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E-mail and Snail Mail United 101

bahree writes "The BBC has an interesting story about how some people living in some of the most inaccessible areas of India are enjoying an improved postal service - thanks to the combining of e-mail with traditional 'snail mail'."
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E-mail and Snail Mail United

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  • Hmm.. (Score:3, Funny)

    by SillyNickName4me ( 760022 ) <dotslash@bartsplace.net> on Sunday March 21, 2004 @10:53AM (#8627110) Homepage
    Does that mean they will get all those interesting offers for generic viagra and such by snail mail there?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 21, 2004 @10:55AM (#8627119)
    Email and online bill paying must some day put them out of business. I know they had financial difficulties for a while. I bet they will have to adapt in the coming years or die off.
    • What about parcel delivery? I'd like to see you download your next computer hardware upgrade off the internet. You might buy it online, but someone has to deliver it.
    • Actually I was thinking that even if most bills and letters are sent online, they would have less of a burden on their resources for delivering many packages and parcels (as well as the traditional hand-written letter or two), allowing for a very cheap rate and with high reliability.
      But it all depends on how much of their income is drawn from bills and letters.

      PS. I'm in the UK, dunno if you meant the US PO.
      • Actually I was thinking that even if most bills and letters are sent online, they would have less of a burden on their resources for delivering many packages and parcels (as well as the traditional hand-written letter or two), allowing for a very cheap rate and with high reliability.
        But it all depends on how much of their income is drawn from bills and letters.

        Delivering parcels is a lucrative business, and a lot of businesses deliver parcels for that reason; not just the post office.

        Any national post sy
    • I believe the only reason the US Postal Service exists as it does today is because of the fact that it is part of the government.

      Government subsidies are what has kept the Postal Service from adapting. And those same subsidies are what will keep it from dying off.

      IMHO, we should NOT want it to die. Some governmental services are actually worthwhile. And, low-cost communication via snail mail is one of those worthwhile services.

      • The USPS is adapting.
        Tracking is offered for packages now.
        It's still cheaper than UPS, Fed Ex.
        And offers everything the primary commercial transfer companies do except for next day.
        Plus they deliver on saturday for no extra charge. Something that fed ex and UPS have comparatively recently offered.
        Any letter up to 1 ounce is frequently delivered across town in one business day for the current rate of 37 cents. (at least if moves that fast where i live)
        The USPS and the IRS are some of the most adaptive entiti
      • by Anonymous Coward
        The USPS is self contained per its money. Why do you think rates go up every couple of years? Because of inflation. They do not take any money from the government (although yes they are a government agency.)
    • Email and online bill paying must some day put them out of business. I know they had financial difficulties for a while. I bet they will have to adapt in the coming years or die off.

      Certification Authorities. Think about registered mail: i can send you a letter from anywhere in the world and get a proof that it was delivered to you and only you. The post office is a federal governmental entity with offices all over the country, and they know who you are (well, at least your address).

      In the near future, y
      • The post office is not a federal entity, it is a privately owned business. Just like the federal reserve. They have some kind of relationship with the feds that allows them to operate the way that they do. Thats the extent of my knowledge on this subject, you might want to google the rest.
        • The post office is not a federal entity, it is a privately owned business.
          No, the usps is a part of the federal government, albeit one that nods towards market notions of profit and loss in operations, and has adopted some more "market friendly" trappings (such as the Postmaster General now also being the CEO). This is explained quite clearly on their website http://www.usps.gov/.

          Just like the federal reserve.
          Put down the crack pipe. The federal reserve (http://www.federalreserve.gov/) is most certianly
    • Someone has to deliver the Viagra you order.
    • If it's the Indian postal system you are talking about, well, let's just say people have some very good ideas for it.

      You see, the postal system in rural India is more than a communication system, it is also effectively a village's bank as well; you can open a National Small Savings account in any of the 30,000 or so post offices across the country.

      So add convinience marts, a centralised utilities payment counter, a rail/bus/air ticketing counter, an Internet browsing kiosk and perhaps a Western Union branc

  • Spam (Score:3, Funny)

    by Hello this is Linus ( 757336 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @10:56AM (#8627129) Homepage
    Now every one can enjoy spam...even rural India.

    • Imagine him reading out those letters to the villagers, I forsee a painfull stoning ahead.
    • This has started happening already. Inddia Post's e-post system was started as a pilot project in South India some two three years back and effective 30/01/2004 it has been implemented throughout the country. Already printed spam has started trickling into rural households in a small way. The only thing that deters the apammers is the cost Rs.10 (appx 2 U.S Cents) per A4 page.
  • Anthrax (Score:5, Funny)

    by b0lt ( 729408 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @10:59AM (#8627138)
    Now we'll really need that virus scan ;)
  • Not just in India... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @11:02AM (#8627155)

    I live in Spain, but do a lot of business in the UK. Important snail mail that arrives to our UK offices is scanned and emailed to me.
    • It's funny how the digital divide kicks in: in some countries you cannot find decent infrastructure, whilst in others there is plenty of it available to the ones willing to bang out a buck for it.

      Spain is, together with Italy and Greece, to be perceived equivalent to Mexico, only that it is slightly more important. Which means that the "fax" is still used on a daily basis - not that email wouldn't be available, it's basically a state-of-mind thingy.

      To get it straight:

      1. <accent intonation="italian">I
  • by amigoro ( 761348 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @11:08AM (#8627181) Homepage Journal
    Bringing Technology to The Masses I believe this is a step in the right direction as far as dividing the gap between information "haves" and "have nots" go.

    For example, I knew a Pakistani family in London who had relatives in the remote Karakorum region of Gilgit. The only way to get internet there was to use satellites, but this was beyond the means of many. So the London family had to rely solely on snail mail.

    Thanks to the sheer inefficiency of both Royal Mail and PAkistani mail, letters took months, yes, months to get to the destination. However, if the messages travelled over wires as far they could, then both the costs and delays could have been reduced significantly.

  • by trveler ( 214816 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @11:14AM (#8627207)
    No wonder all our jobs are going to India... their snail-mail is much faster than ours!
  • Feh. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by shumacher ( 199043 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @11:15AM (#8627210)
    Clever thing, using the computers that way. I've offered to do the same thing for a friend in Iraq. Cuts a few days off. News? Barely.
  • by toesate ( 652111 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @11:17AM (#8627225) Homepage Journal
    ... to this service

    It is a prerequisite to presume that the service chain must be driven with trustworthiness. The old folks who are illiterate must trust the messenger, and the sender must assume the delivery chain is trustable.

    Imagine a powered-by-human ATM cash machine.

    Normal mail has the implicit benefit of sealed delivery, until received by the receipient.
  • by craznar ( 710808 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @11:22AM (#8627250) Homepage
    Precognication Here [slashdot.org]

  • Hmm. I know that TCP over avian carriers [rfc.net] is old news.
    What's the next free RFC number? I'd like to propose TCP over mail runners.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 21, 2004 @11:33AM (#8627297)
    The postal service here is now experimenting with genetic modified eagles to get them to fly faster than the speed of light, in order to catch up with the Indians.

    More news at 23:59 MOT (My Own Timezone)

    Duplicates posted later on slashdot at the top of every hour!
  • V-Mail (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iCharles ( 242580 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @11:36AM (#8627309) Homepage
    The concept (handwritten letter->intermediary format->printed copy) reminds me of V-Mail in World War Two. People states-side would write a letter to their man in uniform on a special form. This form would be printed on microfilm, and carried over to Europe or the Pacific. The letters would be printed and handed out to the troops.

    The advantage was that the mail took up significantly less weight. 150,000 letters could be reduced from 2,500 lbs to around 45 lbs. [si.edu] The space savings could be used for war material.
  • Telegraph? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FalconZero ( 607567 ) <[FalconZero] [at] [Gmail.com]> on Sunday March 21, 2004 @11:38AM (#8627318)
    Does anyone else see a stiking similarity with the old telegraph system?

  • The method of final delivery (guys walking around with a staff, bell and mailbag in the middle of nowhere) reminds me of the book by David Brin, and the movie The Postman [vhs-movie-review.com].
  • by gregux ( 600239 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @11:50AM (#8627367)
    Guys, this is just a modest update of an already existing technology: the telegram.

    Watch any western movie. Somewhere in it someone will want to send a message to someone else who is far away. The first guy will go to the local telegraph office and dictate his message to the clerk. Clerk hands message to the telegraph operator who keys it into the system in a binary-like format. Message travels via wire to remote telegraph office where second telegraph operator decodes the incoming signal and transcribes it. Hard copy of message is then delivered to recipient. Later improvements allowed for messages to be keyed-in and printed without human interpretation.

    No news here. Couldn't system resources be better used watching for SCO's latest folly?

    • >> Guys, this is just a modest update of an already existing technology: the telegram.

      The news here is not the technology (which is pretty straightforward in this case) but the delivery of a workable application of it at a price point the market will bear.

      Try to covince Western Union to go into the business of connecting people living in the higher inaccessible reaches of the Himalayas (many for whom the price of a 37c US first class postage stamp will pay their living costs for a day) with thei

  • by netringer ( 319831 ) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `todhsals-rddaam'> on Sunday March 21, 2004 @12:00PM (#8627419) Journal
    The US Post Office (as it was called then) looked into doing this very thing - Faxing snail mail to the post office nearest the addressee. Luckily for them the usual government bureaucracy held them up from getting in place in time.

    Federal Express CEO Fred Smith [fedex.com] made a huge investment in FAX over a private satellite network called Zapmail [fortune.com]. The idea being they could do better than next day delivery by getting documents there in the next few hours.

    Unfortunately for them high-speed FAX machines using dial-up phone lines became cheap and common and ZapMail [shirky.com] was abandoned in a year.

  • FAX? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Flamesplash ( 469287 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @12:06PM (#8627453) Homepage Journal
    How is this different than a fax machine exactly?
    • Re:FAX? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by FalconZero ( 607567 )
      Because FAX requires that the recipient have a fax machine, whereas Letter->whatever->Letter can be delivered regardless of what hardware the final recipient has.
      • but someone has to have a computer to receive the emails. This whole system looks like a central fax service to me. People fax stuff to one phone number which happens to be the distribution service, and then it gets distributed as a paper copy to the appropriate recipient
        • No - see, a fax would require physical phone lines between the villages (doing which presumably is expensive) while the internet thingee could be done via satellite which is comparatively cheaper, at least when compared to satellite telephony.
  • lets go to x.400! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by yulek ( 202118 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @12:31PM (#8627624) Homepage Journal
    x.400 already has postal address elements built in. and as an added bonus, Microsoft Exchange already supports x.400 (in fact, the MTA is built on x.400 routing, SMTP is just a connector (read gateway)).

    just email me @ x.400:G=William; S=Gates; CN=bgates; O=microsoft; OU=xstaff; PD-PN=Bill Gates; PD-S=1 Redmond Way; PD-A1=building 8; PD-CODE=98052; PD-C=USA...

  • the thing that struck me (especially because of getting referred to the article from /. home of the righteously security-conscious) was the whole different concept of privacy, and who knows your business - cause they're talking about scanning in your correspondance...

    but then they're also talking about a person reading letters to the whole town...

    a totally different paradigm.

  • I'm surprised that postal systems in other countries don't do more to bridge between electronic and snail mail. You should be able to write a letter, put an email address on the envelope, stick a stamp on it and have it scanned and delivered. Similarly there could be a service where (with some appropriate means for payment) you could have your SMTP message printed out and delivered like a telegram. The effort required to scan in a document and type an email address is no more than that currently expended
  • by mlambie ( 696617 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @02:16PM (#8628303) Homepage
    A friend of mine that I went through uni with works at Westnet [westnet.com.au] (A relatively large, Perth-based ISP). Over a BBQ lunch the other day, he told of a story in which the support team received a snail mail with the envelope addressed to, get this, support@westnet.com.au.

    And you guessed it, the return address was the customer's e-mail address. The note compained how their e-mail was not working.

  • Dear Sukh Das,

    How's the weather up there? Cold I bet. Next time you are down for a visit stop by for a Coca-Cola and some cow watching.
  • ...computer gets mailed [slashdot.org]!

  • cheap? (Score:2, Informative)

    by madygoosey ( 745325 )
    at a cheap 10 rupees (0.12) per letter I don't know if 10 rupees is cheap, you can buy a pack of chips for that much there. A pack of chips that size goes for a dollar here, paying the equivalent of a dollar for every letter doesn't seems very cheap. Why don't the post offices just get those people email accounts(liks a someone@townpostoffice.org) or something and just have people email stuff to eachother at the post office only(so they don't kill business), and charge a lot less.
    • Look at the picture in the article. I doesn't look like most (or any) of them have computers at home. Then read the part that the mailman has to read the letters sometimes because many people can't read and you will see why e-mail wont work.
  • Exactly the same system was launched in China in late 2000. At the time, the Chinese postal service "promised" that it would not read any of the emails.

    The system has not been an overwhelming success.

  • I suppose before people had phones &c, there were lots of telegrams, designed to get to localised points (eg post office), where it would be dispatched by local services.
  • Old idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ajs318 ( 655362 ) <`sd_resp2' `at' `earthshod.co.uk'> on Sunday March 21, 2004 @08:02PM (#8629836)
    The earliest form of electronic communication was the telegraph. A person wishing to send a message would go to the telegraph office and dictate it to a telegraph clerk. The message would be sent by Morse code, one letter at a time, and decoded and written out at the far end. It would then be delivered by a boy on a bicycle.

    Apart from using rather more sophisticated electronic devices than a simple telegraph key and sounder, what has really changed? Certainly if anyone was trying to patent this, there might be some prior art under the names of Cooke and Wheatstone.
  • I remember back in the early days of prodigy, (yes it still exists) they had a feature that allowed you to type in an email, and they for a nominal fee, they would print it out on quality paper, and mail it.

    It may not be as advanced geographically as this concept, but it did decrease the sending time a little, and it is the same basic principle

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