Saturday, March 13, 2010

Timeout on all-things-spatial

A month has gone since my last post. Due to personal matters I took a break from all but essential chores. Since this year is disappearing so fast my strategy to focus on a few key priorities is more relevant that ever. Writing does not come easy to me (after all, English is my second language) and blogging takes a significant amount of my time so, I have to downgrade this activity on my priorities list. But I am not giving up totally, I will try to keep to 10-15 articles a month.

My site is where I am trying to concentrate my efforts. Good thing about the site is that it can run on "auto-pilot". As long as there are no changes to the format of services I am using, it all works nicely "on its own". For example, weather data gets updated every half an hour and twitter every hour (by the way, weather widget reached 100,000 pages in February!). Google is serving promptly maps and ads from Adsense network, and most of other services run ok (eg. Address Validation, Simple Geocoder or Postcode Finder).

However, parts of the site are now dated and require upgrades sooner rather than later. For example, I updated Bushfire Incidents maps only a few months ago, so it is still ok, but other maps in Hazards Monitor series need some serious overhaul (mainly due to ever changing format of third party services!). Thematic maps are also quite old and I had to remove a few pages over the last year or so. New snow season starts in 10 weeks (!) so I should also review my snow weather maps at some stage… But first things first.

I haven't been totally idle in the last four weeks. A steady steam of inquiries about postcodes prompted me to give some thought to this dataset. It's amazing that there are so many uses for such an imprecise spacial concept! Post codes are just an administrative byproduct that Australia Posts updates at least every 6-8 weeks. However, many organisations choose to use postcodes in their line of business as well. For example, Australian Bureau of Statistics publishes Census data for "postcodes". Many organisations collect information on their clients based on "postcodes of residence", while others define service, franchise or dealership areas based on "postcodes". Yet, there is no single definition of what constitutes the extents of a particular postcode! Yes, I know, Australia Post states that "Postcodes are only allocated to localities officially gazetted by State land agencies" but even they make occasional mistake - for example, try finding Medlyn on Victorian register of official names, which according to Australia Post is part of 3478 postcode. Sorting out the postcodes seems like an interesting challenge for the coming weeks…