Who else has ambled down to the mailbox only to find it full of junk, or disappointingly devoid of eBay purchases?
I have, and although I enjoy the chance for a gasp of fresh air after an electron-infested session at the computer, the sojourn can often be a bit of a waste of time.
That may be about to change, though.
The U.S. Postal Service has caught on to this often-failed, bizarre ritual for possibly millions of people each day, and is now sending scanned images of the actual mail pieces as it processes them to some customers' inboxes.
Those customers can see the outside of the actual items being delivered before they make it to the mailbox.
The ability to "see your household mail while traveling," is one of the benefits of the new "Informed Delivery" service, the USPS explains on its website. Up to 10 pieces will be made available for viewing in a morning email. More can be viewed on a website dashboard.
The "detailed images of your incoming mail" can be seen on any computer or smartphone, the USPS says.
Opening the mail?
It's not 100% brilliant because the postal service doesn't actually open the mail and scan the contents.
It's also not available for businesses, and a scan of the front of packages isn't available, probably for similar reasons—too useful.
But what you do get is "a grayscale image of the front exterior of each mail piece including the sender address," according to the agency. The rear isn't scanned, nor are the insides.
Importantly, you do get the sender's name and address.
Remarkably, there's no extra charge for the service.
Delivery notifications are daily, and the scans are generated as the letters pass though the sorting equipment.
Interestingly, mail has been scanned for a long time. It's captured as it goes through the sorting—that's how zip codes and the like are barcoded.
Every item is marked with fluorescent bars imprinted on the back, and ultimately gets a barcode on the front.
The Informed Delivery service is only available in certain zip codes for now. They include some in Virginia, New York City, and Connecticut, according to an Engadget report about the service.
Engadget's readers have some pretty amusing comments on the article. One reader who claims to have been part of the beta says "the problem is now I get pictures of junk mail in my inbox as well as the actual junk mail in my mailbox."
Another: "Awesome. Now the hackers will know when I've got a credit card bill, and from which company," says sfrernadez0013.
The postal service has been trying to find ways to remain valid ever since it saw a reduction in mail delivery as the Internet kicked in and its former customers turned from letters and monthly bills to Inboxes, online billing and statements, and then later, social networks for communications.
Luckily for the USPS, e-commerce also rolled in, and some of those missing letters were replaced with packages. Saved by the doorbell, as it were.
And now, if you'll excuse me, my supermarket circular is about to arrive. Habits can be hard to break.
This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?