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Outbox delivers your snail mail to your iPhone or iPad

This intriguing new service, currently rolling out in San Francisco, collects your physical mail, then opens, scans, and delivers it via app or browser.

Outbox wants to turn all your snail-mail into digital mail, which you can view, sort, and share on your iDevice.
Outbox wants to turn all your snail-mail into digital mail, which you can view, sort, and share on your iDevice. Outbox

Mail service as we know it just doesn't work anymore. Too much junk. Too much hassle sorting, scanning, and/or filing the stuff we need to keep. And, let's be honest, so much of what arrives in our mailboxes could -- some would say should -- arrive electronically.

Austin-based startup Outbox wants to make that happen by digitizing all of your physical mail and delivering it to you electronically on your iPhone or iPad, or your PC.

Interesting proposition, wouldn't you say? Think about it: no more daily trek to the mailbox followed by the daily armload of junk into the trash can. Instead, everything gets intercepted and made digital, thus allowing you to block what you don't want and archive what you do.

It works like this: Three times per week, Outbox collects your actual mail from your actual mailbox. (This works only with locked boxes. Interestingly, the company makes a copy of your key based on photos supplied by you.)

That mail gets opened, scanned, and stored. (Packages are delivered outright to your front door.) You can then view it via the Web or your iDevice, where you have options for organizing, archiving, searching, and so on. You can also e-mail your mail and create tasks based on specific mail (like, say, a bill or an invitation).

If there's a piece of mail you decide you want in the flesh, so to speak, just submit a request and Outbox will (re)deliver it. Anything left unrequested for 30 days gets shredded and recycled, though you retain access to the digital version unless you delete it.

Of particular interest in Outbox's method for dealing with junk mail: one click and you can unsubscribe from the sender, meaning no more unwanted catalogs and similar junk.

Following an alpha test with some 500 users, Outbox is rolling out in San Francisco on March 25. The first month is free; the service costs $4.99 per month after that.

Needless to say, this raises all kinds of security concerns. Someone other than the USPS has access to your mailbox? Your mail gets collected by strangers, then opened and viewed by a business?

You'll definitely want to read Outbox's privacy policy, which does note that "Outbox opens and scans the mail sent to you and your household, and in the process collects information about you, your household and the parties that send you mail. Outbox also retains such scanned images of your mail on its servers." That doesn't sound too keen, though one could argue it's hardly different than the personal information already collected based on the Web sites you visit, products you buy, and so on.

Meanwhile, check Outbox's FAQ page for information on mail security. It says the company's "unpostmen" and other workers "go through a stronger background check than U.S. Postal Service workers go through, giving us the best trained and highest rated workforce."

I must say I'm enamored of the idea behind Outbox, though not necessarily the business-driven, non-governmental nature of it. In an ideal world, the USPS itself would start offering exactly this kind of service, and for about the same price.

What do you think? Would you use a service like this? If you live in San Francisco, will you sign up? Share your thoughts in the comments.