Public beta of an electronic mailing alternative to the Post Office

A public beta of an innovative, if ambitious, project originally announced in December is being launched this morning: Imagine if someone who normally sends you mail via your US Mail box outside your front door were instead to send an electronic document to an address that's keyed to that same postal address -- not your e-mail, but your street number. You'd have access to that electronic delivery location because, well, you live there.

That's the notion behind Zumbox, a service that relies on both sender and receiver to be interested in sending regular mail electronically. You may have read about this "electronic mail" concept, it's in all the papers. Zumbox's value proposition is that it may enable services like public utilities, print publications, and other firms that do their business with consumers using dead trees and postal carriers, to instead save the time and post electronic documents (maybe PDFs, maybe Word files) online to the very same postal address.

What's the postage? Just like the regular post office, there's a fee involved -- generally $0.05 per address. For individuals, the first 50 mailings are free; and for bulk mailers, there's a volume discount program. Recipients pay nothing. And the sending of certain things of value by mail, like...well, like money (which can't be sent as a PDF) is facilitated through PayPal. Recipients pay nothing for the service, and they see their mail online using a Web browser from any location.

The crux of Zumbox's value proposition is the notion that the street address should be the single address any business would need to do business with customers, especially since demographics for citizens everywhere are conducted using street addresses. It may be a stretch, but this limited public beta could help determine just how much of one.

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