USPS Informed Delivery

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The United States Postal Service has a new feature called Informed Delivery that emails you pictures of your upcoming mail each morning, if you sign up for it. It started in a few big cities, then the USPS said it would become much more widespread April 14 (NPR article). Your kindly editor got an email on it April 4, 2017 and signed up the next day.

I love it.

What it is

Sign up for it here and get an email notice each morning of mail you are due to receive that day.

  • It only tells you of first class letters.
  • Email times varied widely the first two weeks back in April (7 am to 1 pm), then went to 7:30 to 8:30, and since mid May, 7:30 to 8:00 am.

What it isn't

  • Not packages.
  • Not on Sunday, of course. Or federal mail holidays.
  • Not all bulk mail advertisements. Who cares.

All The Ways It's Useful

Should I check my mailbox?

Not today, if it's all junk. Thanks for saving me the bother, ID. For real.

When does Bank X's mail show up?

Sometimes you might wonder what day of the month certain mail shows up. Does Bank Of America always show up on or about the 6th? Now it's archived forever for you to check any time, just search your gmail on "Informed Delivery Daily Digest".

Digression 1: Don't have an email account with your i.s.p. provider

If you have an email account with your Internet Service Provider (i.s.p.), like a ComCast email account, this is one more reason to move to something not linked to an i.s.p. Don't be tied to one company; it may not be the best choice. And you will eventually switch anyway (like if you move). Have it with someone not tied to your i.s.p.
If you cut the cord, eventually all your mail, over years and even decades, will be in one place. If you think it would be bad to switch now, consider that you are only adding more years that will make it harder to switch. You don't have to stay tied to a bad company (cough).
It's easy, take it one small step at a time:
  1. Make a new gmail account (or some other address, not tied to an i.s.p.) and gradually convert all contacts over to it.
  2. Also set up gmail to rake all your ComCast email forward; you can easily google how to do this.
  3. Check the old account every few weeks to catch people still sending there, and update (your account with) them.
  4. Don't worry too much about old family stragglers because they may never update their info until the day something is bounced, then do it in a flash (laugh).
  5. In 3-24 months, most everyone that matters has quit using the old account, and the ones that haven't, never will until you close it down. So... Close it down.
It may seem hard, but I just showed you a painless way to do it. Stop worrying. Follow these simple steps. Start a new account. Gradually move over. A year from now, the old one will be ancient history.

Digression 2: A word about auto payments

A little birdy told me that some people do not use autopay; people whose first name might be Dan. :) This is not "bill pay" that you set up with your bank; this is auto pay that you set up with each individual company you pay monthly.

This makes it that company's fault if they screw it up. (But it's not true if you use your bank's bill pay.) Screw-ups might happen every year or three, or might never happen. But it makes a huge difference if it's their fault (their auto-pay system). If you are mailing payments, it is always your fault, every time, if it doesn't show up. Even if it's the beloved U.S. Postal Service's fault.

If you can have enough money in an account so that it's never overdrawn,

You - you sir or madam - are wasting your own personal time,

Licking envelopes and sending in payments.

Almost all orgs allow payment by card or checking. If you are not at the rim of insolvency, then let them spend their time withdrawing money from your accounts.

Do not let yourself spend time sending them money.

Every single time you lick another envelope, realize. You just POINTLESSLY WASTED THREE MORE MINUTES OF YOUR LIFE.

Every time.

Looking at you, Dan.

Check your mail 6 months ago, when Mr. Ornery swears he mailed you something

No longer he said, she said. You've got proof.

Or lack thereof.

It's no fun to accuse someone when it was just my own faulty memory. Now I have free, constant, third-party verification of whether I got something in the mail, or not.

Data hoarders

This a real gold mine if you're like me. I can't wait until the day my personal AI can summarize and, e.g., compare when Netflix said it mailed everything, against when I actually got it.

By that time I will have a couple decades of mail.

It's a stealth data Christmas waiting to happen.

Stats on Informed Delivery email picture images

JPG sizes

For 44 mail days (April 5 to 7 and June 19 to August 4, 2017), I downloaded every jpg image in my ID emails and got some stats:

All Min 15.4
Ave 29.58
SDs 7.50
Max 67.4
Count 115
Netflix Min 27.3
Ave 29.07
SDs 1.07
Max 30.9
Count 31
One kB is 1024 bytes. SDs is the standard deviation of the sample.

As you can see, they are fairly small files. The largest dimension was 835x458 pixels. Every image is black and white.

As a test of image-scan uniformity, I studied all the Netflix DVD mailings I got (part of the 115 images). There were 31 and you can see that their image size was pretty consistent, 29.1 ± 1.1 kB.


In a spot check, the Netflix images averaged about 620 x 460 pixels (620/460 = 1.348). The real-world size of the envelopes is 8.25 x 6.0 inches (1.375 factor; identical within margin of error). This simple spot check shows that the images are 75 DPI (dots per linear inch).

Realworld size check

As a reality check of whether you can gauge the size of your mail from the image:

A Netflix image's properties said it was 8.5 x 6.3 inches, but they are actually 8.25 x 6.0 inches.

So, the properties of Informed Delivery email images overestimate your mail's actual size by a few percent.

The Impact (size) of ID emails on your Email Inbox

There are about 303 mail days in the average year:

  365.25 x 6/7 (85.7%) = 313.07 (subtract Sundays)
  313 - 10 federal/mail holidays = 303

If the average size of each ID mail image is 30 kB then your mailbox will use

  9.09 MB per year if you get one mail image every single mail day

Multiply this number by however much mail you actually get on average. I averaged 2.6 per mail day for an extrapolated 24 MB/year; YMMV. Not everybody gets Netflix DVDs (26% of my mail), but then, I actively stop spam mail (catalogs, etc.) by contacting businesses that will listen, to keep the earth a little greener.

A few dozen MB is no big deal compared to, e.g., the free 5 GB of Gmail (5,000 MB).

Anyway, I did the calculations. Now we know.

What's missed by ID?

In the 41 mail days I compared all my mail to what Informed Delivery said I would get, there were 19 instances of things in my mailbox not shown in ID. (During this time, 113 mail pieces were shown, so that's about 17% missed.) But they were all mass mailings such as the Redplum ad-zines and other things, none of which were first class mail. There was not a single instance of anything specifically for me, out of all the mail missed by ID. So, ID is doing a good job with what really matters.

Informed Delivery will also not tell you about any USPS packages on the way. Technically, these can now be found in a different tab on your Informed Delivery website, if you click through to it. And of course, it's possible to be informed of USPS packages through other methods, like signing up for My USPS, or if, e.g., Amazon tracks your packages for you.

But strictly speaking, because you don't get any information in the ID email itself, the bottom line is that packages are missed by ID emails. Too bad, since it seems like a very simple thing they could add.

USPS is actively changing and growing Informed Delivery, so maybe package notices will start showing in the ID email some day.

Informed Delivery Oddities

I noticed some oddities over the 41 days I watched closely:

  • A few times, the ID email show me mail that was addressed to the former residents of this house (my address but their name; we moved in two years ago). They were rarely actually delivered; clearly, the mailman was intervening. (Good job, bro!)
  • I once got mail that should have gone to a neighbor, and was not in the ID email. A simple goof by the mailman. We all know this happens once or twice a year. No big deal.
  • Every now and then your ID email will say "A mailpiece for which we do not currently have an image is included in today’s mail." These were always something halfway between junk and real mail, like a monthly mass mailing to everyone from the city we live in.