Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Postcards Exchange


If you've been following this here scrapbook for long, you might have noticed occasional references to something called "PostCrossing."  It has been nearly four years since I actually explained what PostCrossing is, though, so it's probably high time for a little refresher course.

It all started, as I mentioned back then, with a comment from renowned L&TM5K community member fingerstothebone:
I can't believe I didn't remember to tell you this, but I just received a pretty boring postcard from Finland which reminded me -- you should sign up for postcrossing.com to spread boring postcards all over the world, and to receive boring postcards from all over the world.
This was, if not exactly a burning bush, certainly a suggestion with powerful resonance for a guy with my level of spastic affection for paper ephemera.  Plus, fingerstothebone has clout.  So sign up for PostCrossing I did!

Here's how it works: When you feel like sending a postcard, you are given an address and some profile information for someone who lives in a different country from your own.  (In 2007, that country was often Finland, the country where PostCrossing (despite being Portugal-based) first became popular, but these days it is getting more truly global every month.)  So you pick a postcard that you think will be appealing to your recipient, stick a stamp on it, and off it goes.  Eventually, that person gets the card and registers it online; that puts your own name in the queue of people to receive postcards.

So, to recap: you send a postcard to someone, somewhere, and two to twelve weeks later you are rewarded by a postcard from someone else, somewhere else!  Freakin' brilliant.

Now as if this wasn't eerily close enough already to proof that the world is being designed for my personal enjoyment, the PostCrossing platform is set up to all but DEMAND that you geek out on the statistical aspects of the experience.  In addition to charts that list how many cards you've sent and received from various countries and how long it took them to arrive, there are also bulletin boards of the cards you've sent, received, and favorited, maps of where your cards have come from and gone to, and charts documenting your activity.

Having sent 130 postcards and received 125 at this point, I've got a fairly dense map:

Clearly there is some bias here towards places where people can write in English (official language of the PostCrossing experiment!) and have the scratch for international postage (generally 98 cents a throw, for you UnitedStatsians in the crowd, a not insignificant expense).

Like a lot of these online communal activities, you can kind of dip your toe in and out over time.

After an initial burst of enthusiasm, I moved on to, well, something else before rediscovering it last summer and really enjoying it over the last year.  At the moment, though, PostCrossing is getting crowded out by work pressures and other interests, and I don't think I'll send any cards for a while.  Will this turn out to be like the brief February pause, or like the two year desert of '08-'10?  We'll just have to come back and check the graph!

I've been keeping my PostCrossing cards in old photo albums that I buy for pennies at estate sales, so feel free to ask for a look if you happen to drop by the castle.  In the meantime, here's a selection of a very few favorites I've received.

My profile says I like "old" cards, so I get a lot of reproduction antique cards, which is cool.

I also try to explain that I like "boring postcards," and it's interesting to watch people struggle with that concept:

And then, sometimes people just ignore my preferences and send me postcards they know are cool.  That's good too.

Do I owe YOU a postcard?  Working on it.  I've been swamped!  Really!


Dug said...

So what does one write in a postcard to someone they've never met in Turkmenistan?
"What's it like to live in your country?"
"is your leader really insane?"
"How do you like your postcards?"
"Do you get Jersey Shore there?"
"Do you like Radiohead?"
"Even the new one?"

Yankee in England said...

I have seen postcrossing updates on your FB profile a number of times and always thought it would be fun to do but then never get around to signing up. I have now signed up and written my first postcard ready to send off tomorrow!

Michael5000 said...

Yank -- There's another UnitedStatsean who told me they signed up as well. But when YOU sign up, it raises the exciting possibility that ONE OF US MIGHT BE ASSIGNED TO SEND THE OTHER A POSTCARD. Which would be trippy.

Incidentally, on PostCrossing I go by "Michael5000."

Dug: I can't think of a better set of questions to pose to the Turkmen on the street.

Aviatrix said...

Okay, I signed up and sent two postcards, one to a lady on an island in Finland who has sent over 3000 cards, and one to a guy in Spain. I just told them where I got the postcards. There isn't much room for writing after $1.75 worth of stamps and the code.

Dug said...

What I was really wondering is what do you say to someone you don't know? Is there a script? Do you just riff? Or just use the fact that post cards are small to not have to say much of anything.

Michael5000 said...

Aviatrix: w00t!

Dug: Their profile usually gives you a prompt, and also an idea of their English level. If they are struggling with English and have a cat, you announce that you like cats. If they have good English and mention their interest in cartography, you express your own enthusiasm for maps. If it's an 8 year old boy from Malaysia, you give enthusiastic greetings from the United States. Or, like Aviatrix, you can explain why you chose the postcards. People with interesting profiles tend to be fun to send cards to; people with boring profiles tend to be a little boring to send cards to.