My wife has been asking me why I haven't written about the recent Royal Wedding. Mainly it's because, surprisingly, I didn't receive an invitation; and so was unable to apply my usual highly perceptive and amazingly incisive documentation engineering capabilities to the occasion without first-hand, on-site experience. So I decided to write about the Royal Mail instead.
It seems that an outside broadcast presenter at one of our local radio stations phoned Royal Mail to ask where the post boxes are located in his town so that he could post letters to his listeners as he travelled around the locality. They told him that the information was "not available to the public", so - just to see what would happen - he applied officially for the details under the Freedom of Information Act.
The letter he got back stated that "releasing information on the locations of post boxes would clearly be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of Royal Mail", and that such information "would undermine their commercial value, significantly reducing Royal Mail's ability to exploit the information commercially". They even said that there was "significant public interest" in keeping the information private. OK, so I'm only an insignificant member of the public, but I've never shown any interest at all in keeping the whereabouts of our local post box a secret...
Obviously nobody at Royal Mail uses a road atlas, phone directory, sat-nav, or mapping website or they would have discovered that all of these show the locations of post office branches of Royal Mail. Surely these, each measuring several hundred square yards and often located in prime city centre locations, are more "commercially valuable" than the two square feet of pavement (sidewalk) taken up by a post box? Should I write and tell them about this alarming leak of commercially valuable information?
Of course, it could be that they are right about keeping valuable commercial locations secret. Just in case I've emailed the press office of a couple of national supermarket chains and hi-fi retailers, all of whom have a "Find your nearest branch" page on their websites. I haven't had any replies yet, but I confidently expect this dangerous feature to disappear from their sites very soon. I mean, just think of the commercial value of the ten acre town-centre site our local Tesco store inhabits. And they even have the naivety to display a huge sign on the roof!
And the same could just as easily apply to us here at Microsoft. I'm sure that the domain name alone is worth a few bob (dollars), and the huge number of sites and pages that hang off it must be of not inconsiderable commercial value. I need to warn our IT people that they should immediately remove us from all the DNS servers around the world, and disguise the sites so that people don't encounter them by accident and reveal their location. Just think how that could undermine their commercial value!
Mind you, as our roving local radio reporter pointed out, several people probably already know where the post boxes in his town are. Let's face it, a five foot high bright red box that, in many cases has been there since Victorian times, is hard to disguise. And if you were that interested, you'd only need to follow a post van on its rounds to find them. They even help you by painting the words "Royal Mail" in big letters on the side of the vans.
And I've just realized why I didn't get my invitation to the Royal Wedding! Obviously nobody would tell Kate where to find a post box to send it...