What’s your idea?

GOING POSTAL is an answer to John Grant’s post about junkmail on the Social Innovation Camp website.

With GOING POSTAL, I want to make the process of stopping unwanted postal junk mail as easy as unsubscribing from email newsletters, and I want to provide feedback about how much carbon and paper I’ve saved by doing this as an individual, but also as part of a larger community.

I believe this can be done by using ideas (and maybe code) from mySociety’s Freedom of Information request website whatdotheyknow.com, the ‘lazy activist’ tone and the ‘look at what we’ve achieved together!’ positivity of The Nag and the ubiquity of SMS to web gateways to make it available everywhere.

What’s really new about your idea?

This is a decentralised, collaborative approach to solving a problem that has previously been managed centrally (using the mail preference system), without too much thought to how we interact with junk mail.

It’s different because the emphasis here is on giving very low barriers of entry to interacting with the service, and then aggregating this activity, to expose the data for interesting visualisations.

When we have data (geo coordinates from an address requesting no more junkmail, performance stats companies reply to users, carbon footprint data from AMEE etc.), we’re able to make visible the previously unseen:

  • junk-maps to see how much junkmail your area is getting, and stats to see how much paper is being wasted doing this
  • public league tables of the best and worst performers, by showing how quickly they respond to requests to stop sending mail, to how much they’ve improved, how many other ways they provide for customers to engage with them without relying on direct mail.

Making public this data gives us another tool in the form of public opinion and peer pressure to help persuade companies away from sending so much untargeted junk mail.

I’m also really interested in applying some sophisticated thinking about privacy, identity and OpenID style delegation of access to personal data to the real world with this project. Examples would be:

  • OAuth style control over postal mailing lists, to give granular control over who has access to your details for sending direct mail to you – maybe having a single dashboard to help you see at a glance who’s mailing lists you’re on, so you can switch them on and off.
  • Delegating access to information about yourself, so for when you move house, so you don’t have to manually update your details with everyone when you move. Instead, you change it at one place, and change can automatically be pushed to companies you’re interested in sharing it with.

The basic user journeys are sketched out, and I know what technical tools you would use, and have a good idea about what code libraries the site would have use to make the tool work. I also have some ideas for how it could deliver measurable value for users, and how to make it financially sustainable.

What inspired you to come up with your idea in the first place?

In no particular order…

  • John Grant’s initial call to action on the Social Innovation Camp website: one in 20 sheets of paper used in the UK is junkmail – this is crazy!
  • Calling up companies repeatedly to ask them to stop sending me junk mail, and getting nowhere.
  • Listening to what Leadbeater, Lessig, Rageboy, Shirky, Sinclair, and a load of others have to say about solving complex social problems using the web.
  • Having a brilliant experience at Social Innovation Camp last time, meeting loads of really interesting people, and wishing I had submitted an idea of my own.
  • A belief that being turned into unwanted junkmail is a sad, sad fate for a tree.

From 1-5, what stage of development would you say your idea was in?

Three – I know how the various parts would work, I have two co-conspirators (one designer/illustrator, backend developer) so far, and I’ve run the idea by people working in sales, consulting, marketing to get their feedback, to see what they would want as users of the tool.

I believe a fair degree of the functionality we would need has already been implemented in other open source apps like mySociety’s first Rails app, whatdotheyknow.com.

No wireframes, or prototype yet, no business plan with numbers, and no funding yet.

I’m REALLY, REALLY keen for a project blogger or person with soft skills away from the technical end of web development to help us document the whole process, to help provide as much context on the day, to help refine the presentation on Sunday 7th Dec.

If Social Innovation Camp is able to help push your idea forward, do you have the time or desire to take ownership of it?

I work as a freelance designer/developer and I’m dead keen on seeing this actually work, in a functional sense, and in a financial sense as well – I want to keep working on it after Social Innovation Camp, and I am looking for people who I can work with onwards.

I’d be happy to let the idea be taken forward, or replicated elsewhere, especially if they can deliver what we’re trying to make better than we can, while keeping the source code free for others to build on whatever we’ve made so far.

Tell us anything else you think we should know, but keep it to less than 150 words.

We would all benefit from a way to cut down on the amount of junk mail that is sent to us – our lives would be simpler, our carbon footprints lighter, and we’d all feel ever so slightly smug about solving this infuriating, wasteful problem, in such a low effort, visible and collaborative fashion.

Idea submitted by Chris Adams

Chris works as a developer/designer, working with a business partner at their seven month old company Stemcel Studios.

Comments 6 Responses to GOING POSTAL

  • I feel really positive about this idea, it would be useful to so many people, both consumers and business. The environmental impact would be huge.

    As a creative who has worked in advertising, I do think direct mail has it’s place, and as someone who runs a business – it would be extremely useful to know the people I am mailing are actually interested to receive what I am sending – giving me a targeted campaign that costs a lot less money.

    Good Luck!

      |   November 10, 2008 — 3:05 pm
  • This is beyond brilliant. I was just thinking how silly it is for the Royal mail to send us a little card on the cut-off days for x’mas mail – it’s so easy to check this kind of info these days I much prefer to find out ourselves online. Using POSTAL can help people who are already digitally connected to reduce their carbon footprint, while not limiting the less digitally connected people to stay connected they way they used to.

    Love it!

      |   November 21, 2008 — 1:47 pm
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