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The postage stamp is a relic of a bygone era
arguably this could be said of the postal system
Stamps being a physical item that is used to prove
they are error prone, costly to handle (as the stamps
themselves must be distributed to customers,
then cancelled mechanically), and
users (ever wanted to send a letter but couldn't find
stamp?). In the age of the Intarwebs, this is roughly
equivalent to having to crank a handle in order to
call on your cell phone.
It's high time that the post office moves to a modern
system, wherein customers have accounts (prepaid,
naturallyI'm sure the post office would
reluctant to give up the float on stamp sales), and
by using barcodes that link to their accounts, from
appropriate postage is deducted. The barcodes
printed by the end users themselves, and would
unique "Postage ID" number for each piece of mail.
The PID would consist of the following:
The customer's account number
A code representing the service desired (first class,
The date and time of postage generation (to
PID produced by a single device is unique)
The unique device identifier of the generator (e.g.
address, to guarantee that PIDs generated
different devices are unique)
A 256 bit random number (just to assure that every
generated is truly unique, even if the date/time is
Additionally, each label would contain a
hash of the above information with the addition of a
code known only by the user and the post office. To
that the PID is valid and not fraudulently generated,
post office performs the same hash on the data, and
that it matches the hash printed on the label.
Unlike current systems for pre-printing postage, the
incur no charge until they actually enter the postal
Because of this, labels could be printed en masse
time, or even applied using a handheld device
print and apply labels (sort of like a high-tech pricing
Anyone in possession of the secret code could
labels at any time, anywhere, without requiring an
connection. Additionally, the PID could serve as a
number (or a shorter tracking number could even be
into the PID, for greater convenience in looking it up
(NB: 8th of 7 posted an idea touching on the basic
some years ago, but I feel this idea is different
scope and depth to warrant its own post.)
Credit where it is due:
Personal barcode stamps
(8th of 7) [ytk, Sep 15 2011]
Frankly my dear, I don't need a stamp. [zen_tom, Sep 15 2011]
Wikipedia: Postage Meter
(Otherwise known as a Franking Machine) [zen_tom, Sep 15 2011]
||Postage stamps are one of those fantastically simple ideas that should be preserved forever. Buy a bit of sticky paper, stick it on your letter and shove it in a post box and then your correspondence will be magically transported to its intended recipient, possibly within just a few hours. Why would I want to give up this system for one where I have to manage an account?
||I don't see that this is at all different from the
current system, as described in your penultimate
||You say that "the labels have no value until they
actually enter the postal system". But, if my
workplace prints off a postage label using the
current system, it has no value other than to send
the item. (And, even if it did have value and was
re-sellable in the same way as a stamp, so what?
The post-office still gets its money, and someone
else uses the label to send an item.)
||So, what's new with your system?
||So now I have to manufacture the crank before I turn the handle? Printing is logistically problematic sometimes.
||To be FRANK(-ing machine) I think the idea has merit, it's just that FRANK(-ing machine)LY the whole postage on account thing has already been done, only without all that barcode business. [edit - actually, it looks as though it has been done along with all manner of barcodery]
||I *do* like the barcode/tracking concept - like DHL but for everything, if only as a means of making all post trackable. I want to be able to look up on the internet and see a list of all the letters I've ever sent, and be able to see which were delivered, and which really were lost in the post.
||//lost in the post//
Meaning "scraped for tender".
||This is not at all like a postage meter. Think of a
postage meter like a portable ATM. You can go and
withdraw postage from the machine, up to the value
stored in the individual machine. The money is deducted
from your account at the time of printing. This means
that you must know in advance of printing the postage
how many items you wish to send, what the cost is for
each item, and when you want to send it. You must also
have enough money in the meter in order to generate
the number of labels you need. This system is more like
a checkbook, where the value of each label is
indeterminate, and no money is deducted until it is
actually processed by the post office. When you write a
check, the money isn't deducted from your account
immediately. The key difference between this system
and a postage meter is that until the item is actually
processed by the post office, NO money is deducted.
||Consider the advantages of this:
||You could generate any number of postage labels
anywhere, any time, without knowledge of when you
want to send the item, how many items you want to
send, or even how much they cost to send.
Unused postage labels could be discarded at no cost.
Postage labels could be printed directly onto the
envelope as part of printing the address.
You could even have envelopes preprinted with your
PID at essentially no extra cost at the time of printing.
You don't need to use a postage meter to generate
postage labels. You don't need to check with the post
office before printing them, or even have sufficient
money in the account to cover all the labels you print.
||As a practical example, consider a warehouse that sends
out items via the postal service. Currently, a picker
would have to find the item in the warehouse, then
bring it to shipping, where it is weighed and measured
to determine appropriate postage, the postage must be
applied, and then the item deposited in the mail. Under
the proposed system, the picker could generate the
mailing and postage labels immediately upon retrieving
the item, then deposit it directly in the mail. No
postage meter is required, since any device, even a
handheld one with no network connection, could
generate the appropriate barcode without needing to
worry about deducting postage. In fact, each item in
the warehouse could have a postage label pre-applied
perhaps even integrated into the packagingand only
the mailing address need be added before shipping.
||/Why would I want to give up this system for one where
I have to manage an account?/
||You might not, but in a time when the very existence of
the USPS is threatened by rising costs and decreasing
usage, it makes sense for the post office to cut expenses
where possible. One way is by automating the postage
system. No need to find, check, and cancel stamps
anymoreall of these steps could be done as quickly as
an optical reader could find the barcode. Unusually
shaped items wouldn't need to be separated out for
||/So now I have to manufacture the crank before I turn
the handle? Printing is logistically problematic
||You might still use stamps for hand addressed letters
and so on, but for anything where the address is printed
the vast majority of mail sentthe postage label could
be printed at the same time, reducing cost and hassle.
||Ah, OK - I see. So the label is really acting as a sort
of "invoice address" so that the sender's prepaid
account can be billed?
||[+], then. But it would be clearer if you said " the
labels incur no charge until..." rather than "the
labels have no value until...", and also this is pretty
much the system used by carriers like Fedex, as far
as I know.
||Good pointI've made that change.
||It is indeed similar to the system used by FedEx et al.,
except that those shipping labels still must be generated
by the carrier and are only valid for a specific shipment
of a single item to a given destination. These labels can
be generated algorithmically by anyone with the
appropriate secret code for an account number, and are
valid for any shipment regardless of when, how, or to
where the item is to be shipped.
||In fact, this idea could be extended even further. Since
the PID would be a unique identifier for a given package,
it would be possible to simply relay the shipping
information to the post office, avoiding the step of
having to print it on the package itself (although the
post office would probably have to do sowhich could be
a service for which they charge an additional fee).
Imagine that the PID label is preprinted directly on the
packaging for a product manufactured overseas. These
items could be ordered by customers, and as the orders
are placed, the manufacturer relays the delivery address
for a given PID to the post office over the Internet
perhaps even while the goods themselves are still in a
cargo container aboard a freight liner being shipped to
the destination country. When the products finally
arrive and are unloaded, they could be simply deposited
directly in the mail with no further handling necessary.