The Null Device

The UK postcode system turns 50

The British postcode system, one of the things which Britain arguably does better than anyone else, is 50 years old. The system divides the entire UK into alphanumeric postal districts organised in a hierarchy, with the first one or two letters denoting a postal area (typically a city or the environs of one, though London has several). Unlike systems elsewhere (such as the US, Australia, and most of Europe), it doesn't stop at the neighbourhood level, with each 5-to-7-character full postcode denoting a segment of a street. This makes it useful for applications other than addressing mail, such as navigation; as such, you can enter a postcode into Google Maps or a satellite navigation unit and be shown exactly where it refers to.

Unfortunately, though, the database of postcodes and their locations is another victim of the British institutional custom of copyrighting taxpayer-funded databases and licensing them only at great expense and under onerous terms (see also: the Ordnance Survey), effectively restricting them to moneyed corporations. However, there are several unofficial efforts to assemble this data from scratch and release it into the public domain.

There are 3 comments on "The UK postcode system turns 50":

Posted by: Michael Stillwell http://beebo.org Sun Oct 4 09:08:55 2009

I didn't realise this was the sort of thing that wikileaks wanted to get involved in (it's not something that suppressed because an organisation doesn't want people to know about it, but something that's suppressed because they want people to pay for it) but someone put it there anyway:

http://wikileaks.org/wiki/UK_government_database_of_all_1%2C841%2C177_post_codes_together_with_precise_geographic_coordinates_and_other_information%2C_8_Jul_2009

Posted by: acb http://dev.null.org/acb/ Sun Oct 4 10:42:53 2009

Of course, if one were to use the leaked data in any public way, one would be sued for violating Crown Copyright and would almost certainly lose, which makes it little more than a distraction.

Posted by: Ben Tue Oct 6 13:36:22 2009

A boycott of the postcode, when sending letters, has been suggested (not by me but on the Register at http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/10/06/royal_mail_ernest_marples_postcodes/ )

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