The Campaign for Real Pedantry, erm, I mean numbers

Hats off to James O’Neill for a display of true, world-class pedantry to which I could only aspire. It drives me nuts to get emails with badly formatted phone numbers which can’t be dialled on Smartphones without first editing them, and now that I’ve started using Office Communications Server 2007 (more later) as the backbone for my real office phone, it impedes the usability of that too.

James’ beef is that a lot of people incorrectly write a UK phone number which would be defined as 0118 909 nnnn (where 0118 is the area dialing code, and 909nnnn is the local number, the last 4 digits of which form an extension number in this specific example, available through DDI).

Here are some examples of number crime:

  • (0) 118 909 nnnn – Incorrect and useless. Why put the first zero in brackets at all? Nobody is ever going to dial starting ‘118’
  • +44 (0) 118 909 nnnn – Incorrect, though perhaps useful to people who don’t understand country codes. There may well be lots of people out there who don’t ever call international and don’t understand the “+44” model of dialing from a mobile phone. So maybe the (0) will indicated to them that maybe they should add it in… but it could be confusing to overseas dialers who’re calling this number – how do they know if they should dial +44 118 or +44 0 118?
  • +44 (0) (118) 909 nnnn – someone likes the brackets just a little too much
  • +44 (0118) 909 nnnn – even worse than number 2. Either drop the brackets and the 0, or drop the +44 altogether.

The only correct way to write this number is +44 118 909 nnnn, or for the truly pedantic, +44118909nnnn. Maybe you wouldn’t publish an E.164 formatted number (as the scheme is called) as your primary customer services number, and it doesn’t make sense to use it for numbers that won’t be dial-able from abroad (eg some 0870 numbers or 0800 numbers). But for everything else, I’d encourage everyone to please make sure your email signature has a properly formatted number (either simplifying it by dropping the +44 or losing the brackets and leading zero). If your company publishes your number in its online address book, then make sure that’s formatted correctly too so that people using telephone-aware systems (like Windows Mobile or Outlook Voice Access) can correctly call you.

In my profession, if someone doesn’t figure that +44 118 909 nnnn is my phone number and that if they’re in the UK and not in the Reading area, they need to drop +44 and add “0” if they’re dialing from a plain old phone system, then I’m quite happy to have them not phoning me up…

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