The Importance of Standards for Addresses and Locations

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By David Loshin

Here is a simple scenario, followed by what should be a simple question: I have an item that I'd like to have delivered to a specific individual at a particular location, and I plan to engage an agent to deliver the item on my behalf.

How can I communicate to the agent where the item is to be delivered? From the modern day perspective, it should be obvious: you only need to provide the street address and you expect that the agent will be able to figure it on his own.

However, this begs the question, specifically because we never think about the existing framework of standards that has evolved around any communication system (whether that is for physical package delivery, connecting telephone calls, or sending emails).

We expect that the delivery agent will be able to figure out how to get to a location because the standard address format contains a hierarchical breakdown for refining the location at finer levels of precision. In the US, an address contains a street name and number, as well as a city, state and a postal code. The refinement can begin with the state, then resolve down to the city, and then the postal code.

By the time you have resolved down to that level, one is likely to be able to easily find the street, and the specific location is determined using the street number.

This process works in the US because there is a postal standard, and in fact the driving force behind addressing standards is the need for accuracy in delivery.

Following the standards ensures that anyone reading an address has enough information to be able to find the addressed location. In the US, there is actually a very comprehensive standard, called "Publication 28," and it describes all the gory details. And in my next few posts, we'll look at some interesting aspects of addressing, address standards, and the concept of "location."

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