Ernest Marples: the first month

Well, it’s nearly been a month since Richard Pope and I launched ErnestMarples.com at OpenTech 2009.

The site offers a free API to convert postcodes into latitude and longitude coordinates. This is an important thing to be able to do: the postcode is a de facto standard for specifying locations on the web. Any site that needs to know your location will ask for your postcode — from mapping, to political engagement, to useful local services.

Unfortunately, the Royal Mail owns the postcode database, and maintains a stranglehold on it. They won’t let you use it for a website unless you pay them exorbitant fees (£1000+). This might be ok if you’re a big company, but lots of the most useful services aren’t. Those people have no choice but to use whatever data they can find on the web — something which, among other things, is very inconvenient. We decided to make it easier, and take that step out of the process. We do the tricky bit — sniffing the data out from the corners of the web — and pass it back to as structured information that developers can use to create sites that make people’s lives easier and better.

The site’s been up for nearly a month, and it’s been busy. Already, three libraries have been donated by volunteers — with no prompting — that make it much easier to submit requests using PHP, Perl or Ruby.  Scores of people have sent us messages of support. I’ve even been hugged. We’ve been written about by Guardian Tech and FreeOurData. The site has served lots and lots of requests to people doing useful things.

We’re delighted that it’s going so well, but we have big ambitions — so please help spread the word. We’d love to see lots of useful services using the site. The more people who do, the more irrefutable our argument will be when it comes time to persuade Government and the Royal Mail that the status quo just won’t do.

So please, blog about ErnestMarples.com. Tell your friends, colleagues, cats and dogs. Send tweets pinging round the world. We need all the help we can get.