October 3, 2009 3:40 PM Subscribe
posted by acb (126 comments total)
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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.