MeFi PenPals June 5, 2013 12:11 PM   Subscribe

There seems to be some interest in letter writing, based on the responses to this AskMe: Need a surrogate older sister.

I did a quick search of the MeFi Wiki and didn't see anything related to collecting and distributing (volunteered) IRL information. I can't imagine that the idea of MFPenPals hasn't previously been entertained; has this been tried before? Are there MF rules against?

IANAWD (web developer) but I mocked up a Google Form that interested parties can use to add their addresses to. I'd hate to lose the momentum of this AskMe request, but am not sure A) Whether my solution is any good, B) Whether this project is verboten, C) Whether someone else already has a better idea or plan.

Thanks for any suggestions or enlightenment.
posted by smuna to MetaFilter-Related at 12:11 PM (47 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

Couldnt people just use MeFimail or email for this?
posted by jonmc at 12:14 PM on June 5, 2013

Couldn't people just use MeFimail or email for this?

I think that part of the appeal is the physicality, no?
posted by leotrotsky at 12:16 PM on June 5, 2013

Are there MF rules against?

Not specifically, no; our only concern from the site side is that whatever is being done with addresses and other real life information is explicitly opt-in by the folks involved. So an address exchange is totally fine for folks to get involved in, but I'd try and organize it in a way that e.g. a pair or small group of participants gets each other's addresses vs. everybody getting everybody's, unless everybody-gets-everybody's is the clear intent going in such that everybody is clearly on board with it.

Some other mailing projects have been very fun in the past; there's been at least one postcard exchange, and a whole bunch of mix cd swaps (here's the most recent); you might check out how those were managed for ideas. I know with the CD swap for example it's usually a bunch of group of five or six mefites each of whom gets the other group members' addresses to mail a CD to, and possibly all of those addresses organized/facilitated by carsonb.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:21 PM on June 5, 2013

If you want a letter from me memail me an address. I'll write you. I also have postcards.

Some people sent me postcards during that last exchange because I put my PO box in the thread. I would have reciprocated, but no one put a return address on there! If you are owed a postcard memail me an address and I'll make that happen as well.

I'd be up for a limited postal exchange, but I think I am too disorganized for an actual penpal.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:33 PM on June 5, 2013

I had that same thought, and was in fact in mid-compose of the same MetaTalk post. I hope someone organizes something.

I'd personally prefer email or MeMail to writing with my hand on paper, but would sign up for either one. To me, the point would be more individual interaction than getting stuff in my mailbox.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 12:39 PM on June 5, 2013

Thank you, cortex, for this information. Eighty-something MeFi members responded to the OP (physical letters in the actual post figured prominently). If a person was interested in sending a link to a sign-up form to each of those MeMail addresses, is there an efficient method to do that? Like, could I extrapolate a full MeMail address that would follow an expected convention like: Or else is there a way to scrape the AskMe post comments to get addresses? Sorry, I know only enough to be a PIA.
posted by smuna at 12:43 PM on June 5, 2013

I think that part of the appeal is the physicality, no?

Many Bothans trees died to bring you this information.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:10 PM on June 5, 2013

Nope, you'd have to do all that mefimailing one at a time the old-fashioned "clicking reply or going to their profile" way. Simpler would probably be to just put a link to the signup page or organizing thread as a followup comment in the original askme.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:11 PM on June 5, 2013

I'm up for exchanging emails. (as appaling as my spelling is, it's better typed than written.)

If anyone's intersested Memail me and I'll send you my email addy.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:19 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd be up for postcards, I'm simply awful at sitting down and writing full length letters.
posted by arcticseal at 3:26 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd be up for emails and/or postcards.
posted by angelchrys at 4:21 PM on June 5, 2013

I would like post cards for my super awesome post card wall and I am willing to send comparably fabulous, photographically imaginative thin bits of cardboard to you.
posted by honey-barbara at 4:59 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would be delighted to exchange postcards, if we can expand the definition of postcards to include postcard-sized notecards in envelopes, because I just bought a metric buttload of them!

As someone who ran Secret Quonsar in the past, I can say that there are sites to help facilitate swaps, if you want to do that style where each person gets a different address. I just suggested to Julen last month that she inquire to Reddit as to their swapping software, but in the meantime I also discovered SwapBot. SwapBot seems neat in that each person can have, say, 5 people to send to, similar to how the Mefi CD Swap is run. I signed up but haven't participated in any swaps yet.

Of course, that would all be dependent on whether or not Mefites are comfortable giving their personal info to a third party, but if this system gets very large, it's going to be a lot easier on whoever is running it to have an app as opposed to doing it all manually.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:45 PM on June 5, 2013

I'd be happy to exchange letters with someone. I wrote a letter to a friend recently on a lark, and it was much more satisfying than shooting off an email.
posted by codacorolla at 7:05 PM on June 5, 2013

I would rather like to exchange letters, but not postcards because they're oddly hard to write stuff on.
posted by jeather at 7:39 PM on June 5, 2013

Me! I'd love to share my vast stash of pretty notecards.
posted by ActionPopulated at 7:40 PM on June 5, 2013

Hi! I've (co-)organized the secret quonsar swap (MeFi's version of Secret Santa) for the past few years, and it's been suggested I provide some feedback. I'm always on the lookout for ways to improve our process (still waiting to hear back from the Reddit Swap folks, btw). I have some recommendations based on my experience, although I think our process is different and more complex than some of the fine swap work that is happening already on MeFi:

1. Write up a set of rules. Be explicit about how people sign up and what people will be expected to do, and what they can expect to get. Describe what information they will be asked for, how it will be used, who will see it, and what will happen with the info when the swap is over. If this is something that happens more than once, I recommend making a wiki page on the MeFi wiki you can point people at.

2. It should be opt-in. I post a link to our googleform in a metatalk thread, in my profile, and mention it on Twitter for the 16 mefites who follow me. The mods are usually kind enough to add it to the sidebar. Because secret quonsar is an annual event, people know to start looking for it in November.

3. We currently use a combination of google products to manage the swap. We previously used a commercial service that we outgrew (the swap is hundreds of people organized into 5 subgroups of swaps). Now, we manage our list of participants in a google spreadsheet and share a common gmail account we use to communicate with participants. The randomization is done separately, but everything else is based around gmail and several google spreadsheets.

4. There's a fair amount of overhead and process management we do, plus interacting with participants who have questions for recipients or senders, from whom we need status updates and followups, and organizing regifting efforts. Don't underestimate your time overhead! People will not get emails or the emails will be sent to SPAM. They'll accidentally delete their matches and need updates; life will interfere and they'll be delayed or unable to follow through, etc. People will worry and people will forget and people will want reassurance. Be prepared to help folks get things done. If a tool like swapbot can help you reduce the workload on yourself without driving you crazy, USE IT.

5. You will make mistakes. Everybody does. I've made doozies! Handle them like an adult (apologize and try to get a fix in place, and be better the next time), and expect participants to handle their mistakes like an adult. Some won't. Be generous but not a pushover. Cut 'em off if they are not responsive or colossal buttheads.

6. Ask for help if you need it. I can not say enough for the folks who have helped me do secret quonsar the past few years. In addition to having someone to bounce ideas off and work through tricky situations, it means you can have the occasional day off from the swap. This is key to maintaining sanity and stress levels.
posted by julen at 7:56 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would like this and would be willing to exchange mailing addresses with a mefite or three. I also do Postcrossing from time to time, which scratches a similar itch. And I do SQ every year.
posted by mochapickle at 8:50 PM on June 5, 2013

I will send pretty, pretty pictures from Australia to anyone who wants them. Hit me up!
posted by Salamander at 9:42 PM on June 5, 2013

I would love to do this. It's been so long since I've gotten an actual letter in the mail.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:25 PM on June 5, 2013

I would be up for a letter or postcard swap.
posted by govtdrone at 4:23 AM on June 6, 2013

I expressed interest in being/having a penpal in the linked thread. My kid is going off to college in August and I enjoy writing infinitely more than skyping so I've got my uniball micro poised and ready to share all my "don't do what I did" hindsight with him and anyone else who wants to be affectionately nagged.

I wouldn't opt-in to a form that's open to many people to see or download though. I prefer to continue lying to myself about my online and in-person selves being separate.

I'd only opt-in through a facilitator who makes the introductions (the way carsonb does with the CD swaps). That's a lot of work for a facilitator though.
posted by headnsouth at 6:05 AM on June 6, 2013

I'd love to do this.
posted by wens at 6:16 AM on June 6, 2013

I expressed interest in the linked thread as well, but wanted to say that if you need help with organizing, memail me. I'd be happy to help out, although I have no experience. But if you need help memailing people, or sending links, or entering information into spreadsheets, etc, I'm happy to help.

I'd be up for email, postcards, or letters.
posted by needlegrrl at 6:35 AM on June 6, 2013

I'd love to do a letter or postcard swap.
posted by wiskunde at 8:08 AM on June 6, 2013

I've always regretted not signing up for the shopping bag swap, so I would be in for a postcard swap for certain.
posted by ambrosia at 8:09 AM on June 6, 2013

I'd help with the overhead and process management too. Am probably no longer technical enough to set up anything that actually worked, but can do much of the kinds of stuff that julen mentioned.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 8:16 AM on June 6, 2013

I'm too swamped with work a while to help organize, but I'd love to participate a la Secret Quonsar.
posted by introp at 9:56 AM on June 6, 2013

Hey everybody,
cortex and julen provide some good ideas and I need to spend a few hours planning and implementing. My day job is happening now and I can put some effort into this on Saturday (in the US). Look for an update in this thread. When it looks like we have a workable/scalable way to collect and distribute information I'll put a post here and in the original AskMe.
Thanks for being awesome and patient.
posted by smuna at 9:59 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Anyone want a postcard from Tahoe? Anyone?
posted by HeyAllie at 12:10 PM on June 6, 2013

I belong to post crossing and swap-bot. If anyone wants to exchange usernames with me, feel free to MeMail me. Also up for random mail even of you're not on those sites.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:12 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

This sounds like fun. I'll be looking for the update.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:01 PM on June 6, 2013

Oooh I would love to do this. Emails preferably though, I have really bad handwriting and my fingers cramp and stuff when I write by hand. Memail me if you want to be my older and wiser pen pal!!!
posted by Aubergine at 4:09 PM on June 6, 2013

I would love to have a pen pal, especially one who doesn't know me online beyond mefi/twitter. And, Aubergine, you can always type your letters and mail 'em!
posted by VioletU at 5:08 PM on June 6, 2013

headnsouth: " I wouldn't opt-in to a form that's open to many people to see or download though. I prefer to continue lying to myself about my online and in-person selves being separate.

I'd only opt-in through a facilitator who makes the introductions (the way carsonb does with the CD swaps). That's a lot of work for a facilitator though.

I do believe Swap-Bot works that way - only the people who are mailing you things get your mailing address. I'm all in favor of anything to make our facilitator(s)' jobs easier.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:37 PM on June 6, 2013

I tried to do this a few years back. Sadly, it didn't take.
posted by reenum at 8:40 PM on June 6, 2013

I tried to do this a few years back. Sadly, it didn't take

It wasn't huge, but I had a nice letter exchange as a result of that thread.

I'll hand write a letter to anyone who memails me their address & promises to write back at least once.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:23 PM on June 6, 2013

I love writing! Count me in, although I'm probably more of the-younger-sister-your-parents-had-when-you-were-at-college for a good number of participants.
posted by undue influence at 5:08 AM on June 7, 2013

This sounds fun! I'd love to do a postcard swap :)
posted by PlantGoddess at 7:19 AM on June 7, 2013

VioletU is right, if anyone wants a physical letter from me (but that was typed) memail me!!!
posted by Aubergine at 10:49 AM on June 7, 2013

I'd love to swap letters or postcards.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:28 AM on June 7, 2013

I'd love to participate; I love to send and receive postcards. Count me in!
posted by LittleFuzzy at 12:54 PM on June 7, 2013

Got one taker, so far. I can probably muster a few more letters than that, though if you check with each other, you may find I repeat myself.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:03 PM on June 7, 2013

I would love to do this! I just really enjoy writing letters, even though it makes me feel like a bit of a fuddy-duddy when I do it.
posted by madelf at 6:05 PM on June 8, 2013

I would love to do this as well. I have pretty handwriting, and draw things.
posted by baniak at 12:34 PM on June 9, 2013

We're in the test phase! Thanks for being patient!
posted by smuna at 9:02 PM on June 10, 2013

Me too, please!
I wonder if there's some tool out there to do an online-dating-like matchup... have everyone fill out a questionnaire that includes their preferred method of communication and frequency, and whether they want a short or long-term exchange, and then automatically match people based on their answers.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:47 PM on June 13, 2013

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