How The US Post Office Killed Innovative Digital Mail Because It Disrupted Junk Mailers

from the killing-innovation dept

Derek Khanna has yet another story of how politicians and incumbents have killed off an innovative service. Though, amazingly, unlike in other cases where the killing is hidden behind totally bogus claims of "public safety" or "consumer choice," this time the politicians appeared to be very direct in admitting that they wanted the service dead because it upset incumbents. It's the story of Outbox, a service that would take all of your snail mail and digitize it (and, in the process, dump and unsubscribe you from all that junk mail). It was created by two former Congressional staffers who had seen how nice a mail digitization system could be in Congress. People who used Outbox loved it. All your mail digitized in an easy to review manner -- while also removing all the junk mail you hated? It was a great service.

But, the Postmaster General basically did everything possible to kill it. You really should read the full story, but it involves the Postmaster General calling Outbox's founders into his office. They thought that it might be about an opportunity to work together to provide the American public a much better service. But it wasn't:
When Evan and Will got called in to meet with the Postmaster General they were joined by the USPS's General Counsel and Chief of Digital Strategy. But instead, Evan recounts that US Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe "looked at us and said 'we have a misunderstanding. ‘You disrupt my service and we will never work with you.'" Further, "You mentioned making the service better for our customers; but the American citizens aren't our customers—about 400 junk mailers are our customers. Your service hurts our ability to serve those customers."

According to Evan, the Chief of Digital Strategy's comments were even more stark, "[Your market model] will never work anyway. Digital is a fad. It will only work in Europe."
While the USPS would not directly confirm this exchange (it also did not deny it), it did send Khanna a statement that pretty much confirms it, even if it tried to spin the way they explained it:
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. 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.
Khanna asked if any users had actually complained about signing up for Outbox and somehow having the "security of their mail" harmed. The USPS did not answer. Khanna also asked why the USPS wouldn't even give Outbox the option of continuing its service if they didn't "destroy" the physical mail. The USPS did not answer.

This story is shameful, but not unique. We see it all the time, though it's rare that politicians are so direct in admitting their real motives (though, as we've seen, some others have done so recently as well). But this is the constant struggle of disruption and innovation. Incumbents with business models that don't serve the public, don't look to make a better product. Rather they look for political ways to restrict competition and block innovation. The USPS destroying Outbox is just one in a long line of depressing examples.

Filed Under: corruption, disruption, innovation, junk mail, mail service, us postal service, usps
Companies: outbox


Reader Comments

The First Word

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 2 May 2014 @ 1:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I'm going to side with the USPS on this one

    "And on the few occasionas I do, I don't need to worry about who is looking at that letter."

    And nothing about any of this would change that.

    "Yes, you can. But, would you? Come on. Set aside the academic theories and be honest. 50-100 million names, addresses... and personal details."

    I think that we're talking about different things here, as the rest of this paragraph doesn't seem at all relevant to my point. My point was conceptual, not pertaining to this mail scan thing in particular.

    "You also snipped off the 'searchable, indexable' part of my sentence. In context, you see I am more worried about such data in the wrong hands"

    I did so for brevity. Including that part does not change my statement at all.

    I don't disagree with any of your points about privacy, etc. But it still seems to me that you're arguing against using a service like mail scanning -- and I agree with you about that as well!

    You're not, however, making a compelling argument for why providing such a service to people who want it should be illegal.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.