First thing’s first, what exactly is Postcrossing? And what is PenPal? On the face of it, both Postcrossing and PenPal are online services which match members across the world with other pen pal members. So the next question on your lips might be…

What is a pen pal?

A pen pal or penfriend refers to someone a bit like a friend who you exchange letters or postcards with. You’ve probably never met and typically, a pen pal resides in another country. Most likely, your pen pal is a stranger and your relationship is maintained exclusively or almost exclusively via snail mail.

Reasons people have pen pals include hobbies like:

  • Practising a foreign language
  • Learning about other cultures
  • Making new friends
  • Practicing literacy – for instance as a school child

What is Postcrossing?

Postcrossing.com is a postcard swapping project that allows anyone to send and also receive postcards from different places in the world. You can send postcards to different postcrossers (AKA members) all around the world.

How Does Postcrossing Work?

Postcrossing
The idea behind Postcrossing is simple but the process is relatively complex: for each postcard you send, you will receive one back from a random postcrosser from somewhere in the world. An account is free, but each member must of pay for the postcard or letter and the postage fees to mail them.

This is the Postcrossing process:

  1. The first thing that you have to do is to make a request to enable you to send a postcard.
  2. The site then emails you the address of a random member and a postcard ID (e.g. US-967). The postcard ID is made to uniquely identify that specific postcard in the system.
  3. You then write and send the postcard including the postcard ID and a stamp.
  4. Once your postcard arrives, the member registers it with the postcard ID, making you eligible to receive a postcard from a new member.

What are the disadvantages of Postcrossing?

1. Direct swaps not encouraged

While it is possible to swap postcards with the same PenPal, it may only occur once. These kinds of exchanges are not part of the officially recognized happenings on the website.

2. Limit on how many postcards may travel at once

The number of postcards that can be registered as ‘traveling’ at any single time starts at just five. The more postcards you send, the higher it goes, stoping at 100.

3. No address security

Your address will be given out to another random Postcrossing member.

What is PenPal?

PenPal on the other hand, is a modernized platform-community hybrid that makes matching, sending and receiving postcards via snail mail ultra easy, safe and cheap. It’s absolutely free to create an account and while PenPals always receive real printed postcards in the mail, the process is entirely online to send your postcards. Once you’ve finished designing your personalizable postcard (or used one of the many designs), the platform uses MyPostcard to print and deliver your postcards to your pen pal.

So how does PenPal work?

A graphic showing how PenPal works
  1. Create your free account and fill out your profile.
  2. Request a PenPal – either by the mystery match function to receive a random Pal, or by searching for them directly. You’ll have access to your new randomly-selected or requested PenPal’s public profile. This does NOT include their address. Your personal address in never shared and is securely hidden behind a username.
  3. Write your postcard, upload a photo and click send. (PenPal prints and mails your postcard.)
  4. Your PenPal receives your postcard! They mark it as received to check out your profile.
  5. And now it’s your turn. Better keep an eye on that mailbox!

The advantages of PenPal

1. Complete security

Unlike Postcrossing, your name, address and privacy are completely secure and private behind your chosen username. When someone sends you a postcard, they only see your username, which is then assigned to your private address in the backend of the platform. Other PenPals can see your location on the map, but only as close as your nearest city!

2. Direct exchange for true pen pals

Whereas direct exchange is not built into Postcrossing, with PenPal you can request up to 10 new PenPals a day. You’re then able to keep up a direct exchange with one or more of those PenPals – which of course is the traditional version of the PenPal hobby!

3. Join communities!

Join or create communities on PenPal and exchange postcards with members using the mystery random-pairing tool or by directly requesting members. If you simply want an online group for postcard exchanging with current friends and family members, then you could even create a private community and invite or accept only them!

4. Convenience and Affordability

The PenPal experience takes place entirely online until the moment your postcards arrives in the post. What does this mean for you? Essentially, it means that you no longer have to search for a pen, the right postcard, a stamp or the post office. That’s because PenPal uses the MyPostcard service to do all this for you. The price of a postcard includes free shipping at the cheap price of $1.99 – to anywhere in the world.

Postcrossing Vs PenPal: So which platform is right for you?

If you’re a stickler for pen on paper, Postcrossing is the service that allows you to write postcards to pen pals the traditional way. However, if you prefer a more classic style of pen pal – one who you can develop a relationship with over time via snail mail – then PenPal is without doubt the right platform for you.

Security, an easy random-match and direct exchange process plus a convenient online process make it a streamlined experience – right up until the moment you receive a postcard in the mail!

Author

Hiya, I’m Maud. I’m an English girl who's moved to Berlin - because who wouldn’t fall in love with a country which has words like ‘Kummerspeck’ hidden around every corner... I love traveling and finding out the quirks of each country - and what better way to remember them than on a postcard?

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