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What's the deal with place names?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: GOV.UK

We knew very early on that was going to work best if it had a sense of where in the country (or world) its visitors are coming from. Knowing that means it can provide you with information on where your nearest police station is, or default to your nation's Bank Holidays or direct you to your local council if they're the ones who provide the service you're looking for.

Geonames service and showing that. We know it's crude, but it quickly gets us to a working prototype. Which is what we're here for.

There's work under way already to refine that approach. As I write this two of the team are experimenting with some changes, which may even be live by the time you read this. But it's going to be an ongoing process. We've talked about feedback tools that would allow us to build and refine our own database of what people call the area around a postcode, learning from the way people tag photos on sites like flickr, or a few other approaches. Those aren't considerations for this alpha.

We'd love your feedback and ideas on this (and everything else). Let us know what you think.

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  1. Comment by James Stewart posted on

    Thanks for all the feedback everyone. We've made a few tweaks to the site already and are experimenting with a few different gazetteers from the list above.

    If we do make any major changes to the gazetteers used in the alpha we'll be sure to blog about it (or at least update this post).

  2. Comment by Matthew posted on

    Here's some links to various reverse geocoders. I evaluated all of these for some "nearest road" functionality (and went with Bing in the end for that purpose) by using a random selection of points across the country and comparing with what humans would (might 🙂 ) say the result was.

    My gazetteer based on OS OpenData (1:50k, CodePoint and Locator):

  3. Comment by Matthew Heenan posted on

    Excellent ambition!

    Best Wishes for


  4. Comment by Ian Watt posted on

    There is a very nice National Gazetteer for Scotland which we've suggested they make available as Open / Linked data.

    That would be a great resource for getting locations. Perhaps you could prod them too?


  5. Comment by SK53 posted on

    The principle is great, it just doesn't work for me: and I suspect I know why.

    The Geonames database has very poor quality coverage of the UK (I checked this when considering using it for assisting geolocation during the Pakistan flooding last year). My first test, a search for Lenton, a suburb of Nottingham is only found if added as Lenton, Nottingham, when it retrieves the wikipedia entry. As the population of Lenton is probably in the order of 20000 and it is much bigger than Lenton, Lincolnshire this is not the desired result. Similarly, Kilburn will return Kilburn, Derbyshire rather than Kilburn NW6 (located by Geonames incorrectly in Camden rather than Brent).

    There are several better quality open sources of geolocated UK placenames than Geonames: NaPTAN have a locality gazetteer, OS OpenData have a gazetteer of 250,000 names (compared with geonames 50,000 odd), and the 800,000+ set of streetnames in OS Locator. OpenStreetMap also has a substantial set of more accurately located names.

    I would also suggest looking at Nominatim, the open source namefinder used by OpenStreetMap. This has a lot of powerful features which could be exploited together with the above data sets (in particular it can geolocate based on name or postcode in a single search box). Some work has already been done to include the CodePoint Open dataset.

  6. Comment by James Stewart posted on

    Ed - we're using Get Satisfaction for capturing feedback and bugs.

  7. Comment by James Stewart posted on

    Phil - we'll look into that one. Thanks. We're doing some "fuzzing" of postcodes so that we don't store anything too specific and it's quite possible that that's leading to what you're seeing.

  8. Comment by James Stewart posted on

    We went with the API we were most familiar with for the first pass. Several of us had used Geonames before, so it was the natural choice.

    Any future development would definitely explore several others - GeoPlanet, National Land and Property Gazetteer and a lot of others. Thanks for the reminder of those!

  9. Comment by Ed posted on

    congrats on all the progress, this is a great project.

    What is the best way to report bugs? Specifically to geo issues, you're assigning my postcode to the incorrect borough 🙁

    thanks and keep up the good work

    • Replies to Ed>

      Comment by davidmann posted on

      Thanks Ed, much appreciated. You can report bugs here - - be great to get any other feedback you have on the site.

  10. Comment by James Rutter posted on

    James, why are you guys not using the National Land and Property Gazetteer for location??

    Also, I understand the sentiment about using ward names, however using 'linked data' principles you could easily include ward along with other location data...I believe the Ordnance Survey has done some prelim work on linked data.

  11. Comment by Phil Thompson posted on

    The postcode database gives a better resolution to villages than the system you're using. I live in a village where the full postcode defines about 150m of street yet your service says I'm in the next village a mile away. My postcode is PE8 6Px and the next village is PE8 6Qx so room for improvement.

  12. Comment by Steven Feldman posted on

    Have a look at Yahoo's GeoPlanet API. It has a great hierarchy of places so knows what is in and adjacent to what.

    Happy to offer geo help (not code) if you want

    Big, big congrats on