Send holiday cards over the Internet -- for free
Tired of writing holiday cards? Try e-cards from E-greetings, ShockRave, and Apple.
December 14, 1998
by Stan Miastkowski
(IDG) -- Call me the Grinch, call me Ebeneezer Miastkowski, but it's been a decade since I've sent holiday cards. And I always feel guilty about it. But this year things are different -- at least for my friends and relatives who have e-mail.
E-greetings, Macromedia's ShockRave, and (surprise) Apple all have Web sites that send greeting cards over the Internet to anyone with an e-mail address. All three are free, since they're supported by advertising, but each also has its own personality and idiosyncrasies. Here's how they stack up.
E-greetings, the only site I found that's dedicated to sending greeting cards over the Internet, no longer charges for the service. You do need to register (which requires entering some basic demographic information) and get a user name and password. You will see plenty of banners and ads along the way.
E-greetings offers hundreds of cards in many categories. For the holidays, it offers greetings for Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year's, and a generic Happy Holidays. Each category has subcategories ranging from serious to humorous to downright risqué.
Once you choose a card, the process is easy. You fill in your custom message, enter the recipient's e-mail address, and click a Send button. For peace of mind, you get an identification number for each card, and an e-mail message confirming that it was sent.
The test cards I sent took a while to arrive, about an hour and a half. Standard cards arrive as small (12-20KB) e-mail attachments. If your recipient has problems opening the attachment, there's also a URL for the card, which stays on E-greetings' server for three weeks. The e-mail message includes a small ad for E-greetings, but it's not intrusive.
E-greeting also has animated cards, but you and the recipient both need to have the Macromedia Shockwave plug-in installed. E-greetings will install it automatically, should you so desire. (More on Shockwave below.)
Quite a ShockRave
Macromedia's ShockRave Web site, which highlights the company's multimedia Shockwave plug-in for games, cartoons, and music, has added a greeting cards section, dubbed FlashCards. There are about 30 cards, covering holidays and other events, with a heavy emphasis on cartoon characters from Dilbert and South Park.
All FlashCards have animation and sound, which require ShockWave and RealPlayer 5.0 to set up.
Getting into the site is a hassle. You click a link that checks your PC for the required components and downloads and installs them (about 1MB) if you don't.
Once past this barrier, you choose your card, fill in your message, and send it off. The test card I sent arrived at its destination in minutes. You can also send a carbon copy to yourself.
Your lucky recipient receives an e-mail with ad text, and a URL where they can access the card. Here's where it gets sticky: The recipient needs to have Macromedia FlashCard reader software to see and hear the card. The ShockRave site offers to download (about 100KB) and install it, but this may seem more trouble than it's worth. And worse, the page with the greeting is chock full of banner ads.
ShockRave's FlashCards are entertaining, but the choice is limited. And you should think carefully about the reaction on the other side, if your recipients find they have to download unknown software before they can see your greeting. Personally, I would just say no.
Apple: Think minimal
If you're into the minimalist approach, check out Apple Computer's holiday service. You must register your name and e-mail address first, then accept or decline receiving an Apple e-mail newsletter.
Once you're past that, the card choice isn't extensive; four cards featuring black and white images of Jim Hensen and Kermit the Frog, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and Gandhi. (Do these sound like the images used in Apple's current ad campaign? You got it!)
You can fill out your custom message on the card you choose, then send it off. Apple's is the only card service that lets you choose whether to send it as an e-mail attachment or a pointer to a URL embedded in the e-mail. My test card was received in minutes.
To Apple's credit, there's no blatant ad in the e-mail your recipient gets, nor on the page with the card. And thankfully, there's no "think different" text. There is, however, a full-color Apple logo on the page with your message.
The winner: E-greetings
With these three services, I've taken care of most of my long-ignored card list.
Of the three, E-greetings stands out way out ahead of the pack with its choices, ease of use, and (mainly) nonintrusive ads.
But don't forget the personal touch of a handwritten card. A couple of hours after I sent an e-mail card to a friend across the country, she called me and said, "I hate electronic cards."