital and shareable content.

Outbox collects and manages postal mail on users’ behalf, discarding junk mail and enabling them to take action – such as organize, prioritize or unsubscribe – on any piece of mail.

Here’s how it works: a few times a week, an employee of Outbox called an “unpostman” visits the homes of Outbox subscribers and collects their mail. The company then opens and digitizes the mail and makes it available to subscribers, who can view, sort, organized, forward and discard the mail (and unsubscribe from things they don’t want) on their digital devices or computers.

The service costs $4.99 per month.

The company already has more than 600 customers in Austin, Texas, and starting Tuesday it's rolling out in its second city, San Francisco, according to a recent article on CNN. Outbox was founded in 2011 in Austin, TX by Harvard classmates, Will Davis and Evan Baehr.

A major hiccup in the company’s expansion could ultimately be the United States Postal Service, which is offering some unambiguous opinions on the legality of the process.

"The Postal Service is focused on providing an essential service in our mission to serve the American public and does not view Outbox as supporting that mission," the USPS (News - Alert) told CNN, calling Outbox’s process “a gray zone.” "We do have concerns regarding the destruction of mail – even if authorized by the receiver – and will continue to monitor market activities to ensure protection of our brand and the value and security of the mail."

Of course, it’s important to take the opinions of a federal agency that’s $1.3 billion in the hole, and also important to remember that Outbox users have given the “unpostmen” (or “unpostwomen”) express written consent to pick up their mail.

According to TechCrunch, Outbox had some “kinks” to work out first. Today, you can identify whether you want a household plan (so all the mail at a certain address is collected) or just an individual plan for one person at the household.

Also, if your mailbox requires a key, you can send Outbox a photo and it will make a copy based on that image.

New users are offered a free month upon sign up.

Edited by Braden Becker
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