The U.S. Postal Service was recently asked to start delivering packages and letters based on someones e-mail rather than street address.
The request is from Los Angeles-based Inventerprise LLC, which wants to conduct a trial run of its so-called Shelmail e-mail-to-snail addressing system sometime in 2008.
The Shelmail proposal is noteworthy because it suggests that e-mail addresses are a better means of delivering physical mail than what the postal service uses now.
Put another way, Shelmail questions just what constitutes someones "address" nowadays. For now and probably decades going forward, its a description of a physical location, in the form "101 Second Street, San Francisco, Calif., 94105."
But e-mail is so overwhelmingly popular, it should at the very least be part of the traditional addressing schemes used by postal services, argues Shelmail inventor Shelly Harrison.
In a way, its actually a better means of keeping track of someones whereabouts; after all, people usually change their physical addresses more than their e-mail addresses, he notes.
"We expect ShelMail to simplify peoples lives by eliminating the need for maintaining a physical address book," Harrison wrote in an e-mail. "Just keep up with someones e-mail address, and you are good to go."
Its a rather ambitious proposal, one that the USPS isnt commenting on yet. And many of the pertinent technical details about how it works werent available.
According to whats known of the proposal, the U.S. Postal Service would hand mail addressed in this manner to a third-party company.
The firm then associates the e-mail address to a physical one, and completes the delivery.
The Shelmail system builds upon, but isnt affiliated with, a service offered since 1995 by a company called NetGram, whereby e-mails are converted into a printed format, addressed appropriately and sent off.
One drawback may be the cost of using the service. Harrison estimates Shelmail will cost triple the price of first-class mail, and twice the regular rate for a postcard. But the convenience factor may help ease the cost-pinch, he believes.