Why is Finding a Post Box so Hard?

Sometimes it is the small things that show how government just gets it all so wrong.

Last Thursday The Daily Show's Wyatt Cenac has a little bit on the US Post Office and its declining fortunes as people move away from mail. There is no doubt that the post offices days are numbered, but that doesn't mean the decline has to be as steep as it is. Besides there are things they could be doing to make life a little easier to use them (and god knows they should be doing anything they can, to be more appealing).

Take, for example, the humble post office box. They can be frustratingly hard to locate. Consider Broadway and Cambie - one of the busiest intersections in Vancouver - and yet there is no post box at the intersection. (I eventually found it one block east on broadway) but I carried around a letter for 3 weeks before I eventually found one.

In short why is there not digital map (or for techies, and API) for post box locations? I could imagine all sorts of people that might make use of it. Would it be nice to just find out - where is the closest post box to where I'm standing? More importantly, it might actually help the post office attract a few extra customers. It certainly wouldn't hurt customer service. I've wondered for a couple of years why it doesn't publish this data set.

Turns out I'm not the only with this frustration. My friend Steven Tannock has channeled his frustration into a simple app called Wherepost.ca. It's a simple website - optimized for mobile phone use - that allows users to add post box's as well as find the one nearest to them. In short, Steven's trying to create a public data set of post box locations by crowd sourcing the problem. If Canada Post won't be helpful... we'll help one another.

Launched on Thursday with 20 post office box locations, there are now over 400 boxes mapped (mostly in the Vancouver area) with several dozen users contributing. In addition, Steven tells me users in at least 2 other countries have asked for new icons so they can add post boxes where they live. It seems Canadians aren't the only ones frustrated about not knowing where the nearest post box is.

The ideal, of course, would be for Canada Post to publish an API of all post box locations. I suspect however, that they either don't actually know where they all are in a digital form (at which point they should really help Steven as he is doing them a huge service) or revealing their location will be seeing as sacrificing some important IP that people should pay for. Remember, this is an organization that refuses to make Postal Code data open, a critical data set for companies, non-profits and governments.

This isn't the worlds fanciest app but its simplicity is what makes it so great, and so useful. Check it out at WherePost.ca and... of course, add a post box if you see one.

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