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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More About Volly

The Game of Hearts: All or Nothing
I spent a bit more time reviewing some of the information on Volly.  The post I made regarding this new Pitney Bowes (PB) service generated a lot of interested.

The service is described in more detail here:

Operationally this service is present as "cloud based" virtual mail box.  Presumably PB provides the end-point consumer (you or I) this service "for free" and the traditional PB content customers (mailers and so forth) replace their expensive mailing operations (printers, inserters, etc.) with some sort of digital process that sends the content directly to the "cloud" and hence right into the consumers virtual mail box.

In a world where this kind of information is already available online PB tries to make the deal for the endpoint consumer "sweeter" by adding in the ability to interact with the content, as no only receive the bills but also to pay them, archive them, and other things.

Of course there would be the usual panoply of "apps" on iPhones, computers, and so forth to "help remind you" of what's going on.

The website also contains a long and detailed description of security: passwords, public key encryption, SSL, and so forth to ensure that no ones personal data is let free or stolen.

From the perspective of businesses the number one "benefit" of Volly would appear to be the acceleration of what they call "paper turn-off".  There is talk about branding advantages and so forth but those seem less clear.

Considering all of this lets think about what PB is saying and doing here.

First of all, internet usage in industrialized countries hovers around 70-80%.  This compares favorably with the 100% penetration of the local postal service.  My guess is that companies like Fedex and UPS touch that same 80%, at least here in the US, and that the 20% without internet likely only rely on the US mail for their content.  I would guess a large percentage of those without internet would be the elderly - particularly those who live in communal situations like assisted living and nursing homes.

So Volly basically believes that those 20% or so can still get paper mail - that's basically a given. 

The rest are happy to be online with things.

As far as bill paying goes (according to this PDF which only covers to 2005) about 38% of people bank online.  So lets say that's roughly half of those who are online in the first place.  I would estimate that if you are paying a bill online then you already have at least some online access to banking and billing material, e.g., via your bank website or something like that.

Now, based on my Iceland experience, its seems that if you have high penetration of internet within the base of the countries postal service users you have a good chance, at the "country" level of doing something like Volly successfully.  The reason I believe is that you have a captive market - both physically and financially.  Physically in the sense that there is no other way to interact with the mail stream and financially because no one wants to spend the $.50 USD per piece to physically mail something they don't have too.

For a Volly to succeed in the long run I think it basically has to become the USPS.  Otherwise there will be fragmented access to online content as there is now.  Today its fragmented by vendors I use.  I have various credit and bank accounts, retail accounts, and so on - each with their own web site.  Most of these don't send me mail so they are not potentially part of Volly.  For those that do, e.g., a banking statement, those just serve as backups.

Now if you introduce a new Volly "layer" into this mix where will would you be?  I think in a worse situation.

I don't what to have to log onto Volly to get my mail, then have to switch to another site to do something interesting with that account.  One reason is that physical bills for me create a sort of queue of work. 

Being a geezer I feel no need to live in a world where my iPhone rules my life. (By this I mean that I jump to respond to a text or phone call on demand.  Why is this a good thing?  Mail coming three times a week, as I mentioned before, is more than enough.  I don't need Volly sending me a reminder every time a bill shows up.)

I think that Volly ends up being like the card game Hearts.  Its all or nothing.  Either Volly becomes the USPS in some way and everything is done that way or its a loser.

If I could cause my physical mailbox to "go away" and be replaced by an  online service for everything that might otherwise show up there I would go for it.  Now I still only have one place to go for mail.  On the other hand if half my mail shows up in the physical mailbox and some other percentage shows up in Volly that would be a pain.

I would much rather go to the bank site and deal with that than do it through some third party.

Only an act of Congress is going to change postal law.  Rather than fool around with things as they are now PB should be trying to goad the USPS into cutting delivery back to 3 days a week and taking the savings and executing pilot programs to replace the current USPS with something like Volly (it would become the next big thing - like defense contracting - or the IRS).  I can image Google and Microsft all vying for a position in this as well.

Side Rant: 

Eventually the world is going to figure out that living in an interrupt driven society is a mistake (interrupt driven meaning that your life is driven by phones, texts, reminders, and so forth triggering you to respond).  I mean, how do you get anything done?  Much of my work involves complex thinking - the kind that might take 5-10 minutes just to get into the place where I have all the mental content loaded up in order to do the work.  If an interruption occurs every 5 minutes then I never get anything done because the interruption sort of necessitates restarting the whole process from the start.

I have learned that the best thing I can do with my iPhone is to make it serve me better - not everyone else.  I mean, do I really need to see "LOL - I wrecked my car!! (pic attached)"?

I think business all want to jump onto the social network bandwagon as well - its what's hot.  But physical things that are nuisance in the first place aren't any more fun with social media-type web interactions.

The Bell Telephone system, telegraphs, buggy whips, and countless other things have retired from our lives - lets look at the USPS in the same way - but let's have some pride and vision in the replacement  and try an replace it with something that will last as long as possible rather than hitching our wagon to the next fad.

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