My head is spinning: Trying to figure out if I should standardize MLS Addresses

Discussions around using and interfacing with the Church MLS program.
coloradotechie-p40
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My head is spinning: Trying to figure out if I should standardize MLS Addresses

Postby coloradotechie-p40 » Mon Dec 14, 2009 5:11 pm

I just found this thread: http://tech.lds.org/forum/showthread.php?t=1591
with link to http://zip4.usps.com/zip4/welcome.jsp for standardizing addresses.

I also just read through 13 pages of beta-maps.lds.org at http://tech.lds.org/forum/showthread.php?t=4071 (whew!)

Question: Anywho, in an effort to make our ward data more accurate and to help with the future roll-out of beta-maps.lds.org, would it be worthwile to standardize every address in the ward against http://zip4.usps.com/zip4/welcome.jsp ?


Question: Is leaving addresses as uppercase okay? I saw some complaints about problems with display on the LUWS if addresses are in all caps. But it can be helpful if we use all caps to denote that we've checked the address against USPS.


Thanks~!

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aebrown
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Postby aebrown » Mon Dec 14, 2009 5:34 pm

coloradotechie wrote:Question: Anywho, in an effort to make our ward data more accurate and to help with the future roll-out of beta-maps.lds.org, would it be worthwile to standardize every address in the ward against http://zip4.usps.com/zip4/welcome.jsp ?


It's definitely worthwhile to standardize addresses. It will have multiple benefits:

  • Directories and other lists containing addresses look better when addresses are consistent
  • Mail will get delivered more accurately and sometimes more promptly
  • Geocoding will be more accurate for applications such as beta-maps.lds.org
Unfortunately, standardization is not as standardized as you might hope. For example, we have some homes in our stake where if we use the USPS standardization, Google and Microsoft maps can't find the home when they try to geocode the address. But if we use the address that makes Google Maps happy, the post office won't deliver the mail.

I don't mean to discourage you with that scenario. The vast majority of the addresses that the USPS produces will geocode just fine.

coloradotechie wrote:Question: Is leaving addresses as uppercase okay? I saw some complaints about problems with display on the LUWS if addresses are in all caps. But it can be helpful if we use all caps to denote that we've checked the address against USPS.


This is a matter of personal preference. I personally prefer to use mixed case for addresses because:

  • It gives a more pleasing look
  • It is more readable
  • It takes less space on directories and lists, which decreases the amount of line wrapping that takes place
  • The Mailing Label feature in MLS can automatically convert addresses to all UPPERCASE for you if you do want to create all uppercase labels for mailing purposes.
I wouldn't choose to lose all those benefits, just for the small advantage of having a system for keeping track of which addresses I've standardized. But it's up to you (meaning your ward's decision makers on such matters).

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Postby RossEvans » Mon Dec 14, 2009 6:22 pm

I think the benefits of stardardization far outweigh the downside.

We get our batch standardization and validation at fairly low cost using a USPS-licensed service to process our list for at least one annual mailing. This is really an extra benefit of such database processing, which is used primarily to help find forwarding addresses. Between batches, we try to enforce USPS style using the interactive link above.

Almost any such processing does return the new addresses in all-caps. But I think it is worthwhile to convert it to upper/lower case for pasting or rekeying into MLS, for all the reasons Alan_Brown mentioned.

I am optimistic that some such functionality will be incorporated into MLS someday.

BTW, in the few cases where the geocodable form of the address and the postal form conflict, one can usually work around the problem by using the geocodable form for the primary address fields in MLS, and the preferred USPS form in the alternate mailing address.

coloradotechie-p40
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Postby coloradotechie-p40 » Tue Dec 15, 2009 8:23 am

Well, I started going through our ward list (270 families) using a custom report using a filter on "Head of Household".

It was taking quite awhile to do it manually so I ended up writing some C# code to take the address from a file, do an HTTP Get Request to the usps site, and then screen scrape the response for the correct address.

I was worried about slamming their system with 270 addresses all at once so I wrote in a random delay between each address (random between 3 and 10 seconds).

Anyhow, I now have all the udpated USPS "approved" address! Yay!

Thank you all for the help~!

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Postby RossEvans » Tue Dec 15, 2009 8:47 am

coloradotechie wrote:Well, I started going through our ward list (270 families) using a custom report using a filter on "Head of Household".

It was taking quite awhile to do it manually so I ended up writing some C# code to take the address from a file, do an HTTP Get Request to the usps site, and then screen scrape the response for the correct address.

I was worried about slamming their system with 270 addresses all at once so I wrote in a random delay between each address (random between 3 and 10 seconds).

Anyhow, I now have all the udpated USPS "approved" address! Yay!


I have thought of doing something similar. Technically, I think it also could be done with scripting languages that parse the HTML output or DOM object. Maybe GreaseMonkey could do it, too.

But one question that I wonder about is whether this is allowable under the terms of use for the Postal Service site. In all other means I am aware of where the USPS offers such services -- it even provides an API to provide this data -- there are requirements that discourage or prohibit batch processing, although one-at-a-time processing that is associated with a mailing is allowable. I even applied for and received a USPS license key at one point, but decided the restrictions were too burdensome.

Perhaps there is a loophole for the web site. But it is something to consider, not just for yourself but for your bishop. See the usps.com Terms of Use.

coloradotechie-p40
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Postby coloradotechie-p40 » Tue Dec 15, 2009 8:58 am

Yeah, I skimmed through their Terms of Use looking for something that blatantly said what I was wrong and I didn't see anything (not to say it isn't there, I just skimmed it). (Update: I just read through it again and I can't find anything on the Terms of Use page about batch processing or writing code to screen scrape their site. But just because I can't find it doesn't mean it isn't there... hopefully I'm still on okay grounds with the USPS :) ).

The added benefit of doing this is this week I'll also be printing out mailing labels for the yearly Christmas Card. Hopefully the amount of returned envelopes decreases with this address cleanup.

Anyhow, we shouldn't have to do this anymore since we can just do it as a one at a time basis from now on as people move in.

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Postby RossEvans » Tue Dec 15, 2009 9:07 am

coloradotechie wrote:Yeah, I skimmed through their Terms of Use looking for something that blatantly said what I was wrong and I didn't see anything (not to say it isn't there, I just skimmed it). (Update: I just read through it again and I can't find anything on the Terms of Use page about batch processing or writing code to screen scrape their site. But just because I can't find it doesn't mean it isn't there... hopefully I'm still on okay grounds with the USPS :) ).


When I looked at the terms, my opinion was that I could do this "for personal, non-commercial home use" (my emphasis). But I was not willing to stretch that definition to include processing for the ward.

It is not uncommon to confront such areas of interpretation. Not everything that is technically doable is legally doable. Before I do something that is close to a line, I run it past the bishop.

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Postby RossEvans » Tue Dec 15, 2009 9:16 am

coloradotechie wrote:The added benefit of doing this is this week I'll also be printing out mailing labels for the yearly Christmas Card. Hopefully the amount of returned envelopes decreases with this address cleanup.


If you are doing this in conjunction with that mailing, the easiest thing to do is to have a USPS-licensed vendor process your list. (We just did that for the second year in a row, and in each case I think it was the best $75 the ward spent all year.)

You get the validated and standardized addresses as a byproduct of the database processing. You also get much more extensive information about why addresses are invalid (bad street number, bad Zip code, missing apartment number, etc.) And, most valuably, you can get forwarding addresses going back 48 months.

It is still necessary to do the physical mailing, for legal and practical reasons. That likely will also pick up some returns that the database search missed. So if you are about to do a mailing, this is the time to do such a database search. Of course, the mailing should always include the postal endorsement: "Return Service Requested."

coloradotechie-p40
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Postby coloradotechie-p40 » Tue Dec 15, 2009 9:34 am

boomerbubba wrote:When I looked at the terms, my opinion was that I could do this "for personal, non-commercial home use" (my emphasis). But I was not willing to stretch that definition to include processing for the ward.


:) I see where I just went right over that part when I read it: we don't have internet access at the church building and I was at home when I did all this. I've always considered myself in the "personal, home use" category but I should change my viewpoint when doing clerk things.

Also, here is the full quote from Terms of Use:

"Users may view and download material from this site only for the following purposes: (a) for personal, non-commercial home use;"

So the non-commercial home use clause is in reference to viewing and downloading material... so I suppose even if I was manually pasting every address into their web site to get a clean address that would still break their Terms?

----

Also, I just found your other post: http://tech.lds.org/forum/showthread.php?t=2403&highlight=NCOalink&page=2 which is AWESOME!

This seems like a good idea and I'll bring it up with the Bishop (thanks for your replies, too).

$75 seems like a good amount to spend to get things cleaned up.

Thank you!

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Postby RossEvans » Tue Dec 15, 2009 10:01 am

coloradotechie wrote: Also, I just found your other post: http://tech.lds.org/forum/showthread.php?t=2403&highlight=NCOalink&page=2 which is AWESOME!

This seems like a good idea and I'll bring it up with the Bishop (thanks for your replies, too).

$75 seems like a good amount to spend to get things cleaned up.


Time is of the essense if you plan to mail a Christmas card. That estimated cost was for a deferred two-day turnaround, the vendor's cheapest rate. (Immediate turnaround is a lot more expensive.) And there are a couple of forms you (or more likely the bishop) would have to complete and fax back to initiate the service. After that it is a matter of uploading a CSV file, downloading an extended CSV file back, and analyzing it.

The service is designed to process individual name-address records, not households. So the best way to prepare a CSV file for input is to get the Membership.csv export file from MLS, which includes unique "Indiv ID" and "HofH ID" fields to relate the records back to households. You can easily select a subset of that CSV file, with only the name-address fields and these non-confidential keys for head-of-household and spouse, for upload to the vendor.

Then, your physical mailing can still be done by household. This belt-and-suspenders approach might get a few more returns when the mailing goes out. You can filter out of your mailing the addresses that you already know from the preprocessing are forwardable, or are undeliverable with bad addresses.

p.s. In preparing your CSV input file, you also should transpose the content of the "Preferred Name" field from "Last, First" to "First Last", and use the alternate mailing-address fields ("2-Street" etc.) if an alternate mailing address is present.


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