Fido the Stamp is here. Well, he could be -- all it takes is for one dog owner to snap a digital photo of his beloved pooch, submit it to the Stamps.com Web site and order personalized postage.
The U.S. Postal Service last week authorized Stamps.com to test a new service (www.photo.stamps.com) that lets customers design their own, legally valid stamps by submitting digital photos to the Los Angeles-based firm's site.
Pets are actually the third most popular form of "PhotoStamps" so far, after baby pictures and snapshots of family members, according to Stamps.com chief executive Ken McBride. More than 2,000 sheets of personal postage were ordered in the first two days, he said.
Baby stamps for your holiday cards won't come cheap. At $16.99 for a minimum order of 20 37-cent stamps, they cost 85 cents each. (PhotoStamps can be bought in any denomination between 23 cents and $3.85 and should arrive by mail within a week.) You may have to order early, too, because this test is only authorized through Sept. 30.
McBride, however, said he anticipates that this trial will win approval from the Postal Service and be extended.
Postal officials will be monitoring to make sure the bar codes and serial numbers added to personal postage deter counterfeiting. They also want to verify that the agency's mail-processing plants correctly read the new format. While near-photographic in quality, PhotoStamps lack the highly detailed look of traditional stamps produced with a special photo-engraving process.
If you're thinking of gag stamps, watch out. At least two people at Stamps.com will be screening each photo submission to weed out objectionable material, including nudity, obscenities, politics, violence and trademark infringements.
Olympics Coverage Trapped in the Web
The Summer Olympics in Athens, which opened Friday, are the first to be widely streamed live over the Internet -- outside the United States, that is.
The International Olympic Committee allows broadcasters with TV rights to webcast the games, an option several stations in Europe are pursuing with plans for hundreds of hours of live coverage online.
Web users in the United States, however, will be disconnected from all that. NBC, which paid $793 million for Olympic broadcasting rights here, has decided not to offer any live Web video, and webcasters in other countries are required to block out Internet users from elsewhere.
NBC's Web site will instead show only delayed footage -- a daily highlights video package and clips from key events in each sport. The network will also require Internet users to verify their identity by providing their Visa credit card numbers, but its video will be free to watch.
Blockbuster Bids For Mail-Order Business
After years of questioning public demand for mail-order movies, Blockbuster rolled out a plan last week that mimics the service pioneered by Netflix.
Blockbuster's service is a couple of bucks cheaper than Netflix's -- $19.99 a month for three movies at a time, compared to $21.99 at Netflix. As in that competing system, customers get the next movie on their online wish-list when they return an earlier rental. Blockbuster said it offers 25,000 titles online and will give mail-order customers two coupons a month for in-store movie rentals.
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