Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Free the already free data!

Back in early July there was a Commons motions tabled that ended up with a vast array of signatures (68 in fact). The motion simply stated
"That this House believes that the Register of Postcodes is a national public asset and should be freely available."
As Puffbox noted at the time, it was mostly Labour MPs signing it, and he made reference to different campaigns to "free our data" and wondered if there was momentum for the campaign. Simon Dickson at Puffbox also then noticed strange things happening with the motion,

UPDATE: OK, strange things happening now. ‘The Status of this EDM is Suspended,’ according to the Parliament site. Anyone?

UPDATE 2: Now showing as ‘withdrawn’. Curiouser and curiouser.
I think I may have an answer which I considered writing at the time the EDM was live but got distracted by something else. Postcodes are already freely available and have been for ages.

Methinks that the most likely reason it was withdrawn was because someone pointed this out. It's good to see that so many MPs are in touch with reality and don't just sign any old motion huh?


Anonymous said...

I really hope that MPs didn't drop the EDM due to the existence of a clunky lookup facility on the Royal Mail website.

Not only is that limited to just 15 queries per day (inc errors), but there isn't an API to plug into.

What is needed is for the underlying data to be made freely available so that anyone, corporate, charity or webgeek can start playing around and making use of it.

I can buy the PAF database, but it would cost me a staggering £3,750 for a license to use it on a website. For a charity or small business - that is quite a painful amount of cash to pay upfront - not to mention you have to pay for each update thereafter.

I agree with the EDM that the basic underlying data should be released as a national asset.

Bob Piper said...

I'm not sure dizzy, but I think you may find the EDM was in response to suggestions that the government may be intending to withdraw the free use of postcode data as a way of reducing junk mailing.

I suspect that has been clarified as unlikely and the EDM consequently withdrawn.

dizzy said...

Perhaps Bob, although the tense of the wording implies to me the assumption that it currently isn't/wasn't.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you that 'ianvisits' is much closer to the mark. There's regular anguish about the status of postcodes, and it's become a bit of a 'cause celebre' in terms of Freeing Our Data.

There's huge potential for innovative online services based on postcodes - a piece of remarkably accurate geocoding data, which most people can quote off the tops of their heads. Like, oh I don't know, crime maps.

There's also the curious arrangement whereby local authorities have to notify Royal Mail of new addresses, then buy back the RM-allocated postcodes. That can't be right, can it?


So we're looking well beyond the ability to look up 15 postcodes per day.

And there are positive signs, with Royal Mail agreeing to let mashers use the postcode directory for the purposes of the Cabinet Office's Show Us A Better Way competition.


Sorry to undermine the story, Diz.

Anonymous said...

I think the Government are to begin charging for electoral roll data, but I think that's slightly different to postcode data.

Who knows? But one thing is sure, if the Government do start charging for electoral roll data, and MPs have to buy it, paying money to the Government for it, to do their jobs correctly, the media will be complaining about their huge expenses, and implying they use them all for bollinger and buggery.

dizzy said...

Doesn't undermine it really. Technically speaking postcodes are freely available. EDM rarely get withdrawn unless there has been a mistake in them by the raiser. They certainly don't get withdrawn if their successful.

I don't disagree with using postcodes for all sorts of things, I don't necessarily agree withthe idea that they arer a national asset mind you.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with ianvisits; I don't count the 15-a-day web interface as open access to the Register of Postcodes, and frankly I am surprised that you do, Dizzy. To me, it looks like heavily restricted access.

Would you describe a software project that exposed 15 lines out of every 30 million (or however many addresses there are in the UK) as open source? I think not.

Anonymous said...

@Bob Piper - the postcode data cannot be used for junk mailing as that would contravene the PAF licence. It can only be used to verify that address data is correct or that an address exists.

dizzy said...

dogides, how often do you need to find a postcode?

Anonymous said...

Who sponsored the EDM, Dizzy?

Anonymous said...

Never mind that 'junk mailing' would contravene any license, if anyone decided to mass mail the PAF they would in all likelihood be in need of a lesson in basic business. You have a product, you find the right market, you sell the product. Perhaps you can tell me how you expect to target your market just by using the PAF?

The PAF is primarily used for address verification and enhancement. Additional geo-coding then makes it useful for mapping etc, but otherwise it really has no further use.

Whilst I wish it was not so, I can fully understand why the Royal Mail would have a price on this data - there is a workload involved with distribution & maintenance of the list. They should provide a discounted version for SMEs, particularly those with a charitable focus.