Translating/Transcribing postcard messages

Thank you all for your input! This topic is going to be closed soon, but you can read my proposal in this opening post as a digest. Links are included to other posts for detailed descriptions. Postcrossing’s response is in #264

Original thread title: “Suggestion: Profile feature showing one’s consent/preference for written message to be posted online”

Previous thread title: How to solve the issue of the translation thread being inconsistent with community guidelines? Banning posting of postcard writings and other suggestions.

Recommended measure

First of all, my argument is primarily framed as a trade-off between efficiency and fairness. The starting point is two principles I think are integral to the Postcrossing project:

  • Senders are the most vulnerable party as far as the message part is concerned
  • Presumption of privacy
  • Transparency: Exceptions (at least significant ones) to be made explicit

I think the best way to resolve the issue of the translation thread being inconsistent with the community guidelines is:

:raised_back_of_hand:Ban the posting of postcard writings publicly in the forum

This is not meant to stop the translation thread. The difference is that it is not allowed to publish postcard writings in a public thread in the forum. People can still describe the situation and ask for help. The translation part will take place in private (through DM). This won’t affect translation of printed texts/captions on postcards, which is a great mutual learning activity. Hope Postcrossing @admin will give it a thought.


  1. Conforms to the community guidelines. No more exception within Postcrossing’s purview.
  2. Relieve workload of Postcrossing team to screen the content of postcard writings.
  3. Obviate the necessity to explain the official translation thread on the main site. Not all Postcrossers are forum members.


  1. More troublesome to get a translation/transcription.

The burden falls on the person in need of a translation to actively look for a translator, which I think is fair. So here I seek understanding of those directly affected, as well as Postcrossers at large, to support my proposal.

Further to the 2nd pro and following the two principles, in case a postcard gets published against the sender’s will, Postcrossing team and moderators not only need to delete the post but also inform the affected of the exposure, which is the responsible thing to do. If the sender doesn’t care, fine; if he does, then he deserves to know. To minimize such hefty work, even just theoretically, a blanket ban would be beneficial.

If the recommended measure is implemented, then we may even think of better ways to coordinate translation activities. For example

  • Introduce a mechanism to acknowledge someone’s translation effort (report to the admin, etc.)
  • Appoint “official” translators (like moderators, but in another group dedicated to translation)
  • Translate the community guidelines into multiple languages
  • Gather educational materials on how cursive writing is taught in schools across the world (again, leaving out postcard writings whose privacy concerns are not cleared)
  • Etc.

Alternative 1: Revise guidelines

Revise the community guidelines and specify in details what can or cannot be published. @catchycat has fleshed out this alternative in #117 and #112. My take on this alternative is as below:


  • Recipients to be prioritized over senders
  • Presumption of publicity
  • Significant exceptions to be made explicit


  1. Community guidelines reflect current activities on the forum (applicable to entire Postcrossing community)
  2. Easy to get a translation/transcription (a few people)


  1. Difficult to explain on the main site (entire Postcrossing)
  2. Difficult to moderate the content of postcard writings in English as well as non-English languages (than to ban posting since the latter doesn’t require knowing foreign languages) (moderators and volunteers)

Moreover, relaxing the privacy rule will jeopardize the core concept of Postcrossing. My understanding is that postcards sent through Postcrossing are private by default. See more on this point in #114 and #116.

Alternative 2: Keep status quo

Keep the status quo. Apparently the most popular or voluminous counter-argument. It is the opposite of my recommended measure (simply flipping the pros and cons). Basically it can be understood as prioritizing the use case of translation/transcription.


  • Recipients to be prioritized over senders
  • Presumption of publicity
  • Exceptions (at least some insignificant ones) to be kept implicit


  1. Easy to get a translation/transcription
  2. Decrease questionable posts outside of Postcrossing
  3. Safer to publish postcard images temporarily in a moderated public thread than to store them permanently in private messages


  1. None

The constraint of not being able to attach files to main site’s messages is cited as a reason #8. What this directly suggests can be either “attachment should be enabled on the main site” or “invite the sender to join the forum so that postcard image can be exchanged (in private message)”, but not publishing per se.

On the scale of such posting, @Cassisia calculated the proportion of official postcards affected (approx. 0.0001%). More details in #134 and further justification in #177 in support of keeping the status quo. See #252 for an exposition of this alternative (but with different reasoning) in response to my position reiterated in #251 and #253.

I have been questioned that if I think missing consent is a problem in a public post, then why am I not thinking it is a problem in a private message too (see #253 on what this statement implies). To clarify, I’m only taking issue with publishing postcard writings and private sharing is totally fine.

Data safety has been cited many times as justification for this alternative. A typical comparison is between “posting temporarily in a moderated public thread” and “storing permanently in a private message”. See #237. Whether or not this justifies the argument for keeping the status quo, two straightforward desirable improvements arose @paulo:

  • Enable attachment in main site’s private messages
  • Enable complete deletion in forum’s private messages

On the translation thread as “juridical discretion”, see #176. On presumption of privacy versus publicity, see #251.

The absorption effect (getting people to post here instead of elsewhere), being cited as justification for the status quo (see posts #48, #139 ). However, it is found to be irrelevant in a destructive dilemma courtesy of @S_Tuulia.

Other important concerns are raised such as the indefinite storage of private data on Postcrossing. See #191 #201. See #226 for elaboration and #230 for an interpretation.

In addition, as to why some issues are related yet separate and thus better to be addressed separately, see #211.

On the suitability of exceptions, @Frogglin brought up a compelling example of another forum in #160, which may be a good reference. Unfortunately, due to my word choice and timing, some points I raised in #163 remain to be clarified. I should’ve used the term expert opinion first, although now, from the description offered here, it remains an appeal to authority. The refusal seems to be directed to my character but I can understand it may also be due to privacy concerns. As long as Postcrossing team @admins learned about the cited forum (say, through DM), it serves the purpose.

Other suggestions

Here are some ideas gathered from the discussions on how the inconsistency may be reconciled. At least one of the three aspects should be fixed in some way:

  1. Community guidelines
    • Update it to mention the exception (translation thread) in the forum, or
    • Update it to mention the exception (translation thread) and warn of the possibility of being posted anyway, or
    • Revise it to allow posting postcard writings as long as personal info is removed, or
    • Remove the “don’t post postcard backside” guideline altogether.
  2. Official translation thread in the forum
    • Take it down, or
    • Change it to “vet before post” model where images are checked by moderators first (see #253 on how this may be subsumed under the 3 main alternatives), or
    • Ban the posting of message images (people instead describe the card and seek help, the translation takes place in private).
  3. Mentioning of the translation thread on the website
    • Explain the translation thread on the website, or
    • Add a note to the “Send a postcard” page.

More on the inconsistency issue

To elaborate on the idea, although the practice is common, legally speaking, one’s handwriting per se would probably fall out of the scope of privacy, unlike names and addresses. However, in regard to the premise of Postcrossing, it is reasonable to know Postcrossing’s official stance on whether the writings on a postcard should be kept private or can simply be posted online. This has to do with the overall expectation and experience of Postcrossing. In fact, Postcrossing’s community guidelines clearly state that

Keep private information private.
The addresses given to you are private information and can only be used for Postcrossing purposes. Do not share them with anyone or make them public on the internet. This also applies to what is written on the postcards you have received, so please do not scan it.

But there is a notable exception, which is the translation thread: Need help translating a postcard you've received? More discussion on this exception can be found here: Publication of postcard backs - Poll in Post 45 - #45 by varn.

:point_right:t3: Is posting the message image necessary to get a translation? No. People can describe the postcard, seek help and wait for someone to respond. The translation process can and should happen in private. Posting it publicly, no matter how short the auto-deletion period is, is not only an ill-conceived exception to the community guidelines but also unfair to non-forum-members who are not properly informed of this thread.
As above, the focus is not on how to stop people from posting, but rather on how to reconcile the inconsistency between Postcrossing’s community guidelines and actual practice.

Previous suggestion of a consent feature

No longer the focus. Please skip this section.

In view of the common practice that the written side of postcards is posted online by the recipient (presumably without the sender’s knowledge), I was wondering if it’d be a good idea to add a feature that indicates the Postcrosser’s consent or preference of the publishing of their writings on the postcard.

The feature is similar to the existing feature showing whether one is interested in direct swaps or not. For example, something like this (wording tentative):


On the other hand, the poll there shows some are okay that others post their postcard writings without asking them while others are not. Given there different preferences, would it be a good idea to add the subject feature to the profile page? If the person doesn’t need to be consulted, then we can straight away post it online (of course, after redacting all personal information).

It is not legally binding in any sense. Just like the interest in direct swaps, people can still ask them even if they say they are not interested. And one can of course change it, though knowing that the change is not retrospective. Please let us know what you think in the comments as well.

Do you think we should add to the profile a feature saying “consent to the publishing of postcard writings (except personal info)”?
  • Yes
  • No

0 voters

The wording in the poll above didn’t emphasize its being an option, so a rephrased version below just in case.

Do you think we should add to the profile a feature indicating if you “consent to the publishing of your writings on the postcard” or you “do not consent”.
  • Yes
  • No

0 voters

Ideally, there may a per-postcard permission feature. Sometimes we write a personal message while other times we write a generic one or the focus is on decorations.

Related topics

Does knowing even Postcrossing team is not honoring the “do not publish postcard backside” rule to the fullest make one even less willing to write a personal message on a postcard? Apparently some are disappointed by one-liners. “One liner” generic postcards

Mock-up exercise

Imagine you are an admin of Postcrossing.

Let’s suppose Alpha joins the forum at some point and accidentally finds a postcard is published there with the ID and his message in full view, Alpha is upset and decides to complain. How would you handle Alpha’s complaint?

Let’s suppose Beta joins the forum at some point and accidentally finds a postcard is published there with only his message in full view, Beta is still upset because that’s not what he expected. Beta decides to complain. How would you handle Beta’s complaint?

No, sorry, we don’t need to add a consent feature to our profiles.

I think you’re making this way too complicated because there is an exception to the “don’t publish the back” rule with people getting help with translation of the back of the card & you don’t like that exception.

Postcrossing does its best to protect people’s privacy & have sensible rules to live by in sending & receiving postcards. And in the best examples of rules, this one has some flexibility for a few exceptions like getting help with translating a sent message.

I think those exceptions are fine as we do actually want people to understand the messages sent to them & between language issues & really hard to read handwriting, so that help is available.

We’re talking about a very few cards compared to the millions of cards sent & received in a year. I think Postcrossers & Postcrossing can handle a few exceptions to that general rule without needing to change the default practice.


I understand where you’re coming from, but I also worry such an option might give a false sense of security, like people would think that checking “does not consent” somehow guarantees it won’t happen.

Sometimes I even worry the passage in the guidelines is itself giving a false sense of security, because it’s completely unenforceable off Postcrossing. I wish it just said not to display the message side on your Postcrossing wall, but perhaps warned people that it might be displayed elsewhere on the internet.

No matter how clearly you request of a random stranger that they keep something private, they may or may not do so, so it’s best not to write anything too private to begin with.


Yes, you’re right. I don’t like it because the translation thread is an exception to the rule, is an official thread run by Postcrossing but is not mentioned on the Postcrossing website. So I feel it is the translation thread that makes it complicated…

Unfortunately, some have already pointed out questionable posts in the translation thread. which shows how difficult it is to moderate such contents. The effort is laudable, but if it doesn’t live up to its promise, it will backfire and hurt Postcrossing. The last argument I want to hear is “because the backside (sometimes info not properly removed) is posted in that official thread, I can also do the same”.

This makes sense to me. It will reconcile the unease of the translation thread. In addition, it will also give users the right impression of what Postcrossing is about.


No! That would be understood as a license to publish the text side elsewhere! The rules should stay as strict as they are. Maybe the moderators should be more strict with the translation thread and delete all Enlish backsides, for “I cannot read this writing” is exactly not “I need a translation”. If one cannot read the writing, then they can ask the sender for there is no language problem!


The problem I see here is how to send the sender the scanned image of the back. If they are a member of the forum, no problem, but if not? I don’t think you can add attachments in the private messages on the official site and I wouldn’t want to exchange e-mail addresses with someone just because they can’t read my message. And I certainly don’t remember what I wrote on every postcard, so I wouldn’t be able to say what was written on it “off the top of my head”.

For me, if in the translation thread someone posts a message in English that they cannot read, it’s equally valid as asking for a “real” translation. They got a message they do not understand and want to know what it says.

I also don’t see a need to change anything in the rules. Translation thread can stay as an exception. It’s better for people to come there, where the images are deleted regularly, then for them to post the scans on Facebook or whichever social media site they prefer, and that would be the result if we forbid the translation thread.

When I write a card to someone, I always assume the back of it can be posted online somewhere. It’s just the times we live in. I have no way to stop it, so best to just accept it and adapt to it.


The main problem I see is that the recipients cannot read the variety of latin handwritings and that the senders do not put very much efforts into the readability of their writing.
If I cannot read a text, I register the card with not much more than a thankyou.


No moderation on any site is perfect, but I think in balance Postcrossing does live up to its promise.

And I’m not worried about someone using the translation thread as an excuse to violate the rules.


Problem with this type things is, many members don’t understand what this means.
Some don’t know English and aren’t interested in learning it.

One possible solution with the translation thread would be, if it must be kept, that the images would be sent to the postcrossing team, who makes sure that there are no names and id’s visible, and if they published the messages, no one would know who sent it and who received it. Or that the message should be accepted before being visible.


I think it only makes a small difference, because it happens on Facebook and Instagram all the time anyway​:flushed::grimacing::no_mouth::sob:

I haven’t decided yet if I think this would be useful or not, but not understanding is the first thing that comes to mind. I think that if I was a newbie I’d be pretty confused about what that means, even with my English… Of course after a while I’d realise why it’s that and I could change my preference, but it does add a further layer of complication.

All in all, I don’t think such an option would make the slightest difference. People would still post things online. They might do it months after they’ve received a postcard and not bother to go and check what the sender preferred. And yes while not legally binding, people might expect this to be respected and enforced, which is not the case.

In fact, now that I think about it, imagine the headache for the postcrossing team. Since it would be a feature of the main site, people would go and complain to the postcrossing team :thinking: (like if you’re harassed on private message, you’d probably report that to the admins, but for posting content online they’d have a lot of grief telling off senders for things they do on other sites. And probably other admin troubles that are not coming to mind at the moment).


I agree, if the translation thread must be kept. That’s a lot more work than the report-then-delete mechanism but sounds right. With that said, it brings back my opinion elsewhere that the translation thread may not be worthwhile after all. Forum members have so many alternatives to seek help before posting the image in public.

I don’t think it is a good idea. It would make it seem like it is ok to post the back sides of postcards freely because Postcrossing allows that option. If I follow your example of direct swaps - there is the option of direct swaps, some people opt in, some don’t. And many people completely disregard that someone is not interested in direct swaps and still send that person a direct swap request. I believe that if the rules of postcrossing were that users may not contact other users to arrange direct swaps, there would be far less people breaching the rule.

  1. It doesn’t matter how many polls you have, the resounding answer seems to be “No, a change does not need to happen.” At some point, it needs to be accepted that most people are just not all that bothered by the translation thread.

  2. There is absolutely nothing illegal about posting the backside of a postcard, especially when identifiers have been removed. The guidelines are just that…guidelines. They aren’t laws and certainly aren’t enforceable outside of PC itself. So, while some might not like their words being shared, all the discussion in the world isn’t going to change the fact that it might be.

  3. Every time you send a postcard, it is beyond your control what happens to it. So it really doesn’t matter if you consent or not.


Thanks for the input above. To clarify,

Summarized possible fixes in the first post :arrow_up:

  1. Most people are not bothered by the fact that the translation thread chooses not to follow the guidelines. There is really no necessity to reconcile the two.

The suggestion of the consent/preference feature was intended as a potential add-on. Returning to the origin of the discussion, why can’t it be properly explained on the website too? Why do Postcrossing promote a thread that they don’t think some Postcrossers will ever understand…

I’m sorry but I don’t see how we can possibly know that, since most users of the main site don’t use the forum at all. Perhaps most forum users aren’t bothered (we’re already choosing to interact here on the forum, writing lots of stuff for all to read) but it doesn’t seem very fair that users of the main site (only) are being told the written side is private, then having it posted here on the forum.

And especially not fair when they did everything right by writing the message in English and quite legibly, and the issue is just that the recipient can’t read even the neatest of cursive handwriting.

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I just cannot reconcile the translation thread with how the Postcrossing main site is presented. This portion of activity belongs to the main site, but for whatever technical reasons, is put here in the forum, albeit without letting all users know.

When I suggested explaining the idea of the translation thread on the main site, some expressed that it would only make things confusing or complicated because some Postcrossers are not good at English. Now I begin to think a better channel to divert the effort required for the translation thread (all the moderation, etc.) is for Postcrossing @admins to enlist help from forum members and coordinate the translation of the community guidelines into multiple languages. This will of course include explaining the “Use English” rule too. The community-translated version is likely to be better than a machine-translated one. Once done, it will benefit all users once and for all.

I was referring to forum members and the polls that this thread are about. Obviously, we cannot know how every single user feels about this. But we can assume that a serious amount of complaints have not been received.

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