Most people absolutely hate receiving junk mail. But while the credit card offers, fashion catalogs and supermarket flyers pile up on the doorsteps of millions of Americans each day, one might think that there’s little hope to escape the clutter.

That was until now.

Seattle software developers Brendan Ribera and Sean Mortazavi have taken their frustration with paper-based junk mail, and turned it into an innovative new mobile app called PaperKarma.

The free app, available on iPhone, Android and Windows Phone, is quite remarkable in that it allows recipients of junk mail to snap a photo of the flyer, catalog, magazine or other offer and, in a few simple clicks, unsubscribe from the distributor’s list.

“That’s it. Just snap your junk mail away,” notes a description of the app. The company’s motto: “Kill Junk Mail, Save Trees.”

There’s plenty of junk mail to eliminate, with estimates that each U.S. household receives 850 pieces of unwanted mail each year. And a number of other companies are looking to solve this pain point, namely Seattle upstarts Doxo and Earth Class Mail.

I was pretty amazed at just how simple PaperKarma was to use — so I followed up with Mortazavi to get a better idea of how it works.

“We’ve spent the past year building up a huge database of U.S. companies that send mail (of) all types,” notes Mortazavi, who holds a day job at Microsoft. “For each company, we’ve figured out who the privacy officer is, or who in customer service manages their so called ‘customer suppression list.’  So based on that we send the unsubscribe requests and thanks to FTC rules, they’re required to comply.”

A few months later, Mortazavi said that they follow up with users to make sure that the junk mailers are honoring the initial request.

I gave the service a try this week, and within 20 minutes I’d successfully unsubscribed from two pieces of junk mail that always seem to clog my mail box. (Goodbye, Dish Network and RedPlum). A third, a flyer from grocery store chain Albertson’s, failed to be eliminated because PaperKarma was unable “submit requests to this sender.”

Mortazavi said he came up with the idea after speaking to Seattle entrepreneur Hadi Partovi, an adviser to the company and avid junk mail foe. Prior to PaperKarma, Partovi collected names in an Excel spreadsheet of advertisers that sent him junk mail. The former Microsoft and iLike exec would then spend hours calling each company one-by-one asking to be removed from the lists.

“The idea popped into my head that perhaps we could make this process less painful by enabling people to just snap pics of their junk mail and have someone take care of the rest of it,” said Mortazavi, adding that the environmental aspect of the idea really resonated with a lot of people.

At this point, Readbl, as the company is known, is bootstrapped with funds from the founders. Mortazavi is serving as CEO, while Ribera — a former software engineer at Jobster, iLike and Urbanspoon — is CTO.

Mortazavi said he may consider raising cash depending upon the reception to the idea.

Based on the fact that Americans on average spend about eight months of their lives dealing with unsolicited email, we’re thinking that reception will be pretty positive.

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Comments

  • http://www.windowsobserver.com/ Richard Hay

    This looks to be a great app and service. Even better is seeing it hit all three major platforms at once. I hope other companies and developers follow suit.

  • Guest

    Good for you guys! Neat idea!

  • Kym E

    I was not able to download it to my Android. I am bummed. Great article!

    • http://threebrothers.org/brendan/ Brendan Ribera

      Kym, what version of Android are you running? We’re currently only available on 2.2 and higher. I’d love to support 2.1, too, but I just couldn’t get that done for v1.

      • Sean

        I’m on 2.3.3 and wasn’t able to locate the app, either.  I’m using the search function in ‘Apps.’

        • http://threebrothers.org/brendan/ Brendan Ribera

          That is curious! The only other explicit filter we have is whether a hardware camera is present. I’ll definitely poke around to see whether others are seeing this.

  • http://www.kaplancopy.com/blog Jodi Kaplan

    Sounds like a great idea. Two additional points though.  First, while your request should be processed right away, you’ll still get any mail still in the pipeline (writing, printing, mailing).  You should see results after 6-8 weeks.

    Secondly, smartphone or not, nobody has to call each mailer individually.  Sign up for the DMA Mail Preference service and they’ll take care of it.

  • Anonymous

    WOW, what a fantastic idea.  Just downloaded to my phone and tablet.  I know what I’ll be doing this weekend.

  • John

    I’ve been a beta tester for a few months and have loved the app. It’s worked on almost every submission I’ve made. Daily mail volume is probably down 50%.

  • Anonymous

    Yep! Great app! It unemploys even MORE American workers, just to save from the massive effort of recycling the BS mail.
    THAT saves even MORE of the carbon footprint, for the unemployed don’t drive or use mass transportation to work!
    And when their unemployment runs out and no jobs are available, they save even MORE by living on welfare or starving.

  • http://twitter.com/bradknowles Brad Knowles

    So, has anyone else actually done a head-to-head comparison between Paper Karma and Mail Stop Mobile?  I mean, besides me?  See my thoughts at http://bradknowles.tumblr.com/post/17454165249/iphone-apps-paper-karma-vs-mail-stop-mobile but I’d love to see any other articles that anyone else knows about.  Thanks!

  • John

    It appears that this app is dead. They have not posted on their blog since February, and religious use has made no difference in my junk mail. No app updates, except for one that requires you to enter your name and address for the recipient (jack at 111 main, jill at 111 main, jerry at 111 main, my fingers are killing me). It’s a shame.

  • Bluefeather

    No-o-o-o-o-o. Junk mail is keeping our Post Office in business. Without junk mail, our stamps could be over a dollar.
    Here is what I do. I take the mail from the mail box to my recycle bin. All junk mail goes in the bin, all mail goes into the house.
    Good for the Post Office, good for the environment, good for me.
    Keep that junk mail coming via USPS!

    • think better

      That’s most ass-backward logic I have ever seen.

  • Paula J Sumner

    Old dates, is this app current?

  • Herb

    Tried to download to my iPad . Not being successful . Would appreciate some help.

  • Rachel

    Does this work with mail requests from charities?

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