People approach USPS lines with the same dread as they would a DMV line. That’s why, for about nearly 20 years, people have largely opted for email unless they need to send a package.
It didn’t have to be this way.
A new feature from Bloomberg reveals that the United States Postal Service’s history is fraught with technological missteps, from the time that it started a half-electronic competitor to email, to the time it tried to get the jump on electronic check processing and delivering booze, only to be stopped by the government.
In 1977, a congressionally-appointed committee saw a future in which people paid their bills and chatted online. The committee envisioned USPS getting involved in this future.
Unfortunately for USPS, it did not create email. Instead what it created was E-COM, a service that had one foot in digital and the other in physical. E-COM got rid of the three-day wait in delivering snail mail (it could take that long from coast-to-coast ) by electronically transmitting the letters to postage workers who would then seal the letters and hand them off to couriers locally.
This ended up being a stopgap; the service lost $84 million before it shut down, and its biggest use was essentially for spam. A Detroit direct car sales company was the service’s biggest customer.
This failed idea would stymie the agency’s future attempts at modernising. Even in years when it was in the red, the USPS would shy away from having its own email service, it would refuse to do check scanning when years later that would be the norm for banking apps, and it would deny itself the tech that has made Silicon Valley so successful.
Read on if you’re interested in the startup giant the USPS could have been.