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Blog > Postcrossing in academia

Recently, Postcrossing has been featured in some very interesting scientific essays, focused on the study of people interaction through communications. Today we’d like to share with you one of these papers.

Ryan and Daniel are PhD students in Computer Science at the University of Bath, United Kingdom. Both are interested in how people interact with, and through, information technologies. Daniel’s PhD research looks at support for intimate communication between people in long-distance relationships. Ryan’s research is about understanding fairness in collaborative work tasks, and he has been a postcrosser since March 2011.

Ryan writes:

"The inspiration for our research came back in June 2011. We were interested in learning why people enjoy using Postcrossing, and what they value about correspondence through postcards. We hoped that such knowledge might allow us to derive some design criteria to help improve digital communication systems.
Many of the things we found in our study relate to the treasured elements of paper-based correspondence that are lost during digitisation. For example, we found that people value things like stamps, postmarks, wear and tear from travelling, as well as personalised postcards. We also found that people love the random aspects of Postcrossing: not knowing what you’ll receive, who it will be from, or from where it will come. These are the things we believe could be useful in certain digital technologies, and we are currently developing ways to use our design criteria to build new systems that help to connect people together.
One of the other things we found, but didn’t have space to write about in the paper, is linked to reciprocity – the expectation that others will treat us as we treat them, and will respond to our actions in kind. From reading our survey responses, people said they loved knowing that recipients enjoyed their postcards, but what we also observed was a clear dislike for empty 'thank you’ messages in the hurray email. This tells us that, even though Postcrossing encounters are essentially one-off experiences, we still expect others to treat us in kind and to thank us for our efforts. People don’t like it when the norm of reciprocity is broken, even in a setting where it seems like it might not matter all that much.
In the future, we hope to do more studies involving Postcrossing, and we hope to look at other practices like online pen-palling and use of christmas cards. These will give us new ideas about how to link digital and physical technologies."

Very interesting results – thank you Ryan and Daniel! If you want to read more, you can download a free copy of the paper from Ryan’s publications page at:



28 comments so far

tinkx, United Kingdom
I do think it is interesting in this day and age there are still a large number of people who enjoy the 'snail mail' process. I think it would be interesting to know how many members there are in different age categories, and whether this has an influence? My class of 6 year olds think it's amazing that there is somebody 'out there' who can send a postcard and that it travels by air/boat/train to get to the classroom and that they can learn something about another country/person. They have the 'awe' factor! I like the fact that to send ours they have to use their 'best handwriting', they say that they have to try hard so people can understand what they have written! Thanks for the research, gives us alot to think about!

ThePOSTCARDPerfect, United States of America
My son who just turned 7 years old was so delighted to received a postcard from strangers who greeted him a Happy Birthday (of course,I create a thread in the forum for that. (*wink*).He put his postcards in his treasured box. :D

finoish, Indonesia
very interesting result! can be my reference on my next research project =)

Stasele, Netherlands
Great work - hurray to Ryan and Daniel. Hope you also had fun using your postcrossing experience for your scientific work!
Spinning the thread further, I have been wondering if there's a correlation between people's professional profile and their interest in postcrossing. There seems to be a huge proportion of users who work in the education and care sectors etc. (or as mothers and "family managers", like myself). This work brings us in touch with "real" people too. It might be interesting to do some more research about professional profiles and expectations of reciprocity :)
Wish you lots of success with your research and ...hope to read more some time! ;)

yark, Ukraine
"We hoped that such knowledge might allow us to derive some design criteria to help improve digital communication systems."

Is them want to digitize and posctrossing too? Last window to the real wolrd /joke/

Jess18877, Netherlands
What a great essay!
When you are interested in snailmail and the proces you might also enjoy loooking at the website
Besides postcrossing I do that and it is a lot of fun making a package for someone that travels trough mail and gets a life (tears and bruses) of it's own.

rlsh07, Singapore
when i click on the link, hmm.. there is no free copy of the paper though.

rhyan24385, United Kingdom
Thanks everyone for your kind words and comments. Swap-bot looks interesting, I will have to explore that too!

@rlsh07, if you follow the link posted above, you have to then click on the paper title ('Understanding participation' etc) and you'll be taken to a new page where the paper should automatically download after 10 seconds.

lucymonty, United Kingdom
A great subject to write about! I think the reciprocity aspect is particularly interesting :-) thanks for sharing!

mrsjones, United States of America
I like Postcrossing because I collect postcards. I have for more than 30 years now. Technology, and ecards and instagram will never replace a handwritten picture postcard for me. I like receiving them from other countries and people and reading what they have to say.

I often think back to shows like "I Love Lucy" where neighbors read each other's postcards and decided to incorporate that into my blog a little bit. I post the picture of the postcard and the message on the back. I think people like it. I mean, really -- who doesn't like reading other people's mail? :)

bodrumlu, Turkey
very good

phuleshouse, Canada
It's interesting but I think it is more than is a connection of receiving something physical from someone else in another part of the world...and the sender's personality is shown through the card...sometimes it is hard to describe..a connection of modern technology and keeping tradition past alive....

FairyFoot, United Kingdom
There's another postal project called - I received my first thing about a fortnight ago, a touchnote postcard from someone there who is also a postcrosser. I recently sent two things to two people there as well last week.

A couple of years ago, someone was doing a PhD (in Belgium?) on penpalling. There was a message on the forum about it. I wonder how she got on...

In February, there was a Month of Letters challenge (was on this blog) where participants send an item of post (letter, postcard..), a day (except on Sundays and public/bank holidays).

Best wishes with your ongoing research.

Saintois, Belgium
.."but what we also observed was a clear dislike for empty 'thank you' messages in the hurray email"... SO TRUE..

zeroday, United States of America
What excites me about postcrossing is the journey the card takes. Sitting at my desk at home I write a postcard then drive 1.5 miles to my post office to send it. I imagine the the the process involved in delivering the card world wide, the interconnecting networks involving many countries and postal systems right up to the point when a local post man/woman delivers to to a home. With over 700 cards sent I still get a thrill when I receive that "hurray" email...

rlsh07, Singapore
@rhyan24385 yeah i saw it ^^ thanks ^^

bungaalangalang, Indonesia
It's very interesting to write a message for strangers, and something I'm not sure about my grammar...but it's one way to improve my English..

FairyFoot, United Kingdom
oh, and then there is "realsnailmail" from Bournemouth University where snails pick up your email message and carry it around until it is near a drop off point for the email to go on its way

carolbeth, United States of America
I am fascinated by the project, and the comments on the blog about it. I'm a letter writer from way back, and postcrossing satisfies in a different way. It's an opportunity to put a smile, a feeling of being appreciated, etc. into another person's you don't know at all. In this process it is ME that gains a sense of adding a tiny chip of caring to our world population. I'm not a volunteer in worthy organizations, I'm an artist, alone in her studio most days. But sending these cards to other human beings is like a calling for me. To have an opportunity to say something pleasant, describe my little corner of the world, or share my current favorite recipe, musician, my words an opportunity to carry some ineffable expression of gratitude, to touch for that short moment, another heart, somewhere in the world.

reindeer77, New Zealand
I've just received a card from Ryan!(thanks again Ryan!)yep,it's definately about the reciprocity for me......good word!would have taken me about 2 pages to explain it!keep up the good work!

kk12, United States of America

Spriggan, United States of America
.."but what we also observed was a clear dislike for empty 'thank you' messages in the hurray email"...

I agree! Even if I hate the card I still say "thank you" for the sender's time, consideration, and energy that they put into selecting a card for me...but then again I was raised with manners ;) Please and thank yous are a must for me!

I postcross to learn about new cultures! You find out things that only native people know-things you could never learn in a book or in a university class!

Thats why it pains me when I get the generic postcard message of "Happy Postcrossing!" or when someone tells me about the weather or something equally boring and pointless.

To me that is worse than getting a blank 'thank you' email when a card is registered ;) Its a missed opportunity to learn from and connect with a new friend on a deeper level!

rosenbusch, Germany
Interesting results. I like sending and receiving postcards. Strangers can become friends. I learn a lot of people and their countries....

WattlePark, Australia
I've been wondering if my 'thankyou'emails are a bit long at times - just saying thanks for the card seems a bit rude. Having read the comments above I think I'll continue writing a bit more when I have the time and inclination.
But now I'm worrying about all those cards I've written with comments on the weather. It is just such a universal topic. Also there are times when weather can be anything but boring,in fact it can be downright dangerous and terrifying.
Thinking about this I am tending towards the notion that writing about what is on one's mind, no matter how trivial, is probably more interesting than repeating information listed in one's profile.
It is so good to shuffle through the heap of mail and among the mass of bills, advertising material (even though the mail box is clearly marked "NO JUNK MAIL") and catalogues, there is that pearl, that beautiful postcard. As has happened many times, today I read the words before I looked at the pictures. Thank you Postcrossers.

suzeroo, Canada
Yes I got an empty Hurray!! email today and I was sad...

Firelily, Myanmar
I do admit I sometimes say nothing more than "thank you" if I get something totally inappropriate, even though our introduction clearly says we're postcrossing with a bunch of 3rd and 4th graders. Happened a couple of times :-(
On the other hand, we've received so much amazing stuff as well, really appreciate people taking the extra effort for all those swaps that keep us going.

ezbub, Canada
The message on the postcard is very important to me; I always read it first before looking at the picture. I like when the recipient's profile gives an idea about what to write in the message. Otherwise, I write about the picture on the postcard, what's on my mind or, yes, the weather (but I'm Canadian and we always talk about the weather here!)

manes, Colombia
Me satisface el interes que tienen por mi país Colombia,

Féliz día de correo escrito en el mundo. En mi país hicieron recordación de años atrás que se escribian cartas y se enviaban por correo.

Saludos desde Bogotá Colombia

María Inés.
Calle 151 No. 55 - 37 Casa 88 Bogot{a - Colombia

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