ErnestMarples.com serves up free postcode data (just don't tell Royal Mail)

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We may be doing the founders of ErnestMarples.com a disservice, rather than a favor, in drawing attention to their site. Why? Because in the quaint world of Ye Olde Englande, Her Majesty’s Royal Mail still owns all the zipcode/postcode data. Unlike the US, where web apps and Google Maps have thrived on free to access zipcodes, the UK remains far behind. To license it requires hard cash, something innovative, early-stage startups rarely have. But ErnestMarples is basically a postcode database with an API sitting on top. It allows developers to build cool projects without having to pay Royal Mail (or Her Majesty) an arm and a leg for the privilege of the data. Boston Tea Party anyone?

I met Harry Metcalf, one of the guys behind ErnestMarples, at Young Rewired State (a project whose goals were very similar to ErnestMarples.com’s). “We’ll undoubtedly get shouted at severely by the Royal Mail eventually,” he said. “But before we do, it would be great to have lots more people write useful apps that use the ErnestMarples API. If we get shut down, we’ll make lots of noise, and lots of useful apps would make for a much more powerful argument for more open data.” Fighting talk.

Metcalf and his co-founder Richard Pope won’t say where their data comes from, though they claim they “don’t hold a copy of the postcode database ourselves, neither in complete form nor as part of a cache”.

Projects created to date using the ErnestMarples.com API include PlanningAlerts.com, which alerts you of planning applications submitted near you; The Straight Choice, an election leaflet monitoring service and Jobcentre Pro Plus, which provides geographically filtered email alerts for job vacancies.

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