Why is €50m Eircode better than free Google Maps?

Why can’t we do anything right?

Nobody is using Eircode, and why should they? It’s deliberately designed to be obscure, opaque and incapable of rational understanding. It consists of digits and letters that give no clue as to the location they represent. Going by the Eircode, your house and my house might as well be on Mars and Neptune even though we live next door to each other and that’s not by chance. By its very nature, it’s random, though the reasons for that are still a bit ambiguous. Proponents of Eircode explain that you can’t have a sequential list of numbers or digits because then it would be impossible to go back and insert a new code if somebody happened to build a house between yours and mine. (Not that we’d ever allow a thing like that to happen).

This argument is known in the trade as bollocks. Of course a code could have been devised to allow such a thing to occur, over and over if necessary. They just didn’t want it that way.

But why? you must be wondering. Why couldn’t we just go out and assign grid references to every single location on the face of the earth, or at least on our little patch of it? Wouldn’t that identify uniquely exactly where your house is, no matter how remote, and no matter how many people with the same surname live near you?

Well, yes, but that would be logical and this, after all, is Ireland. It wouldn’t do to simply do the logical thing when instead you could set up a working group to study the problem. Of course, the  working group would have to be broadly based, so it would be necessary to have meetings all over the country, meetings people would have to drive to and claim expenses for. There would have to be overnights, obviously, and fact-finding trips to see how they do it in other countries. Many fact-finding trips to foreign countries. Very important.

Then there would have to be focus groups, overseen by a high-powered task force consisting of senior civil servants who naturally would have to attend all the meetings around the country and abroad.

But the most important thing of all would be to make sure that none of the focus groups or the task force contained even a single person with the technical skills to analyse the problem or to challenge the claims of contractors looking for the work.

The next stage in the Irish system is to draw up a request for proposals, which must be kept as vague as possible. It’s very important at this stage to ensure that at least half the entire budget has already  been used up and that the Minister has no politically-viable way of backing out. From now on, your Minister becomes a mouthpiece who will defend everything you do, to avoid looking like a fool. Once you achieve this, you are untouchable, and if you happen to be a mid-ranking civil servant you can look forward to a promotion no matter how badly the project fails.

After the request for proposals comes the selection of the consultant. Again, at this stage it’s very important to make sure that nobody on the selection team has the slightest understanding of what the technical issues are. All competent people in your department must be kept well away from this critical process. On no account permit scientists, engineers or information technology specialists anywhere near this phase. They will destroy all your hard work with well-researched facts and logical objections.

The consultant will now prepare a schedule of deadlines which you must follow. Each of these deadlines involves your team signing off on a crucially-important step in the development process. When a deadline approaches and your team is under pressure, the consultant will offer to supply technical support at a rate of, let’s say, €3,000 per day per adviser. This will help your team to meet the deadline and sign off on the stage they still don’t understand.

Once this process is complete, your Minister is now embedded in it up to his neck, with no way out. Don’t worry if you have now exceeded your budget by 50% or more. This is a good thing. Your path to Secretary General is looking smoother by the day.

Meanwhile, these inconvenient chaps in Goggle or Geegaw or Smeegle or whatever it calls itself have just come up with a map thingy. And it’s free, which doesn’t fit in with your plan at all.

And so, you send your Minister out to talk on the radio, on a show where RTE obligingly provide a presenter who has not the slightest idea what Goggle or Grumble or Gaggle actually does, and your Minister gets a clear run to talk utter bollocks for fifteen minutes because the eminent journalist fails to ask him the single most important question, which is this:

Eircode cost €50 million to develop. In what material way is it superior to Google Maps, which is available at no cost?



Analysis: when is a postcode not a postcode?

14 thoughts on “Why is €50m Eircode better than free Google Maps?

  1. If you go to check if you are eligible to vote they have a section for your individual Eircode, so they can help trace you, and it doesn’t work. Not that the existing tracking system is any better.

  2. Well said and all correct including to the point that Lat/Long ( the geographic coordinates that Google & GPSs normally use for location) has more functionality than Eircode.

    However, when it comes to a population wide piece of national infrastructure, you have to do better than the vulnerabilities of Lat/Long. As a 35 year practitioner of Navigation/Surveying and professional/public trainer in these areas, I have seen all the possible potential for user errors with Lat/Long (or grid references) and witnessed the consequences even amongst so-called professionals!

    Lat/long can be presented in multiple different formats for the same location and the untrained routinely misinterpret or misunderstand one for the other, resulting in substantial location errors, something that is not good for the emergency services in particular.

    Furthermore,as Lat/long can be gleaned from so many different sources, if presented to you, you have no idea of source/quality/accuracy and so you start off handing it with a doubt and then maybe with an accuracy issue to be solved. The untrained may not appreciate this issue an never look to solve accuracy issues. This is why a national location coding system cannot be open;- not open to be generated from multiple variable sources with unknown pedigree, not open to be misinterpreted and misused or even open to modification by developers, as some would suggest, such that there may be several manifestations for exactly the same location.

    A National Location coding system (Ireland does not need a traditional mail postcode) is not a casual occasional, hobbyist use tool. I has to be something that must measure up to the rigors of many different use scenarios population wide and include fail safes for use when technology is not available (GPS/GPRS/Internet denial)
    Lat/long used by Google or others does not measure up and as a solution to those imitations neither does Eircode;- not least the fact that Eircode does not meet any of the agreed specifications and was never tested for any of the roles identified for it. Most especially it was never even seen by the emergency services before it was announced and launched!

    Gary Delaney
    Loc8 Code Ltd

  3. Gary — thanks for that contribution. This article is only about mail delivery, but of course other issues also come into it, including emergency mobilisation.

    Would you agree that a national location coding system should not be secret?

  4. Whilst the Eircode design and process was undertaken under the pretense of a mail solution (though full consultation with all main user groups is claimed) it is very clear now from An Post that they will not be using it for normal mail sort/delivery and furthermore, coming at this 50 years behind most as we are, it would be wrong to consider this once-off investment limited only to one application when others including the general economy and public safety can benefit enormously from it.
    If a coding system is in the ownership of the State i.e. as a national postcode (if you want to call it that) then all IP is the State’s and the decision whether to publish the coding system or not rests with the State. But, others should not be able to create codes or modify the coding system, save with licensed (controlled rather than invoiced) rights. If, however, you are talking about open access to the database then that is a matter for the State in their business model, something that was never done specifically for Eircode – the C&AG highlighted this. Personally, I favour open access to the database if one is needed at all ( possibly graded depending on State funding allocated) but resources for management and maintenance must be clearly identified in advance. Eircode is limited in that regard because it is tied to An Post’s Commercial GeoDirectory for which €8.2m is being paid over 10 years and with annual minimum maintenance and update costs. The grip of An Post over all aspects of Eircode is yet to be fully exposed!

    I must make the point that Loc8 is no delivered as a National Postcode and for reasons best known to State, it chose not to hear Loc8’s ideas for that in the near 3 year long collaborative tender from which Eircode emerged and nor did they consider our offer to hand Loc8 to the State for free.

  5. The entire town of Shannon, Co.Clare population approx 16,000 is apparently in Limerick now. Shockingly poor.

  6. I completely forgot about eircode. Thanks for the reminder.

    My allocated eircode number turned out to be located via eircode map at my neighbours house which is a holiday home so most time of the year unoccupied.

    I imagine if I needed an ambulance and give my eircode number that the ambulance is knocking at the neighbour’s door (or even breaking it down because of emergency) and nobody is home – or only some dumbfounded American tourist.

    I imagine further some tourists find this place via eircode and knock at my door, smiling and claiming that they rented my house. Already happened, actually.

    It’s not that these are terraced houses, it’s the countryside with considerable space between the houses. But not as much to build another house between them.

    As for mail this is ridiculous. I admire the posties of An Post. Hell, they even delivered once a letter to “The German Girl (girl!), Backofbeyond (insert village)”. They actually know their customers.

    I complained that my eircode number (or their placing it on their map) is completely wrong and using it might be even dangerous.

    Apart from having difficulties to find an email address on their badly designed website I never got an answer. It might be to intellectually challenging for who ever is responsible for this mess.

    I still do the usual Irish (and I think very charming) description for those I want to find my house: Pass the Pub XX go after the village Green, turn left (or right or go straight ahead) look out for the fairy tree and see a red (pink, purple, lime green) door between two holy oaks and an apple tree – or such like.

    Works a treat. And I get all my mail.

  7. Of course a national coding system should not be secret. Denmark’s is freely available to all, simple and transparent, people friendly (useful for sorting mail and packages without technology). See http://goo.gl/o1l7SZ. What we have in Ireland is monetisation of a database that needs to be kept up to date (requires continuing revenue). The randomness is to protect that revenue.

    A loc8 type code can be converted back and forth from lat and long. No database is needed. It doesn’t require an Internet connection or ongoing revenues to update a database.

    Loc8 was offered to the state for free. The Irish taxpayer had invested in it. We have had no reasons for rejection of it. Very likely it’s because they kind of troughing you refer could not be enjoyed. If taxpayer’s money is available efforts to game the system can be expected in Ireland. From that point of view your question is very relevant. Why should any system COST MONEY in a world of open source software and coding systems? The simple answer is the postcode provides an opportunity for monopoly rent seeking. If a foreign occupying power imposed the kind of stupidity on us that Eircode has done we would object vigorously and be ready to enumerate its flaws, not just for delivery planning but in facilitating household level surveillance by the hundreds of companies in the business of trading information about consumers. As it was done by Irish people employed by an English multi-national we shrug. We have a large streak of national indifference to corruption and cronyism, to thefts from our common wealth, which impoverishes us all. Eircode is a symptom of this and of a shameful and humiliating lack of integrity in public life in Ireland.

    It wasn’t tested and no cost benefit study was done prior to its introduction. The whole thing is a corrupt shambles from start to finish. The right thing for any citizen to do is refuse to use it. I will NEVER use it. Even beyond my objections to its technical deficiencies the process that led to it was simply corrupt. I do not believe for a moment that it was an accident that an arbitrary capital requirement of €40m/yr was put in place for the public tender. It was clearly intended to exclude Irish SMEs. The hypocrisy of the ministers, including the one responsible, running around cutting ribbons and getting photo ops every time an SME announces some more jobs, is sickening.

    As Fintan O’Toole has said “It’s the greatest little country in the world in which to be corrupt”.

    We have a culture of learned impunity, reinforced constantly. This needs to change. I will do my bit for openness, transparency and plain dealing by not using Eircode.

    Meanwhile, we can look forward to thoroughly deserved mockery from Private Eye and beyond for having a postcode that is not actually used by the national postal service to deliver mail (this is on record, in writing, from An Post).

  8. Openpostcode dot org has been there all along for free. Still is. I don’t see why it couldn’t have been adopted. Nobody I know has bothered with Eircode either.

  9. When the Canvassers come to the door, who is the Minister accountable/responsible for this?…it reeks of the Voting Machines fiasco.

  10. Dump the idiotic embarrassing Irish post code and its makers, it’s useless.
    Use LOC8 it is simple, ignore Eircode, keep it simple stupid.
    Regards suttlem

  11. Can I convert a LOC8 code to GPS co-ordinates without cross-checking against a separate database?

    Can I embed a LOC8 decoding algorithm in my (offline) application without needing to perform some sort of online lookup to convert it to a location?

  12. Have you ever had to wait for an ambulance in a location that was hard to find?? Before Eircode it took a lot longer for the ambulance to find us and I had to go and help guide the ambulance to the house.
    Since Eircode has come in finding a house isn’t a problem. Eircode works very well. I use it regularly and it hasn’t let me down let.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.