I hate mailing things. I hate having to figure out how much postage to use, having to properly copy down the address (which for some reason still includes a city and state even though ZIP codes are a perfectly good system), and having to get a stupid slip from the post office to track my package as it goes through their system.
So I did the programmer thing, and thought of a solution.
What if you had the ability to generate an ID for your package on the USPS website?
You could specify the to and return address, you could pay with a credit card, and you could add whatever options you want. When you check out, you get an ID (somewhere around 16 characters so that it’s not a pain to copy over) and you write that on the package or letter. And you put it in a mailbox.
When it gets to a post office, it will go through the existing mail processing systems. But instead of trying to decipher an address, as well as verify correct postage, the machines (or people) could just input the ID, see where it’s going, and sort it.
This is an improvement over the current system, but you don’t see the full benefits until you look at edge cases.
For instance, if you’re buying something off of eBay, and you don’t want the seller to know your address. You could pay for the postage and message them the ID. They write it on the package, put it in a mailbox, and it gets delivered to you.
Since each ID is tied to an account and credit card, if the package or letter couldn’t be delivered, you could email the sender and allow them to correct the error (and charge the additional fee to their credit card) or have it returned.
With robust APIs, you could allow the automation of mailing and tracking to be greatly simplified, encouraging additional use of the USPS.
I know that this is not a perfect system. I know that it won’t work for international shipments. I know that some people will still write full addresses. I know that some people will consider it an enormous government tracking scheme.
But the truth is, the USPS needs to innovate.
This system (or something similar to it) doesn’t necessarily need to replace our existing system, but I think it would be a valuable addition, and it might just save the postal service.