With that in mind, how do you bridge the gap between electronic mail and snail mail? A new start up named eSnailer thinks they have the answer. They promise to post a real letter, for free, to anyone via USPS. They don't specify, but it appears that the service likely only works in the US and possibly Canada, and I had trouble getting it to accept an address in Australia.
I decided to use the service to sent a letter to my grandfather, who try as I might simply refuses to let me set him up with a computer. eSnailer is a pretty simple service that exists mostly on a single page, with instructions given by a snail who looks like he'd be at home at a Grateful Dead concert. After entering your return address and the address of your recipient, you type out your letter using a WYSIWYG editor. When you're done, you can preview and send. Ah, but now the catch.
eSnailer sends mail for free, but only after you agree to accept one of the "offers" it solicits you with after you complete your missive. The instructions aren't very clear, so I ended up actually accepting two offers (or maybe it sent me to fill out details for the wrong one?). This is not unlike those "sign up for a ton of free junk and get an iPod" ads you see all over the Internet. The solicitations I was offered included email coupons from Papa John's Pizza, home loans from LendingTree, and information on Disney World and Las Vegas vacations.
Once you've said yes to an offer, eSnailer promises to print, and post your letter within 24 hours -- I'll come back and edit this post when and if my grandfather receives the one I sent. After your letter is sent, the site bombards you with a bunch of other offers for "free" junk, but these you don't have to accept. Since it doesn't appear you need to do any email confirmation, I just used a GMail account I only check about once per month to sign up for my pizza coupons.
So is eSnailer worth it? Probably not. The amount of hassle and junk mail that sending each letter will cost you probably isn't worth the 41 cent stamp and effort it takes to print your letter and address an envelope by hand. That said, as sad as it seems, I probably would be more likely to send postal letters to people if I could do so just by filling out a form on the Internet. Because I am on my computer all day, the convenience of email attached to a real letter would be welcome. If eSnailer offered a service that stored my address book online so I didn't have to constantly retype the recipient's address, and allowed me to pay the postage and not have to bother with all the offer mumbo jumbo, that is actually one I would probably use.