An E-card is similar to a postcard or greeting card, with the primary difference being that it is created using digital media instead of paper or other traditional materials. E-cards are made available by publishers usually on various Internet sites, where they can be sent to a recipient, usually via e-mail. It also considered more environmentally friendly compared to traditional paper cards. E-card businesses are considered environmentally friendly because their carbon footprint is generally much lower compared to paper card companies and because paper is not used in the end product.
E-cards are digital "content", which makes them much more versatile than traditional greeting cards. For example unlike traditional greetings, E-cards can be easily sent to many people at once or extensively personalized by the sender. Conceivably they could be saved to any computer or electronic device or even viewed on a television set, and digital video E-cards have begun emerging.
Typically an E-card sender chooses from an on-line catalog of E-cards made available on a publisher's web site. After selecting a card, the sender can personalize it to various degrees by adding a message, photo, or video. Finally the sender specifies the recipient's e-mail address and the web site delivers an e-mail message to the recipient on behalf of the sender.
Some E-cards are intended to be printed out rather than sent via e-mail; to most people, however, these are not considered E-cards, but are simply home-made greeting cards. The advantage to this over a traditional greeting sometimes can be cost savings, or sometimes simply the ability to "create" something for the recipient rather than choosing a fully completed paper card.
Since its conception in 1994 by Judith Donath, the technology behind the E-Card has changed significantly. One technical aspect that has remained mostly constant is the delivery mechanism: the e-mail received by the recipient contains not the E-card itself, but an individually coded link back to the publisher's web site that displays the sender's card exactly as it was originally configured.
Postcards and greeting cards
Like their paper counterparts, "postcards" use visual art (static or animated images or video) and provide a space for a personal note to be added. These were the first type of E-card in use.
Like their paper counterparts, cyber "greeting cards" provide a greeting along with the visual art. Variations range from E-cards with fixed greetings like a paper card to selectable greetings (from drop-down lists or other selection options) to changeable suggested greetings.
This type of E-card is based on two-dimensional vector animation controlled with a scripting language. The format is proprietary to Adobe; however, widespread usage of Adobe's software allows this type of card to be easily viewed on most of today's computers. The recipient sees an animated short usually 15–30 seconds in duration. The animation often appears to have a cartoon style due to the nature of the content, though some Flash creations can be quite sophisticated and realistic. A sound track which may contain speech or music usually accompanies the animation.
Flash animated greeting cards can include interactivity, for example, asking the viewer to choose a picture to animate; however, most Flash E-cards are designed to convey the sentiment of the sender through simple observation.
Flash animated cards are offered today by almost all major E-card publishers and are consequently the most common format used.
"Video E-cards" use a combination of personalized text and video to convey the message to the recipient. A number of such services exist such as Rattlebox where the user selects and customizes text on a prerecorded video, and DVCards.com where a user with a web camera actually records their own video to send.
With the advance in mobile technologies, Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) which is basically picture SMS, became more popular. E-cards can now be sent to mobile devices and phones. Mobile E-cards or 'MCards' as they are more commonly known are then offered by different mobile content providers and carriers. Similar to E-cards, mCards can contain multiple pictures, music and text messages.
One of the first companies that created MCards is a Dutch Company called Mgreetings (established in 2003). MCards can be sent from a PC in a similar way as sending E-cards. Users can go to a website online, select a card enter the recipient's mobile number, and that card will be sent to the recipient's mobile phone as an MMS.
Web based multi-media E-cards
The web-based card creation has been evolving becoming more creative. The user can create greeting cards online choosing backgrounds, drag and drop images, animations, smilies and write text that look like handwriting. The E-card may contain videos and music as well.
Face upload E-cards
Flash 10 technology now enables sites to develop bespoke applications which can upload photos, manipulating them and cut out the head from it. The user can then embed it onto an animation so as to achieve a much higher level of personalization.
Some E-cards include interactive games. The games usually contain animation and music much like other animated E-cards and have the same functionality allowing the sender to add a personal message.
The greeting card metaphor was employed early in the life of the World Wide Web. The first postcard site, The Electric Postcard was created in late 1994 by Judith Donath at the MIT Media Lab. It started slowly: 10-20 cards a day were sent in the first weeks, 1000-2000 a day over the first summer, and then it gained momentum rapidly. During the 1995-96 Christmas season, there were days when over 19,000 cards were sent; by late spring of 1996 over 1.7 million cards had been sent in total. The source code for this service was made publicly available, with the stipulation that users share improvements with each other. The Electric Postcard won numerous awards, including a 1995 GNN Best of the Net award.
MIT’s postcards and remained the dominant and the only documented E-card service until the late fall of 1995. In Nov 1995, Awesome Cyber Cards and also then known as marlo.com (located at marlo.com until Oct 2010, now moved), began developing the Internet greeting card, a digital Internet card including a fixed or suggested greeting as well as an image.
When the Internet Archive began capturing Web sites across the Internet in the fall of 1996, it created a reservoir of information about E-card development by preserving Internet history from that time and from earlier time-marked Internet pages captured at that time. The Awesome Cards web pages, captured on Nov 10,1996 and available at the Wayback Machine demonstrate its development of the cyber greeting card through the year 1996 as one drills down through its card collections. Specifically, the holiday collections from earlier that same year give a virtual time-stamp,. of greeting card development, starting with Valentines with fixed or semi-fixed greetings in February 1996 and progressing through greeting cards with changeable suggested greetings by the Thanksgiving collection.
By mid-1996, a number of sites had developed E-cards. By mid October 1996, directly emailable greeting cards and postcards ("Email Express") were developed and introduced by Awesome Cards, based on new capabilities introduced in the Netscape 3.0 browser. This is the first time the E-card itself could be emailed directly by the card sender to the recipient rather than having an announcement sent with a link to the card's location at the E-card site.
Between Sep 1996 and Thanksgiving 1997, a paper greeting card company named Blue Mountain developed E-cards on its web site. Blue Mountain grew quickly by allowing visitors to create greetings for others to use. Blue Mountain further expanded when Microsoft promoted its service on its free Hotmail service. This affiliation ceased and Blue Mountain sued Microsoft in Nov 1998 for putting email card announcements from it and other E-card companies in the junk folder of its Hotmail users.
By 1999, major capital was starting to flow into the Internet, beginning the dotcom boom. Of the E-card sites, Blue Mountain Arts was noteworthy in this period for its sale in October 1999 to Excite@Home for $780M (which represent a price of $71 per unique monthly user). The transaction has been referenced by CNN and Business 2.0 as evidence of the Dot-com bubble. On September 13, 2001, three weeks before filing for bankruptcy on October 1, 2001, Excite@Home sold BlueMountain.com to American Greetings for $35M, or $3.23 per unique monthly user. The web site BlueMountain.com remains a large web site, primarily focused on E-cards. In June 2008, JustAnotherDotCom.com purchased the free E-card site Greeting-cards.com and added it to their own greeting card site, which made them one of the largest E-card sites in the world.
Originally, most E-cards were free, often sponsored by advertising. While free greeting cards are still the most prevalent and popular, some sites charge for either all E-cards or special premium E-cards. Others charge an annual membership which enables members to send cards for the duration of the membership.
Several non-profit organizations offer free E-cards as a way of having a supporter introduce the organization to another individual. In 2006, SOS Children's Villages - USA began offering free E-cards for many occasions such as birthdays, thank yous, and Mother's Day.
Sending an E-card to a given recipient invariably involves giving that recipient's email address to the E-card service – a third party. As with other third-party email services (such as mailing-list companies), the operator has the chance to misuse this address. One example of misuse is if the E-card service sends advertisements to the recipient's address. Under anti-spam rules used by major ISPs, such advertisements would be spam, since the recipient never asked ("opted in") to receive them. The E-card sender as well as the service could be held responsible for the act of spamming, since while the service sent the spam, the E-card sender provided the address.
In some cases, it may be illegal for an organization or business to use an E-card service to send greetings to its customers. For instance, data privacy laws may forbid a business from disclosing information about customers to a third party – including names and email addresses.
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