Changing the rules of mail

Michael Garrity, vice-president of sales of EPOST Canada, admits that has a pretty lofty goal. The organization views the day when Canadians will be able to tear down their mailboxes since the boxes will no longer be needed. A lofty goal indeed.

Garrity recently spoke at the CIO Summit in Toronto, about the future of EPOST and the fact that more and more Canadians are using the Internet for all forms of communication, from conversing with our grandmothers to paying our phone and hydro bills.

The first thing to understand is that EPOST is a separate entity from Canada Post, though it is partially owned by the latter.

Another is that the EPOST service is free. Which then begs the question, “how is the postal system going to make up for the millions of dollars in lost postage (paid by Canadians each year) if Canadians use EPOST as their primary means of non-verbal communication?”

“Well that is a good question,” Garrity admitted. “I think that it comes with the recognition, certainly by Canada Post when they first invested in this organization, that they [were] already going to lose that business,” Garrity explained in a subsequent interview. Translation: the postal industry, as we know it today, is a dying breed, and the Internet and courier companies are the chief cause of its demise.

People are already paying bills on-line and the number of users is constantly increasing, Garrity explained. EPOST gets some of its revenue from the corporations who use it as a bill payment solution.

In areas like consumer to consumer correspondence, e-mail has already replaced a significant portion of the traditional postal business, Garrity added.

The incentive to go with EPOST, versus another full service on-line bill payment company, is a slightly more difficult sell since the EPOST version of e-mail is not true e-mail, but more like an intranet’s instant messaging. You can only communicate with other EPOST users.

“You need lots of bells and whistles in this business to keep people coming to your site or using your service,” Garrity said, admitting the e-mail portion of the site was basically to attract users. But EPOST has a few other aces up its sleeve to help entice new users to join, according to Garrity.

don’t touch the mail!

“If somebody tried to break into our system, and again I don’t encourage anyone to do that, but if somebody were to try to break into our system, it is tampering with the mail, it is a federal offence,” Garrity said.

And that is it in a nutshell. EPOST’s security and encryption are no better than anyone else’s (128 bit) but the penalty for breaking in is rather more severe.

“It is our job to demonstrate to [Canadians] that the protection that they have, the legal framework protection that they have, gives them a certain amount of ease as to who is looking at their personal information and what they are using it for,” he said.

“We have a legal framework around our organization under the Canada Post Act that says that even if we wanted to, we are not allowed to keep information on customers, we are not allowed to share the list of who is getting what bills sent to them, with anybody.”

As millions of us deal with spam, an over-abundance of unsolicited junk in our inboxes and the unnerving feeling that our every move is being monitored, tracked and tagged, the fact that EPOST legally can’t data mine is almost a breath of fresh air.

Though in the future one might question whether our government will be able to ignore such and large untapped source of information and not just change the Canada Post Act so data mining becomes legal.

Useful content is another EPOST ace.

“I think that you will get more content that is relative to you than you will get in any other option,” he said. “We have got to provide value because at the end of the day if this isn’t a valuable service…then I don’t expect [Canadians] to use it,” he explained rather matter-of-factly.

But EPOST can still make a buck from traditional advertisers. Though there is no direct advertising on the site, users can allow for certain types of targeted advertising to reach them by checking off the relevant box off when they sign up. You can alter your choices of at any time. Before being launched, EPOST surveys found that 33 per cent of users said they would not be adverse to receiving targeted advertising. Users are excepting ads at about that rate, Garrity said.

In the future EPOST may even offer other e-mail services. “It is a potential,” Garrity said.

“There is a tremendous infrastructure investment that we would have to make in order to have total end to end e-mail integration.”

“We are looking at it but we would need to be able figure out some other value add services in the peer-to-peer world in order to be able to make that decision,” he concluded.

Currently EPOST has about 125,000 users and has one million users as its goal by the end of 2001.