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An e-card is similar to a postcard
A postcard or post card is a rectangular piece of thick paper or thin cardboard intended for writing and mailing without an envelope....

 or greeting card
Greeting card
A greeting card is an illustrated, folded card featuring an expression of friendship or other sentiment. Although greeting cards are usually given on special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas or other holidays, they are also sent to convey thanks or express other feeling. Greeting cards,...

, with the primary difference being that it is created using digital media
Digital media
Digital media is a form of electronic media where data is stored in digital form. It can refer to the technical aspect of storage and transmission Digital media is a form of electronic media where data is stored in digital (as opposed to analog) form. It can refer to the technical aspect of...

 instead of paper or other traditional materials. E-cards are made available by publishers usually on various Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

 sites, where they can be sent to a recipient, usually via e-mail
Electronic mail, commonly known as email or e-mail, is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to one or more recipients. Modern email operates across the Internet or other computer networks. Some early email systems required that the author and the recipient both be online at the...

. It also considered more environmentally friendly
Environmentally friendly
Environmentally friendly are terms used to refer to goods and services, laws, guidelines and policies claimed to inflict minimal or no harm on the environment....

 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
A digital system is a data technology that uses discrete values. By contrast, non-digital systems use a continuous range of values to represent information...

Content (media and publishing)
In media production and publishing, content is information and experiences that may provide value for an end-user/audience in specific contexts. Content may be delivered via any medium such as the internet, television, and audio CDs, as well as live events such as conferences and stage performances...

", 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.

Printed e-cards

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.

Technological evolution

E-card technology has improved significantly since 1984, about the time of its inception. 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.

Flash animation

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

"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.

Mobile E-Cards

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 ecard 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.

E-cards games

Some ecards include interactive games. The games usually contain animation and music much like other animated ecards and have the same functionality allowing the sender to add a personal message.


The greeting card
Greeting card
A greeting card is an illustrated, folded card featuring an expression of friendship or other sentiment. Although greeting cards are usually given on special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas or other holidays, they are also sent to convey thanks or express other feeling. Greeting cards,...

 metaphor was employed early in the life of the World Wide Web
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet...

. The first postcard site, The Electric Postcard was created in late 1994 by Judith Donath
Judith Donath
Judith Donath is a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center and was the founder of the at the MIT Media Lab. She has written papers on various aspects of the Internet and its social impact, such as Internet society and community, interfaces, virtual identity issues , and other forms of collaboration...

 at the MIT Media Lab
MIT Media Lab
The MIT Media Lab is a laboratory of MIT School of Architecture and Planning. Devoted to research projects at the convergence of design, multimedia and technology, the Media Lab has been widely popularized since the 1990s by business and technology publications such as Wired and Red Herring for a...

. 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 ecard 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
Internet Archive
The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. 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
Wayback Machine
The Wayback Machine is a digital time capsule created by the Internet Archive non-profit organization, based in San Francisco, California. It is maintained with content from Alexa Internet. The service enables users to see archived versions of web pages across time, which the Archive calls a "three...

  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 then-popular 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 ecards 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 ecard 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 ecard 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
Cable News Network is a U.S. cable news channel founded in 1980 by Ted Turner. Upon its launch, CNN was the first channel to provide 24-hour television news coverage, and the first all-news television channel in the United States...

 and Business 2.0 as evidence of the Dot-com bubble
Dot-com bubble
The dot-com bubble was a speculative bubble covering roughly 1995–2000 during which stock markets in industrialized nations saw their equity value rise rapidly from growth in the more...

. On September 13, 2001, three weeks before filing for bankruptcy on October 1, 2001, Excite@Home sold BlueMountain.com to American Greetings
American Greetings
American Greetings Corporation, Inc. is the world's largest publicly-traded greeting card company. It is based in Brooklyn, Ohio and sells paper greeting cards, electronic greeting cards, party products , and electronic expressive content...

 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 ecards as a way of having a supporter introduce the organization to another individual. In 2006, SOS Children's Villages - USA
SOS Children's Villages - USA
SOS Children’s Villages - USA is part of SOS Children's Villages, the largest orphan and abandoned children’s charity in the world. SOS Children's Villages - USA has been in operation since 1969 and has 501 tax exempt status...

 began offering free ecards 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.

In late June 2007 a spate of emails with the subject line "You've received a postcard from a family member!" and other similar subjects, was seen making their way across the internet. Unfortunately most of these emails contained links to malicious web sites where Javascript
JavaScript is a prototype-based scripting language that is dynamic, weakly typed and has first-class functions. It is a multi-paradigm language, supporting object-oriented, imperative, and functional programming styles....

 was used to exploit the browser in order to compromise a system, or contained a link to a malware
Malware, short for malicious software, consists of programming that is designed to disrupt or deny operation, gather information that leads to loss of privacy or exploitation, or gain unauthorized access to system resources, or that otherwise exhibits abusive behavior...

file masquerading as an e-card.