Everyone hates junk mail, right? I'm not talking about spam emails you get in your inbox on a daily basis, which you may not even notice if you're using Gmail. I'm talking about those pesky paper ads that arrive over snail mail almost every single day, burying the lone letters you do actually care about in an ocean of, well, crap.

Last week, I ran into a website called http://www.yellowpagesoptout.com which finally let me opt out of the 1500-pound Yellow Book. Sure, it's valuable as a monitor stand and could come in handy in a bonfire, but the amount of paper wasted on making them is just staggering. We use the Interwebs now, OK?

Enter PaperKarma

So I was absolutely ecstatic to find a new app in the Android Market called PaperKarma earlier this week. PaperKarma's concept is simple, yet so incredibly useful - take pictures of your junk mail with your Android device's camera, and they'll try their best to have you automatically unsubscribed.

Brilliant, isn't it? So, how well does it work? Let's dive in.

Note: I can talk about the mechanics of using the app and its ID capabilities, but, unfortunately, it's still too early to tell whether I'll actually get less junk from the companies PK unsubscribed me from. However, I have a good feeling about it.

Logistics

First and foremost after you download the app, you need to sign up for a new account and add your address. Naturally, the app needs your name and address so it has something to give advertisers (cue "nice try, junk mail operator" comments at this point). You do need an account so you can re-download the app in the future and track all your unsubscribe requests that are stored remotely. I logged in with Facebook, which automatically filled in my name and email.

wm_SC20120205-214048 wm_SC20120205-214205 wm_SC20120205-214236

After you log in, you're presented with a very simple Take Photo prompt, with other options to pick an existing photo and view all submitted claims associated with your account. There's also the Help button that explains how the app works.

Side note: By the way, PaperKarma is extremely well designed. It's one of the most visually easy on the eye apps I've used in a while, it never crashed on me, and it just works the way it's supposed to work.

Speaking of the Help button, here's what it looks like (I also copied the information from the FAQ - you can find it towards the bottom of the post):

wm_SC20120205-215652 wm_SC20120205-215702 wm_SC20120205-215713 wm_SC20120205-215729

The Junk Test

To put PaperKarma through a proper test, I started snapping freshly received junk mail, about 15 pieces of advertising in total (good thing I check for mail only once a week and some piled up). The process was straightforward - just snap, wait for the camera to show you the photo, approve it, and wait for it to be uploaded to PK's servers. I do have a comment about this process, which you will find in the What It Could Do Better section below.

The photos I took got marked as Pending - identification is not immediate:

wm_SC20120205-214358 wm_SC20120205-214444

10 minutes passed, and nothing happened. Then suddenly, a notification:

wm_SC20120205-215504 wm_SC20120205-215515 wm_SC20120205-215527

Why yes, that was indeed The China Club, something I've never heard of before that day. Spot on.

At this point, the message said "Hey look - we found it! Now we're figuring out how to unsubscribe you. Check back soon to see what we come up with!" Alrighty then.

An hour later, every single one of the snaps I took was identified with 100% accuracy. One. Hundred. Percent. Now, I'm not sure if there was a human frantically clicking buttons, but my test was done at 9-10 PM PST. If there are people involved, I applaud their dedication (though question scalability). If not, brilliant:

wm_SC20120205-224134

Not only that, most of the spam was already marked as Success (see below). What is Success exactly? Easy - "Voila! We've sent your request successfully! It may take a few weeks for the company to process your request. We'll check back with you later to make sure they honored it."

Did I mention how brilliant PaperKarma was?

Unfortunately, some junk mail senders, like Safeway and Lucky, were marked as Failed - PaperKarma couldn't unsubscribe me and suggested I contact the retailers directly. Perhaps these companies refused to honor requests from parties other than the ones who are getting spammed, and there is nothing PK can do about it. Bummer.

wm_SC20120205-224206 wm_SC20120205-224343 wm_SC20120206-151207

What It Could Do Better

  • Multiple names and identities in the same household not supported - I'm not sure how important it is for the unsubscribe requests or whether the address with at least one name is sufficient.
  • Uploads are not done in the background, so you have to wait until each one is done, then click Unsubscribe (also for each one). It'd be much easier if we could snap multiple photos in a row with the upload happening in the background.
  • In the case of failures, PK instructs to contact the company using the Company Details tab, but sometimes the tab is just not there (see the Safeway screenshot above, for example).
  • The Status tab looks like a giant Status button when it's alone on the screen (basically when the Company Details tab is not available) - that is confusing.
  • Notifications come in when you open the app, but don't if you don't open it again. Push notification support would be lovely.

FAQ

What is PaperKarma?

PaperKarma is an easy-to-use app that lets you control your paper mailbox from your phone. Simply snap photos of your Junk Mail (coupons, credit card offers, flyers, catalogs, magazines, yellow/white pages, etc.) and we’ll make it stop.

Will PaperKarma stop mail I want?

Using PaperKarma only stops Junk Mail. It will not stop or interfere with receiving bills, statements, tax, or other important documents.

What do I do if more than one person lives at this address?

If there are multiple people at your residence, you can Edit the name field to include both. E.g. “Jack and Jill Smith”.

What part of the mail should I photograph?

When taking a picture, avoid including your own name/address - we’ll have that information already.

Capture information that will help us to identify the company or publication in question. Ask yourself, “Could I identify this mail just by looking at the photo?”

How long does unsubscribing take?

The unsubscribe process can take up to 24 hours. You’ll be notified as soon as your request has been submitted successfully.

Many companies pre-print their commercial mail in bulk. You could receive mail anywhere from a few weeks up to 3 months after being removed from a mailing list.

What if I keep getting some Junk Mail?

If you start receiving Junk Mail that you removed already, just use PaperKarma to unsubscribe again. We’ll contact the company and make sure your contact preferences are up-to-date.

Is there a limit to the number of scans I can send?

No! You can send in as many scans as you want.

Why do you need my phone number?

We try to ask for as little personal information as possible. However certain companies (e.g. many Yellow Pages providers) require your phone number in order to unsubscribe you.

How/where is my personal information kept?

Your information is kept securely on Amazon.com’s servers. All webserver activity is done via SSL (strong encryption).

How is my information used?

Our whole philosophy is about reducing Junk Mail. We will not sell or rent your information to anyone. Your information is used only for the purpose of unsubscribing you.

Read more in our Privacy Policy.

Have another question?

We’d love hear from you!

Please direct feedback or questions to: [email protected]

Conclusion

PaperKarma may not be the app of the year, but it sure is an app of the month, or even quarter in my book. Who knows, maybe even an app of the year - we'll see. Sometimes it's the little things, like getting rid of daily annoyances, that count, and PaperKarma is one app you shouldn't pass up.

It identified all the junk with 100% accuracy (based on ~15 samples) and reportedly unsubscribed me from most of them. If you're getting junk in your snail mail, don't wait another day and download PaperKarma, then sleep better at night knowing how many trees you saved this year.

Download