Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Eircode, six months on

The Irish Times took a look at the uptake of the Eircode six months on from its launch and concluded that uptake amongst the ordinary citizens of Ireland was sparse – about 2% according to one post office worker. Highly unscientific, but pretty interesting nonetheless.

Would it be inappropriate if, at this point, I got up on my desk and jigged around, shouting “I told you so!”?

Take up of postal code systems is always slow – I remember how long it took all the members of my family to start using their UK postal codes – but codes which are not designed with people in mind will, I think, never fully succeed.

We are not computers and do not think like them. Our geographical psyche works on an ability to associate with place and to be able to connect with other places nearby. In other words, if my land line telephone area code is 0495 I know that that’s the code my neighbour also uses. If my postal code commences NR14 1 then I know that that’s the same for everybody in my street. If my house number is 7 I know that my neighbour’s number must be 5, 6, 8 or 9. When my address is “High Street” then that’s the address for everybody else in the same thoroughfare.

The Eircode, and many other codes which for profit companies are launching, such as What3Words, Geotudes and Posttudes, fail to take into account the way real people think. Codes can be a boon for businesses with the infrastructure and skills to manage and decipher them (and that, after all, is where any profit for the code companies is going to come from), and the use of codes to provide temporary addressing in areas of world without an address infrastructure has merit; but without taking account of us, the people, I think their time has yet to come.

I can’t remember the What3Words of my address, partially because I don’t need to know or use it, but also because it has no connection with that place and is not part of my mental map. My mental map, and those of most people, is composed of significant (usually, but by no means always, named or numbered) features – buildings, streets, hills, trees and so on. Information about my residence which doesn’t fit into that structure is easily forgotten. When I can’t remember my own codes, there no chance I’ll ever remember those of my neighbours, which have no connection at all with my own. Though one gets the impression these days that few people can get by without a smart phone glued to their palms, I don’t believe that people really want to have to use technology to decode their environment. If somebody asks me where the station is, or how to get to the car park, or where the nearest supermarket is, the chance that I will ever resort to a code is zero. And when I have to call the emergency services because my neighbour’s house is on fire? They’ll have to get the required information the old fashioned way.

Codes such as the Eircode will eventually become more used, but I feel much of that progress will have to do with a certain level of coercion rather than a natural increase of uptake. Similar location codes launched in Middle Eastern countries only gained even a minimum of traction when the population were required to use them for essential services, such as their utilities. But will these codes ever become an integral part of people’s daily lives? 

I remain sceptical. 

1 comment:

garydubh said...

Good piece.
Aside from the points you make, there have been many other aspects of Eircode exposed as less than satisfactory, not least during the Public Accounts Committee's interrogation of Dept of Communications officials last week for non compliance with guidelines and regulations in the procurement process. The result of this was that neither the best consultants were hired and nor was a selection of code proposals considered i.e. action was not taken to ensure that the taxpayer got best value for money.

I am the developer and promoter of Loc8 Code and I appeared at the Oireachtas Communications hearings on Eircode last June. My submission is on the Oireachtas website here: http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/media/committees/transportandcommunications/GDelaney_JCTC-in-conjunction-with_Presentation.pdf

The assessment of Eircode at this link may also be of interest:

In other countries where a POSTcode has achieved reasonable penetration, the National Postal Company is using it. In Ireland, An Post are not. For this reason and the significant design limitations, Eircode is unlikely to enjoy any real use other than by State agencies for purely administrative purposes.


Gary Delaney