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Cool Pick Hotel

Drop me a Card

Cool Pick Hotel Written by Amanda Cohen

Email has long been the territory of business, but as more email applications include hypertext readers, email is getting more fancy and more fun. Witness the emergence of email postcards. Sure, you have to print them out to tape them to your fridge, and they may not have the clarity of that photo of a palm tree you got from your grandmother in Florida, but you can choose pictures to match your messages almost like the real thing.


You know those suave black postcard racks in cool clubs and restaurants that have free postcards promoting movies and perfume and stuff? Well, MaxRacks has expanded their promotional postcard business to the internet. At their home page, you can choose from their extensive collection of designs. The pictures are mostly ads for fashion clients like Guess, Gap, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, but a couple of generic holiday and greeting cards are thrown in for variety.

You're allowed one postcard before you have to register, but postcards are still free after registration. Once you choose a card, you are catapulted into a heavily frames-based page where you can select the "stamp" and "handwriting." As you send each postcard, a Personal Address Book automatically keeps track of your recipients.

MaxRacks is a little convoluted, a problem exacerbated by the fact that every time you hit the "sample rack," the random samples are different so it's not clear whether you've been there before. But the range of cards, even excluding the advertisements, is considerable and includes such classic images as the Mona Lisa and "Operation," the wacky doctor's game.

The cards arrive within normal email time with your message included in the body of the email. Your own email address, or the one you gave when you registered with MaxRacks, appears as the sender. Additional text directs you to see the postcard as an attachment, which comes as a simple .gif with the picture on top and the message on the bottom, this time in your selected font.

It's important to keep in mind while choosing any email postcard that the fine display on your monitor may not match the quality of your recipient's hardware. I used a small script-like font in a postcard that looked fine to me but was nearly illegible to my friend on the other side. He also reported that the image was a little fuzzy, so be sure you choose unmistakable pictures lest your visual/verbal combination be misconstrued.

The Postcard Rack

For a simple, no-nonsense, non-corporate postcard alternative, try The Postcard Rack operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. No registration, fees, crazy forms or advertising images. The cards are categorized as paintings, photography, contemporary art, graphics, science and "more," which is miscellaneous. Not a tremendous selection, but enough to find what you need. My personal favorites include the Magritte collection, complete with Les Promenades d'Euclid and "Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus rhahdofario mykiss)" from the science list.

After you pick your card based on thumbnails, you just click the picture and fill in the blanks. Unlike many forms pages, if you make a mistake, the site lets you back up and make the change rather than forcing you to retype all of the entries. This also means you can send the postcard to several addresses without re-entering the rest of the information each time.

The card arrives as an email notification with a claim number and a hyperlink to the Postcard Rack's Pickup Window. In case your recipient doesn't check email compulsively like I do, the postcard stays online for a few weeks. Your message doesn't appear in the email notification, so if its important, just send plain old email.

Apparently the simple approach has worked well for the Postcard Rack, as several other home pages use their software for their own original postcard collections, listed on the Postcard Rack as "branch offices." Aloha Electric Postcards specializes in pictures from the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, like black and white snapshots from the archives and a lovely photo of the museum's observatory. Another branch office, Dogs of Soho, uses the Postcard Rack format for "Dog-o-Grams" that allow you to "toss" or "fetch" pictures of attractive canines in their natural surroundings of Manhattan.

The best validation of the Postcard Rack as the standard for email postcards is its use as the official postcard site for The Computer Museum in Boston. The museum's nostalgic images include the PDP-8 as used in hospitals, the monolith of UNIVAC with its operating team and a panorama of the Robot Theatre. Next time someone complains to you about how slow her machine is running, just email her a postcard of the "IBM 082 Card Sorter, 1948 A.D." to remind her things could be much worse.

Kodak DC25 Digital Camera

Now that you're hooked on the idea of sending images via email, products like Kodak's digital camera allow you to take your own pictures and turn them into email postcards. But here's the catch: your recipient has to have Kodak software at his end in order to view the images. Happily, you don't have to go out and buy copies of the viewing software for all your friends and family because they can all download free Picture Postcard Software from Kodak. Isn't that convenient?

Interactive Features Syndicate

There's more to email postcards than exchanging fun pictures with friends. Geared toward corporate clients, Interactive Features Syndicate personalizes cartoons for mass mailings, so each recipient can see their own name in the cartoon. The business specializes in mass mailings of printed materials but has embraced the technology of the Internet to make its cartoons available instantly.

And these aren't just doodles by some kid who couldn't get printed outside the Internet. The cartoons are drawn by artists who's illustrations normally grace the pages of The New Yorker.

IFS's "Funny Business" email service allows you personalize a cartoon about you and your recipient, so your recipient will get a laugh and an invitation to register for more IFS services. This part of the service is available free as a business promotion, but anyone can use it.

At the moment, postcard sites are generally free services, but nothing's free forever in cyberspace.

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