Monday, November 13, 2017

When is an implemented code not an implemented code?

Regular readers know that I am not a fan of locational coding systems as a replacement for postal (humanly readable) addresses. I do not believe they can replace humanly readable addressing, and, despite a lot of hot air coming from various companies, I have yet to see a system in full working order.  

Take What3Words, for example.  OK, so I know I seem to bang on about them a lot, but I have a strong aversion to hype, and a stronger aversion to any organisation that sells themselves through clever marketing shored up by – well, very little else that is apparent to me.  Anyway, if you live on the oxygen of publicity, and you keep sticking your head above the parapet, you have to expect to be shot at.

So, What3Words.  They have announced in the past couple of years tie ups with various national postal services – Mongolia, Sint Maarten, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Tonga, Nigeria, Solomon Islands and Kiribati, in that order.  What3Words is an off the shelf solution – it should be fast and simple for any organisation to implement.  So, where are the implementations? I look at a lot of addresses in my job – I data gaze millions of addresses – and I still haven’t seen a single locational code actually being used.

So, I set myself a task – check these countries’ websites for progress on implementation. 

Mongolia has a page of information about What3Words. Sint Maarten has nothing (that I could find) but there is a video on their Facebook page.  Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Nigeria … nothing. Not a word. Tonga’s website had been hacked when I was checking…. Only on the Solomon Islands’ website is What3Words given the place it should have if it is a replacement for, or supplement to, the existing humanly readable addressing system. “Introducing Solomon Islands [sic] New Addressing System” it trumpets. A sound I would have expected from other websites.  But it is not to be. In fact, not a single one of these websites, even that of the Solomon Islands, has the contact address for the postal service concerned given in anything other than a traditional postal address format. Not one contains its What3Words' address. 

Leading by example? Apparently not.

So, what’s the progress on implementation in those six countries outside Solomon Islands?  Is it to be kept secret from the users?  Will it be quietly dropped? Or am I over estimating the speed at which these organisation work? (Though if Solomon Islands can do it, this should not be a valid excuse for the others). If it’s the latter, I notice that both Lebanon and Mongolia (again!) announced a partnership with NAC to use their codes in 2013. Four years later and nothing (visible) has happened.
This is not to say that code systems aren’t being introduced, and implemented.  Look at Ghana, for example, happy to publicise and implement its sparkling new home-grown system, and to publicise its own address in traditonal human-readable form, and as a locational code. I am curious to see how the uptake for that system is, and how well this implementation sticks.

So what’s going on here?  The emperor’s new clothes?  Crying wolf? Let’s see some implementation, and measurements of the success of new systems.  All this announcing without follow-up is unhelpful in the extreme.