The Einstein–Szilárd letter to F.D.R., 1939.

On the Value of Letters

Since the dawn of the written word, people have used letters of correspondence to share ideas with each other. Letters allow us to concisely and thoroughly explain our thoughts, our feelings, and our curiosities with an expectation of reciprocation from the intended audience. Though most letters will only ever be read by their senders and recipients, lots of the most important documents of all time are letters. Letters can start wars, and letters can stop them.

It is our intention to revive the cultural importance of letters by providing a free platform for public mail. Pubmail is a webmail client, like GMail or Hotmail, but all messages sent and received are viewable by anybody, not just the sender and the recipient. This is particularly useful for interaction with public officials and elected representatives, but also corporate spokespeople, people of note, and even ordinary people who want to share their exchanges, as it allows us to tell stories which include their own sources and context. The purpose of debate isn't necessarily to change the opinion of the other debater, but rather to enlighten the audience about the nuances of the respective arguments. Through public exchange of letters, in a platform available to everybody, it is our hope that we can encourage public participation in serious and rational discourse.

Pubmail, compared with other services.

Pubmail Compared

Though digital technology has enabled faster and more abundant communication than ever before, much of this communication is what we might call "low quality" - terse, casual, misfactual and uncited. Because of the nature of of the most popular platforms of the day, it seems that a lot of people are talking at each other rather than with each other.

For instance, though Facebook provides an easy way for people to publish their thoughts, but only to a select group of people, and without giving the audience the ability to reply on the same footing. Twitter provides a way for people to quickly broadcast their thoughts and opinions to a large audience, but communication is stunted because of the length of the messages and volume of noise. Traditional email provides a nice substitute for traditional letters, although it is a private medium, and so most the interesting and important emails are rarely published online in their entirety, and instead are only ever read by their recipients (and the National Security Agency).

Pubmail is the first platform designed for long-form public communication.

Transparency by Default

Pubmail follows in the footsteps of other transparency initiatives like MuckRock, a platform for public Freedom of Information requests, and OpenWatch, our own police monitoring and citizen journalism network. Though the Freedom of Information Act is a powerful tool for enhancing public knowledge of government processes, there is no such equivalent in the private sector. As more and more power in society shifts from public ownership back into private hands, it is more important than ever for the public to keep a vigilant watch over the affairs of private power.

Traditionally, this monitoring of private affairs has been the task of journalists. However, journalism has been thoroughly defanged over the past few decades by financial pressures and competition from new media platforms. Even the best of modern journalism still relies on a class of powerful elites, those with insider knowledge who slowly release scraps of unverifiable "truth" to the public, often in service of a particular agenda advanced by themselves, approved by their publishers, cleared by their owners and signed-off on by their advertisers. This failed model led to the 2004 invasion of Iraq, the continued use of the drone US assassination program, and continues to prevent the public from knowing the finer details of government and private mass surveillance programs.

It is our hope that Pubmail, along with other similar initiatives, will support the creation of a powerful "sixth estate," an ad-hoc, distributed network of serious and independent watchdogs who are vigilant about the pursuit of truth, questioning of official narratives, and of enhancing public understanding of the world.

Want to talk more? Send me a letter!