January 7, 2007
These Fans Will Follow You...Through Rain and Sleet and Snow and...

don't know if there are very many readers who simultaneously read my posts here on the C3 site and also my column "From Beaver Dam to Boston," in the small weekly Kentucky newspaper The Ohio County Times-News, but, if you are one of those Times-News readers, then you aren't surprised to know my aversion to the U.S. Postal Service. Between a month's worth of my mail being lost when I went back to Kentucky to work as a journalist this summer and the impossible time I had afterward trying to locate that missing mail and start getting mail forwarded to me, I find the post office to often be inefficient and frustrating. Now, I've never blamed the workers but rather the organization of the system as a whole, yet it's a system that's hard to avoid.

When I looked back to the various early short pieces I wrote for the C3 Weekly Update internal newsletter, however, I was interested to find that I had written about the rather surprising number of online fan expressions for this bureaucratic government monopoly, the USPS. Last February, I wrote about this online fan community for the postal service and my surprise to find fan sites or fan posts dedicated to their delivery services.

Perhaps not as surprising is that stamp collecting seems to be one area of goodwlll which has built some of the post office fan community. Stamp collecting has long had an avid collector's following, and the ways in which people rally for certain cultural icons or historical figures to be celebrated with a commemorative stamp displays the power of the fan following in which these otherwise mundane and utilitarian objects of sale follow. The stamp is merely proof that an item to be mailed has been paid for, but people often buy these postage stamps for permanent collection rather than practical use because of the collecting behavior that has been fostered by collectors and the USPS alike. While many may see stamp collecting as an activity of the past, there remains a vibrant stamp collecting community that uses the Internet to trade, discuss, and bolster each other's collecting behaviors. Stamp collecting sites are myriad, and it is obviously in the best interest of the USPS to continue working with and encouraging the ardent following they have among stamp collectors who have a great interest in who and what is placed on postage stamps.

I'm also not surprised to see that the post office itself has been active in trying to combat the negative energy that is directed toward the government's mail carrier service. The postal service has proven that it is well aware of the need to build its brand, even as a government bureaucracy, and has done this in part by supporting the cycling team including Lance Armstrong. The USPS cycling team has various Web sites dedicated to it. Well after the team's run, there was a Web site for "Postie Fans" to unite and continue discussing their support and memories of the team, to reflect on and remember the success of team USPS. It has now been transformed into a site with links to places to buy bicycles, motorcycles, etc.

But goodwill and fandom expands from this sports sponsorship to appreciation sites that focus solely on the official function of the USPS.

For instance, when Eric Siegmund posted an appreciation entry about the USPS on The Fire Ant Gazette, several readers came out of the woodwork, so to speak, to support his words of encouragement and admiration for the government entity. Siegmund, a freelance web designer from Midland, Texas, goes far enough to consider him a USPS fan. Could some of that language be tongue-in-cheek? Possibly. But, as you can see, the sentiment is support for what many view as an underappreciated and unjustly ridiculed government operation.

The most adamant support site, however, is The US Post Office Fan Page. The site, while it hasn't been updated in a little while now and still thinks stamps are 32 cents apiece (a pipe dream, I guess, although it really wasn't THAT long ago, now was it?), has a comments section with 61 pages of notes. While there are a few pieces of spam there, the majority of the posts are a dialogue about the post office, including those who consider themselves fans, those who consider themselves anti-fans, and those who are somewhere in between.

The site includes various resources and stories on the post office, though and was, at least at one time, leading a valiant campaign to stop use of the term "snail mail, " feeling that it shows disrespect to a very efficient government entity that does not deserve such derision in language. The site included a write-in campaign to any official business who was using "snail mail" on their Web site to list their mailing address.

The site includes a link to "Improbable Research," where a group researched various limits on what the postal service would be willing to send through the mail, various sources on the history of the post office, and a history of stamps. There is also several references to how much better the U.S. Postal Service is compared to Canada's, one of the defense mechanisms that the fans who created this site use to deflect criticism of the USPS.