I Love It When People Fix My Problems

One feature that I had in mind for the 1.1 release of Kalzumeus (does it even make sense to have a 1.1 version of a webapp?  Well, you get the general drift) was the ability to send a real, honest-to-God postal mail in an automated fashion.  It is a requirement with legal significance for some of my customers, and all of my customers would see the ability and go “Oooh, that would save me so much hassle”.  I have been searching for a good way to do this for a while.  Obviously, doing it myself would transform me from a highly-paid software developer to a low-paid postal clerk, which is frankly stupid when there are plenty of businesses out there which offer ways to do it without ever having to lick a stamp.

I was originally planning on using the Post Office’s API.  They have a service called NetPost which is aimed at direct marketers.  The prices are pretty high for one piece ($2.25 or so) but reasonable if you’re sending hundreds, I guess.  I used to use this any time I needed to send a letter to America which didn’t need a physical signature on it, since it costs about the same as sending a letter internationally and gets there a week earlier.

However, cost issues aside ($2.25 is dwarfed by the number of sales this will get me, and I can probably charge extra for it for customers who use it on a regular basis), I really hate having to learn another API.  It is one more thing that can go wrong with my application, and the consequences of a letter not being sent when my app reports it sent are rather severe.  Then today I ran into a site called Postful, which has a much more convenient interface — send them an email, they send out a letter.  You preload your account in advance and after that its $.99 a letter for one page, which is where all the letters I’d be sending are.

Composing an email to my requirements is trivial, since I already have the exact same functionality elsewhere in the program to deliver this notification via email.   As a result, this will probably get into the 1.0 release of Kalzumeus.

As an extra bonus, I can now save myself $1.25 the next time I have to send out a letter to the States.  Yay.

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10 Comments on “I Love It When People Fix My Problems”

  1. Ian Says:

    I”d be a bit nervous about relying on a beta service like this. What if they go out of business tomorrow?

  2. Patrick Says:

    The greatest thing about being the littlest guy in the pond is that the likelihood that any of my business partners would go under is dwarfed by the likelihood that I will go under, so there is very little marginal risk involved 🙂

    No, seriously, what would happen is that I’d have a 48 hour interruption for one particular module of my service while frantically coding something to interface with the Post Office, and then everything would be back to normal. In the meanwhile, a handful of my customers would attempt to use the letter sending functionality, and I would dutifully walk to my local Internet cafe, print them out, then walk to the local FedEx affiliate and put them on the next plane to America. So it ends up being a ~$50 oops instead of total catastrophe, assuming that startup does go under.

    This is fairly similar to the strategy if my Bingo Card Creator CD integration ever failed. Having so many customers that its physically impossible for me to manually service them all is, alas, a worry I will not have in the immediate future.

  3. Ian Says:

    Good point. I guess if this takes off you can get some interns and have them mail letters all day 🙂

    So when are you going to revel this thing, I hate this being coy stuff. You could be getting a lot of good links to this sucker right now. Don’t waste time being shy!

  4. SH Says:

    Holy crap, Patrick! That is such a good idea. Hope you don’t mind if I steal it. 🙂

  5. Doug Says:

    Patrick, could I recommend a service that my “day job” company offers? It’s called FlyDoc (http://www.flydoc.com/), it and will do what you are looking for. There is a web services API (in additiion to FTP and SMTP), and you can do mail, fax, e-mail or sms for outbound. Shoot me an e-mail if you are interested as I think the price would be competitive with what you are looking at otherwise.

  6. Patrick Says:

    Always happy to hear recommendations. I’ll take a look at it.

  7. Scott Meade Says:

    Patrick – I tried out postful.com by creating one letter to myself from an email. It worked perfectly. The letter came first class mail with a real stamp. High quality color printing on the envelope and letter. Seems like they might have something there.

  8. Patrick Says:

    Thanks for the report.

  9. AJS Says:

    Patrick – you were just talking in a previous entry about how SMTP is not secure. Hopefully, these letters are not highly sensitive?

  10. Patrick Says:

    There is no loss in security relative to them being mailed.


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