January 2009

I spotted this article about postcodes on the BBC a few days ago. It points out how UK postcodes in their current form have been around for almost 50 years. Postcodes are of course hugely important. Though there have been stories over the years of Royal Mail managing to deliver poorly addressed, or even cryptically addressed items, the fastest and most reliable of getting a letter delivered is to make sure you address it with a postcode. Postcodes are also being used increasingly by personal navigation devices and online mapping services as a really simple and short way of identifying locations.

Considering how important and useful postcodes are, you would think that the post office would want to make it as easy as possible to get hold of information relating to postcodes. On the contrary, while it’s not particularly hard, it is prohibitively expensive. This, of course, is where the Free the Postcode project comes in. As such I’d like everyone reading this blog to make sure in this coming 50th year of postcodes that they submit as many postcodes to Free the Postcode as they can. Hopefully someone will make an Android, J2ME or Symbian app to make this easy, but in the meantime if you have an iPhone then there’s a new version of iFreeThePostcode available to you now.

I’ll talk about the new version in a moment but first I thought I’d mention how successful the app has been so far. My main source for statistics has been iTunes Connect, this is part of iTunes you generally don’t see. This is what I used to upload the app originally and setup my contracts. Apple also provide some basic sales data which can be downloaded in tab separated files. When I added the app I was able to choose what stores to make it available in but I decided not to limit it, so that visitors to the UK would still be able to help if they wanted to. Using the files I’ve found these are the top 5 countries that have downloaded the app:

GB 1683
US 535
CA 77
FR 69
IT 66
Others 684
Total 3114

With so many people downloading the app you might think we’d had huge numbers of submissions to freethepostcode.org. Maybe 2 per person, home and work? Or at least 1 per UK person to download? Well, while that hasn’t been the case, I’ve found that over the past month and a half since the app was released, nearly 50% of postcodes submitted to freethepostcode.org have come from my app. A few days ago I received the following stats from Dom, the administrator of freethepostcode.org:

In November 307 out of 1723 submissions were from iFreeThePostcode.
In December 587 out of 1199 submissions were from iFreeThePostcode.

So in December that was 49% of the submissions, and using a little maths I’m guessing at about 59% for the 9 days in November that the app was available. I’m really happy with that, but hopefully with the bugs ironed out, we’ll be able to get that even higher in the coming months. And so onto the new release…

Two days ago the new version of iFreeThePostcode went live on the app store. I’ve noticed a few negative reviews on the App Store saying things like “I tried to click the button to submit and it didn’t work, 1 star!” It seems that my existing way of telling you that the accuracy of your location wasn’t high enough was a little too subtle. Originally I set the button status to disabled, all this seems to do though is change the text colour from blue to black, not the most obvious change. I also colour the accuracy label red or green depending on whether it’s accurate enough.

iFreeThePostcode v1.0 Screenshot

The new version replaces the overly subtle “disabled” button with a label when the accuracy is not enough, this label also shows when you haven’t submitted a postcode or email address. I’m hoping this label will be clear enough and that people will now try waiting for a more accurate location. It’s a good thing to remember that not everyone installing your app will be a technophile, but then even amongst my techy friends there were people who couldn’t tell why they weren’t able to submit. I’ve also made sure that the app remembers the postcode that you’ve put in. The original version didn’t do this because I wanted to make sure that people didn’t accidentally submit the same postcode in different locations, but I’ve realised that this is unlikely to happen, whereas it’s quite possible that someone might be copying the postcode from an email or a contact, and might want to flick between iFreeThePostcode and another app without the postcode being removed.

If you’ve got an iPhone and have installed the app, please leave some positive feedback on the iTunes page to counteract the negative feedback. If you do have criticisms then contact me directly or leave comments on the blog post and I’ll try to put fixes in the next version. If you own an iPhone and haven’t installed the app, why not?! Head over to the iFreeThePostcode page for more information and for the iTunes link.

Oh yes, final thing to mention, this version is of course open source again, see the above link to download if you’re interested in finding out how it works. Patches welcome!

BarCamp Liverpool Logo

Wow, BarCamp was such a long time ago. Though I had an amazing weekend and felt really inspired by the end of it, real work brought me back down to earth pretty quickly 🙁

So far I’ve only been to one BarCamp, in Manchester, that was really good but only lasted for one day. I’ve also been to a WhereCamp which is basically the same thing specialising in location based services, this one did involve an overnight stay and was also fun (this one actually took place in the Googleplex!). Having had so much fun away from home I was really looking forward to having a BarCamp in my home town.

Something that I’ve been planning for a while to do at the next Liverpool Mapping Party, when I get around to organising it, was to prepare a big printout of the OSM coverage of Liverpool, get some stickers printed up with POI icons on them, and invite everybody to place stickers where there was missing POIs on the map. As I hadn’t got around to organising a mapping party I decided to do this at BarCamp and try to get everyone interested in editing the map. Cue me spending 3 hours the week before trying to finish all the surveying of South Liverpool and then spending hours on the Friday before BarCamp trying to input this data and prepare a PDF file of the map, suitable to be printed at A0 size. I managed to email my PDF over to the printers at 2:30 on Friday afternoon, fortunately they managed to get it printed within the hour so that I could pick it up on my way to the iPhone event. Unfortunately though the print-out came out looking great, and the vector-based PDF file had given a great result, for some reason all the road names were missing! This is the second A0 printout I’ve done that has had problems so I’m definitely going to have to spend more time on it if I try again.

South Liverpool is mapped on OSM?!

This is a photo of the map at the beginning of the weekend. Unfortunately it didn’t look much different at the end, only a few people bothered putting stickers on it. This was a little surprising to me but I guess that actually most of the people at BarCamp were from outside of Liverpool, and most of the ones from within Liverpool were from the parts that had been mapped. There was also an issue that the map was at such a small scale, and the stickers so big, that each one covered an area of about 1km2. I think the idea could still work but definitely needs to to be done with a larger scale map, more like the type of area you’d try to cover at a mapping party.

The talks at BarCamp were quite varied. Unfortunately as it has been so long now I can’t remember too many of the ones I went to, and I haven’t been able to find a full set of photos of the sessions board. Adrian did a good writeup here that you should read. I do remember a few of the sessions I went to though including one from Gill Hunt of Liverpool Ventures who talked about VCs and how to look for funding. Last thing on Saturday there was also the “Bitchin’ Pitches” session. I used this one to talk about my iPhone app iFreeThePostcode, it was good to get up alongside all the other pitches and talk about my app, but as I wasn’t really looking for money or anything like that there wasn’t actually all that much point and I didn’t end up winning a prize.

In the evening we all went to the bar downstairs at which Microsoft was sponsoring drinks. Beer tokens were handed out by the organisers which we all dutifully exchanged for beer at the bar. The “Bitchin’ Pitches” session also continued into the party with the best pitches being repeated in front of everyone. Melinda Stockington pitched her idea of a site that allowed you to log how often you read books and Adrian pitched his Arduino based Mazzini project for which he won first prize!

Due to the effectiveness of the MS sponsored drinks we were a bit late arriving on the Sunday but when I got there I decided to go for the “Let’s talk about sex” session as I couldn’t find anything else that interested me. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a load of Geeks talking about sex, it wasn’t quite as scary as you might expect though and most of it was a discussion of relationships and the Internet, including things such as the volatility of the “relationship status” on Facebook. Much amusement when someone suggested the use of HTTP error codes in sexual situations, the following being the ones I found most amusing:

  • 411 Length Required
  • 413 Request Entity Too Large
  • 405 Method Not Allowed
  • 416 Requested Range Not Satisfiable

I don’t know if we covered normal status codes on the day but I just noticed the following could be used too:

  • 100 Continue
  • 201 Created (pregnancy ensues!)

After this I went to a talk about “CodeWiki” which unfortunately I wasn’t really paying attention to at the time. This was followed by John O’Shea’s discussion about his Meat License Proposal. Again I wasn’t really paying attention at first, sitting at the back playing on my laptop. After a while though his talk made me pay attention, basically he’s proposing that to eat meat a person might have to obtain a “Meat License”. To get a license the person would have to have killed an animal with their own hands. It sounds fairly grotesque, but I found it a really interesting proposal and raises some good questions about how much we know of what goes into making the food we eat. Afterwards I talked to John about some work that he’s done as co-director of an artist’s collective that could make some good use of maps, hopefully I’ll be in touch with him again soon (just as soon as I get around to replying to his email!)

Later on in the day I gave a talk about the use of location tracking services on the iPhone. Really it was just to give me an opportunity to talk about mapme.at and get some opinions of what people expected from this type of service. It was also good to chat to Paul Stringer about his experiences from creating Coffee Buzz.

The final talk that I went to was Adrian’s Don’t Just Change the World… Improve It!. This was a good inspirational talk, it reminded us that the North-West was the birthplace of the industrial revolution and probably has a few environmental debts to repay, so if we can get involved with this side of things it would be a great way to repay those debts. Maybe I just liked his talk because his last slide was one of my photos!

This artwork was actually just outside the door to the venue for BarCamp and it really summed up Adrian’s talk well, this quote is definitely something to live by:


First law of the cosmos