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Checking Out Earth Class Mail

If you know anything about me, you probably know that I'm horrible at replying to email and so you can imagine how much worse I am with paper mail. Back in August, I moved out of my apartment I had been living in for two years and decided that since I was traveling at least eight out of the next ten weeks that it wasn't worth getting a new place immediately. Rather, through the amazing generosity of my friends, found ways to stay on couches or spare beds (it also helps when crucially travels just as much as I do). This of course only made my mail situation worse as I didn't have an easy forwarding address. So, I signed up for Earth Class Mail.

Still loving Earth Class Mail; it makes paper mail so much more civilized!

A month and a half later and I was still happy; receiving email telling me I had new paper mail with a scan of the envelope and a web interface where I could choose to open and scan the contents, group together a few pieces of paper mail and ship them to me, shred it, or recycle junk mail.

All of a sudden, I could manage my paper mail via the Internet instead of having huge piles sitting at home which I never touched. This also meant that if I was actually being sent something important and I was out of town, I could see the scanned contents instead of having to wait until I was home. Didn't want to deal with a piece of mail, no problem as it was sitting in their warehouse instead of my living room.

I've been up in Portland the past two weeks for the holidays which coincidentally is where Earth Class Mail is headquartered. A few days, ago their community manager @UncleNate shot me a message asking if I'd be interested in checking out their facility. So yesterday – yes they work on Saturdays too – I drove over to Beaverton to get a tour of their warehouse. It's an old Tektronix building which was originally built not really as a building but rather as a machine. It's full of row after row of shelving that used to have computer controlled robots running on tracks in the ceiling fetching, storing, and moving all sorts of stuff. Today, it's a nondescript security-conscious facility (I couldn't take photos inside) sorting, scanning, storing and shipping a shit ton of mail.

Nate walked me through their process from receiving mail and packages to taking all of the normal sized envelopes and running them through modified mail sorting machines. These machines are like those used by the USPS but also scan the front and apply a unique barcode to each piece of mail. This kicks off a job which sends out emails, like the one above, automatically letting everyone know that they have a new piece of mail. From there, mail is sorted into tubs and stored until more jobs come in to open and scan, ship, shred, or recycle a piece of mail.

They're also proactively looking for mail (by the barcode) that needs something to happen to it every time they're re-running a tub through one of the sorters. This means that if I have a piece of mail in tub 183 which I've asked to be shipped to me and you have a piece in the same tub that you asked to be recycled, when they pull the tub and run it through the sorter to automatically find my piece of mail to ship, the machine will also automatically sort out your piece to be recycled. Everyone in the warehouse is wearing pocket-less coveralls and no cell phones, cameras, etc are allowed and the people opening and scanning mail work in separate locked room.

All in all, a pretty cool operation (with even cooler mail robots coming to their warehouse in the future) and it was great for Nate to see that I was a happy customer, that I grew up in and was visiting Portland, and to proactively reach out to show me just how they took over dealing with the paper mail I love to ignore.


Jan. 5th, 2009 04:04 am (UTC)
Yeah, that format should work fine.

It seems in my account that I can add multiple names to the "allowed list" (I did variations of my name) so I'd imagine you'd be alright as long as you are the only "recipient".

It doesn't look like there's a way to do referrals, but that would be a nice idea. :)