A Post about Post Boxes: Crowd-sourcing data

Source: 'hey mr glen', Flickr

Not a particularly library-related post, but I stumbled across something information-y and interesting that I thought others might like to know about, to do with data and crowd-sourcing.

Basically, it all started because I needed to post a letter. So far, I have passed postboxes on the way to somewhere else, but unfortunately I had no plans today. As such, I wanted to know where the nearest post box was to my flat. I’ve seen one very nearby, but I suspected there was another even closer. My first step, as it always is, was to Google it. I searched ‘postbox finder’. The result was an App page on data.gov.uk,  which then took me to a web-based post box finder. From here I could search by postcode. 

The comments on the first site intrigued me, especially as it mentioned a Freedom of Information request, which we had just learnt about in one of my lectures this week. Basically, a FOI request was sent to Royal Mail requesting data on the location of postboxes in the UK, but resulting data set was not up to scratch. So, the Dracos site has crowd-sourced post box locations, with co-ordinates for accuracy. Someone has also created the UKPostBox app for Android, which provides this information, and locates you through gps.

I have explored data.gov.uk a bit more, and they have a selection of different apps based on similar ideas. For example, locating the nearest pharmacy, or searching for road works by area, and one app provides visualisations of data in the form of pie-charts or maps. I am always looking up things like these, especially having moved a lot in the last few years.

The site also has an ideas section. The example they give is ‘Does Britain need a map showing which roads have been gritted when it snows?’. People can read these ideas and rate them. In the data part of the site, you can search and browse over 7700 data sets on the site, and can browse through tags. I can see this coming in very handy!

UKPostBox, Source: data.gov.uk

The whole thing reminded me of an Information Literacy lesson, where we discussed information resources. The reason for this app’s existence was because this information resource was lacking, and someone took the initiative to create it.

I can happily say I have now download UKPostBox to my Android phone. The little red post box looks quite adorable.


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