Free the postcode now! All you need is an iPhone

Next Story

CardSmart is Web dumb – but it'll probably be a smash anyway

The postcode database – which turns a postcode into a longditude and latitude and back again – is not free in the UK. In the US this data is free, hence why so many great web applications have been launched, businesses built, mortgages paid for etc. But no, not in the UK. The Post Office owns this data and sells it to companies for a large amount of money (only large companies can afford it) for things like parcel tracking. But of course, 80% of businesses in the UK are small. They can’t afford the data so they have to make do with whatever services they can get. Plus, of course, non-profits can’t use the data either.

So what you need is people collaborating with GPS units noting positions and postcodes using a simple application. iFreeThePostcode is this ridiculously simple app and it’s now on the iPhone for free. (iTunes link).

The aim of it is to allow you to submit postcodes to the Free the Postcode project.

The iPhone app was created by John Mckerrell. The site was created by Steve Coast of Open Street Map fame and is currently managed by Dominic Hargreaves.

This is a project to create a public domain postcode database in the UK, a much cheaper option than the existing database.

When you start up the app it shows you a few text boxes and your current latitude and longitude. When your accuracy goes below 50m it will turn green and you will be able to submit your postcode. You also need to enter a valid email address, this is to stop spammers sending useless data and to allow some tracking of who has submitted what postcodes. If someone is found to be submitting copyrighted data, their submissions could therefore be removed though this should not be an issue when using iFreeThePostcode as you will be using the iPhone’s GPS. Once you click submit you should get a success or failure message. If your submission succeeds you will receive an email containing a special link. The application has also been made open source.

You can also submit postcodes using andnav for Android phones.

The ideal scenario is when visiting a pub or restaurant, you can take a look at their menu or ask the staff for the postcode and submit it from that. I think there might be some way of incentivising people to do this – perhaps getting their Twitter account listed or something?

So go download it and smash the Royal Mail monopoly people.

  • Darren

    Hear Hear! :)

  • Chris - LG

    Excellent example of real life wikism (if that’s such a thing). User-built and maintained knowledge bases – a great thing in my opinion.

  • Ollie Parsley

    I work for Dorset County Councils GIS team. We get the post office data from Ordnance Survey, but they arent supporting the data much longer. Each district council now surveys addressable properties for the National Land (NLPG) & Property Gazatteer and then the Local Land and Property Gazatteer (LLPG). Its a hell of a lot cheaper and takes into account building that do not have post office addresses, like village halls.

    Great to hear other people standing up to the Post Office


    My views are my own on do not represent those of DCC :)

  • Itamar

    Nice initiative,
    in the meantime small businesses could use Google map Geocoding APIs, it works with postcodes:


  • Allan Edwards

    Is there a Symbian bversion in the works?

  • Jon Winterbourn

    Great idea – simple but effective. Look forward to using it.

  • Christopher

    A much simpler method of achieving the same thing would be for someone with access to the database to feed all the postcode to latlong mappings into the public domain database. How would anyone know?

    • Tim Waters

      Christopher, a) you’re missing the point b) it’s wrong and c) they will know.

      a) Associate opensource software with open data.

      b) Compare stealing Windows vs using Linux. We don’t have to use their stuff, we can do it ourselves.

      c) It’s like TV licences. They (copyright holders, Royal Mail) know who have a licence for their data. If someone says “here’s our list”, they can check their records.

  • Free the information! | SquareCows

    […] just been reading this article and thought I’d share with you […]

  • Joe

    @Itamar The Google Geocoding API only allows the first part of the postcode to be geocoded, hence resulting in less than accurate results.

    I think this initiative is a great idea! Now how can we help without an iPhone or Android-based phone?

    • John McKerrell

      I think there’s J2ME versions in the works, keep an eye on for more information. If you have any other type of GPS you can always note down the lat/lon and postcode manually then submit them when you get access to a computer, via the website. If you don’t have a GPS, unfortunately there’s not much you can do, perhaps just persuading anyone you *do* know that has a GPS to get involved would be enough :-)

  • Chris

    It’s great, but O2 will have to improve its 3G network. Because even inner M25, there are a lot of places without 3G coverage or also Edge…

    I’m not sure this application will work without a decent connection.

    • John McKerrell

      Chris, the app should work fine so long as you have some sort of access, i.e. GPRS should be fine. It might take a little longer to get a fix as the GPS makes use of the internet connection but it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. The actual submission is a tiny request so shouldn’t take long on any connection.

  • Darryl Collins

    Great idea, long overdue disruption. Here’s a handy tool we created to locate the right Lat/Long for another project that might be useful! :-)

  • Danny Bull

    An excellent initiative, and hopefully one that will some day help change the insane ownership of postcode data here in the UK.

  • Free The Postcode « We Klik

    […] Free The Postcode Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: Free The Postcode, Postcode Database, The Post Office — We Klik @ 11:00 am I saw an interesting article on TechCrunch about our national postcode database and how the Post Office owns it and only currently sell it on with a high-end corporate price tag. The article informs that if there was an alternative free postcode database system that could be developed via GPS collaboration, this would open up a host of location oriented apps. The Techcrunch article can be seen here. […]

  • MrWebService

    Not only does the postcode data have to be recorded however, it has to be maintained. There are over 100,000 changes to the Royal Mail PAF (Postcode Address File) every month. Royal Mail has the resources to carry out these updates – a bunch of people with iPhones do not.

    I’m all for open source, wikinomics and collaboration, because – well, it gets people stuff for free, but ultimately I don’t think enough people care about the data for there to ever be a viable enterprise-level “open source” postcode file.

    This bit is also untrue:

    “The Post Office owns this data and sells it to companies for a large amount of money (only large companies can afford it) for things like parcel tracking. But of course, 80% of businesses in the UK are small. They can’t afford the data so they have to make do with whatever services they can get. Plus, of course, non-profits can’t use the data either.”

    There are resellers who can afford to buy the data from Royal Mail and offer it to small-medium companies and charities for affordable prices. The company I work for, Postcode Anywhere ( is esentially a reseller of the Royal Mail data. It builds value-added services around the data (such as postcode lookup functionality for web forms and in-house applications) and sells it on at affordable pay-as-you-go rates.

    What’s more, because the data comes direct from the Royal Mail, it’s always up-to-date. Charities who use our service include Oxfam, Comic Relief and UNICEF, among thousands of SMEs (small-medium enterprises).

    The licencing around the PAF is constantly changing and can cause issues, but really I think the system is here to stay.

  • http://link BadGirl80

    Dividends have very little to do with the price of a stock. ,

blog comments powered by Disqus