Thursday, March 21, 2024

What does a man have to do to cover his costs?


I stopped charging for access to the Global Sourcebook for International Data Management ( in November 2014 – almost ten years ago. I wanted the information to be made as widely available as possible, and administering the paid version updates was laborious - I hoped instead to be able to cover my costs and continuing workload through sponsorship and donations. After all, I watched how Wikipedia raked in millions each year, and their international data information was, and is, poor, contradictory between pages and languages, and, in some cases, years out of date. My resource is by no means perfect, but by comparison it is 4500 pages of pure gold, pared, pruned and improved for over 30 years. Surely it would be no problem to get funding, especially as some customers were concerned that I would stop updating the resource without subscriptions, so they’d be the first to contribute.



I detest advertising on so many levels, but if it must be, surely rather advertising which reflected the information shown on the webpage rather than that which was “personalised” through pernicious spying and stalking. So I approached companies in the world of international data management and quality. People viewing the pages of the Global Sourcebook would be a perfect match for their services, and association with this respected resource would surely be a plus for any company in our sector. Alas, there was little interest – they preferred to trust their luck with Google and co. And as for donations … well, though the link for donations had around 1.5 million page views in those years, the number of donations was a disappointing. One, to be exact, providing a total income in that decade of 2 Euro cents per month.

OK, I get that business users are less likely to contribute – they have to go through overcomplicated internal processes to get access to even minor amounts, and the one contribution was from another sole trader – but the extent of the disinterest is still rather sobering. Finally, I had to give in and activate Google AdSense for the Global Sourcebook. I chose the least  pernicious options I could – no personalization, no tracking, no this, no that. And yet still I receive a few cents per day from those ads, more than I received in any given year when relying on voluntary donations. Why people would click on those ads is a mystery to me, but much is a mystery to me when it comes to my fellow man.

The bills continue to come in. The resource is used and admired, but nobody wants to support it with cold, hard cash. What does a man have to do to cover his costs? Answers on a  postcard please ….

Friday, February 9, 2024

Finally defeated by social media?


I must finally admit defeat – social media has got the better of me.

It was never going to be easy. Neurodiverse and social are never going to be comfortable bedfellows, added to which is an inbuilt stroppiness that won’t allow me to follow the crowd or to pander to algorithms.

Social media based on photographs was never going to be an option. Nobody photographs me, even my better half, who thinks that the cats are far more interesting, so why would I assume anybody else would feel some compulsion to look at my girning mug with any regularity? I don’t get it anyway – why do people want to see repetitive images of cloned plastic people standing in ways that break various rules of physics in order to stick one or other part of their anatomy closer to the camera? And why would you allow these people to influence you in any way whatsoever?

Beats me.

Twitter seemed ideal. I needed a platform where I could provide updates and news about international data management and quality – I’m by nature an information provider - and my number of subscribers finally stuttered to a halt at around 543. Hardly ground-breaking, considering the hundreds of thousands of people who need to deal with international data every day. But par for the course because 99.99% of those people will never be persuaded that their data is anything other than stagnant and just an extension of their own country’s data. Don’t understand the naming convention? Don’t know where to place the postal code? Don’t know why those numbers keep ending up truncated? Can’t work out what those dots and dashes on a letter mean? Just wing it. Or, better, just look the other way.

Which may explain my current very concerning lack of gainful employment.

Hint hint.

But even before the arrival of Clueless Musk things were not going well at Twitter. My posts increasingly seemed to be disappearing into an empty void. If anybody was there they weren’t really paying attention. Even the tumbleweed didn’t turn up to answer any questions that I posed.

So it wasn’t a hard decision to move across to Mastodon, a much more active, useful, pleasant (though more techy) environment. I boosted, I posted, I hashtagged. And my subscriber number ground to a halt at 13.


Maybe it’s the subject area. In a parallel life I have a passion for analogue planning and stationery, and a fellow sufferer suggested I create a YouTube channel. 47 videos later and I have amassed 359 subscribers. My videos are hardly professional, but they almost all get 100% approval ratings and are praised in comments for being useful and honest. Which is gratifying, because, again, information provision is what I do. Let’s just check some of the other reviewers. Yes, they have better and softer lighting, and they utilise the ubiquitous and carefully curated bookcase background along with the guitar leant up against a wall with studied casualness. But many are being paid to spout only the marketing blurb of the manufacturer with no honest comments at all. In many cases you can bet your bottom dollar that they haven’t even used the product. My subscriber number: 359. Theirs: hovering around 4.5 million.


Perhaps it’s time to admit defeat! I’m never going to “get” social media, am I? Perhaps that’s a good thing. I’ll have to think about that...

If you’re interested, I’m still plugging away on Mastodon at

Monday, December 12, 2022

Claim inflation


I’ve specialised in international data and its management for 30 years now, and everything I learn (which I still do daily) enforces the fact that the foundation anybody needs for successful international data management is knowledge. Knowledge, that is, of the world, its systems, conventions, languages, cultures and ways. Knowing how to code brilliantly is unhelpful unless you know what you need to achieve, and knowledge is essential when choosing a partner to help you with your international data quality.

I recently came across a provider of international address validation which claimed to support “250+ countries”. Defining what a country is is not as straightforward as you might suppose. It depends on who you are, where you are, and your political background. There are unrecognized de facto countries and non-existent de jure countries. Even so, however liberal your definition, you would not get anywhere near 250. If you’re counting the more accurate “countries and territories” then you’d get closer, but 250 remains claim inflation. There was a time when every address validation company was trying to outdo the others with country support number inflation. One supported 240 so the next claimed 250 and one even went for 300 plus, which is just ludicrous. This had calmed down, so I rather hope that this new claim is not the start of a new round of unsupportable claims. The company claiming 250+ includes uninhabited rocks (they may have an ISO code, but there are no addresses to validate) and non-existent political entities such as Antarctica. Check the claims in more detail, and they become more preposterous – they claim validation to postal code level even for countries and territories which do not have postal codes.

I would feel better about seeing claims like this if I thought that most people dealing with international data were well enough informed to be able to go to this company and say “you claim to support more countries than there are, how can we be expected to trust you with our data?” This wouldn’t have to happen often for providers of these services to sober up and start telling the truth. The company concerned claims 2800+ customers, including many large companies which should understand addresses. I understand the pressures that companies put themselves under to market and sell their products, but claims need to be based on truth. I did contact the company to ask about this – I received no response. If more people working with international data would educate themselves better in … international data… then that data would be better managed, cleaner and better governed. Let’s hope that things improve in the next 30 years.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Yes, but Google ...


Yes, but Google …..

That’s the start of so many sentences that I hear and read, and the prologue to having to explain, over and over, that the mighty Google are as prone to errors and have to follow the same data paradigms as other companies. Google is very good at some of what it does. In other fields it is average or, if I dare blaspheme, it is poor.  Yet Google is constantly being held up as the arbiter of everything that is correct. If Google says it, it must be so. It is the law, even in aspects as esoteric as language translation. In some cases this is just ignorance. In other cases organisations know that Google is wrong, but follow anyway because they make a commercial decision that they cannot go against the direction of the unstoppable machine that is Google.

This is a worrying trend which goes against the dictates of data quality.

Every database contains errors. Every database contains duplicates. Every database. Including Google’s. Google also lack knowledge, or lack the ability or desire to apply knowledge, in many areas. Problems may be the result of poor data management practices, of which Google is the victim just as much as anybody else; and of the perennial and ubiquitous problem of lack of knowledge or lack of motivation to acquire the required knowledge.

Thinking very specifically now of Google Maps, at the time of writing you may see a lot of duplicate information where they have merged sources and been loose with their de-duplication.  That single electric vehicle charge point at my local railway station? Google shows three. Those multiple building numbers on Hawaiian buildings on their maps? Duplication, because Google doesn’t have or apply the available knowledge about their format so doesn’t realise that 91-123, 123 and 91123 are all the same building. The failure of Google to find addresses in the borough of Queens in New York? Again, a failure of knowledge about local variations in address systems. And, more often than not these days, the format of addresses displayed in Google Maps for many countries is demonstrably incorrect for that country.

That’s how things are now, and Google does change things around a lot so these aspects may no longer be an issue as you read this. Instead, other problems will pop up. Because Google makes mistakes, just like anybody else. What really worries me, though, is how people can’t see, or can’t accept, that Google is anything but perfect. Will Google’s errors cause institutions to start formatting addresses the wrong way, because “Google”? I hope not. In the meantime, I shall keep plugging away and explaining, every time I hear “but Google …”, that Google has a long way to go before they reach omnipotence in knowledge and its application. It’s not even close. So, please spare me the “Yes, but Google …” 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The unaddressed ... and, inevitably, What3Words ...


I received an e-mail the other day from one of the millions of “unaddressed” people of the world, living where there are no street names or building numbers. He lives in Ghana, and does have a postal code, a code which resolves to a GPS location so that Ghana Post can deliver to him.  But that’s his problem – it’s only used currently by Ghana Post. He would like to order from companies outside Ghana, but they all require a street address and none will accept the Ghana GPS code, nor a latitude/longitude. What to do? I wish I’d had a short-term solution for him.

There are around 30 global code systems that are eager to fill the unaddressed gap, and a further 20 or so which work at a national level. No organisation would be keen on implementing all 50 systems in their online retail portals – in fact, few organisations seem keen to implement any at all, despite companies such as What3Words throwing ridiculous amounts of money around to try to be the default choice for adoption. Adoption by a one organisation wouldn’t be sufficient – the whole chain, including all delivery companies, would need to adopt the same code system too.  Would Ghana Post be willing to deliver mail using another company’s code system?

Regardless, some of these code systems have been around for a number of years, and their adoption rates, despite their best efforts, remains low.  There are good reasons for this. Postal address systems are very varied, both within and between countries, but most consist of similar sets of information and all, to a greater or lesser extent, can be interpreted by using something we all have with us at all times – our brains. What3Words likes to market itself as new and edgy, a start-up; but it was founded in 2013 – almost middle aged, in my book. They’re haemorrhaging money at an alarming rate. In the good old days, questions would be asked about a company that wasn’t even close to even covering its costs after 8 years. But it appears that investors will continue to throw their money into this pit despite increasing rates of negative publicity about its many flaws. What3Words, in their overweening conceit, simply will not accept that their system is anything other than perfect, despite obvious proof otherwise. This will be to their cost – there’s only so much their marketing can do to hide the facts. At what point should it become clear that What3Words and other, similar, systems are not what people are looking for? The amount What3Words spends on marketing and legal procedures each year could provide a lot of Ghanaians with the infrastructure required to give them the addresses they sorely need.  I know where I would prefer to see this money spent.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

How useful are telephone numbers in addresses?

Some people include a telephone number in their street address information in order to improve the chances of a package being delivered. In fact, some countries include a telephone number in their official address block format. But in a world where parcels are increasingly chucked over fences or launched from moving vehicles in order to achieve faster delivery times as margins become ever smaller, what chances are there that a courier would take the time to call a number to try to improve the chances of a package being delivered? Even the better courier companies have, thanks to Covid-19, abandoned getting signatures acknowledging package receipt. The way things are going, I foresee package delivery going down a tariff path similar to that followed by airlines and health services – the standard price you pay just gets your parcel into the system. If you want it treated well and delivered to the intended recipient, you would have to pay the premium.

But even if it were practical for the courier to use their time to call the intended recipient to help them get to the delivery point, how useful would it be? We all know that it’s not easy giving accurate directions to somebody even when they’re standing next to you and you’re both facing in the same direction. What are the chances of providing enough useful information when you don’t know where the courier is, in which direction they’re pointing or which positional coding app they happen to have on their phones?  If they cannot find you with the address information already provided, would a telephone call provide enough information to help? Apart from the occasional “I’m outside the front entrance, which floor are you on?” type of request, I wonder about the usefulness.

What do you think? Have you experienced telephone numbers in addresses providing a useful addition? Are they actually being used? Any anecdotes? I’d love to know.

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.