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You just got a new address: find it from ‘what 3 words’

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Anyone who’s ever traveled to remote countries, lived or worked in rural areas, or followed directions that end with, “then make a left at the broken tree” knows that our traditional system of number and street addresses works well—until it doesn’t. Is there a better way to direct someone visiting your acreage, farm, yurt, cottage or backcountry campsite? There just might be with What 3 Words.

What is ‘What 3 Words’?

What3Words is a whole new system for providing addresses. The concept is so insanely simple you’ll wonder why no one came up with it before.

W3W’s designers divided the entire planet into 3×3 metre squares and assigned each one a unique and distinct three word code.what 3 words, what three words, global, address, map, google, rural, better,

How does What 3 Words work?

As an example, a particular home in Vancouver might have the address of 8171 Joffre Avenue, but its W3W address is send.braked.fever . Calgary City Hall has the street address of 800 Macleod Trail SE, but it would actually have several W3W addresses, including helper.stump.acre, and boarding.throw.spokes .

You can search for a traditional address or location in the What 3 Words website, just like using Google Maps; the site will show you your new address.

Why does it make any sense to have multiple addresses for the same building? It’s pretty handy actually; if you wanted someone to meet you at City Hall, which is a big place, you could easily narrow it down to a portion of the cavernous lobby using your What 3 Words code. No more, “I’m standing by the tall plant, to the right of security”. Your appointment would know exactly where to find you using the W3W app. You could also direct someone to your exact office space without the need for, “come off the elevator, turn left, go past 9 cubicles, then right and look for the photos of my kid.”

You can access the system online at map.what3words.com or by downloading the app.

Why do we need a new addressing system?

There are several reasons this new system makes a lot of sense. If you’re having a package dropped off, for example, and you want it left on your back porch, you’d supply the address for that particular 3×3 meter square to UPS or FedEx and they’d leave it exactly where you want it, and no excuses about the driver not reading the delivery specifics and leaving it out front anyhow if you aren’t home.

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If you were backcountry camping or hiking and needed help, you could direct rescuers to your precise location on the trail; no need for a chopper flyover to find you. If your boat is floundering at sea, you can pinpoint the location.

Better addressing can enhance customer experience, deliver better business efficiency, drive growth and support social and economic development.

Why a better address system is important

There are plenty of other scenarios where What 3 Words makes a lot of sense. For those of us living in North America, for the most part finding an address is pretty easy. But many rural homes and remote worksites don’t have traditional addresses. W3W could guide people more easily and clearly to exactly where they need to be.

In cities like Tokyo, Japan, where the addresses are numbered based on when the buildings were built, not in sequential order, it can seem impossible to find your location. But with What 3 Words, you’d be able to walk directly there.

what 3 words, how to, address, rural, find, Ditto for places like Havana, Cuba or Rio de Janiero where addresses don’t even really exist, particularly in the slums; with What 3 Words, even the underprivileged or impoverished could have an address. Families fleeing war or persecution could find eachother at remote refugee camps more easily.

Not to mention there’s so much of our world including forests, mountains, national parks and oceans that aren’t tied to physical addresses, but where you might still need to locate someone.

How does What 3 Words work?

The what3words algorithm takes complex GPS coordinates and converts them into unique 3 word addresses. It means anyone can talk about anywhere with 3 simple words. Plus, many people find words easier to remember over numerical addresses like 123 1st St, or 73525 Highway 74.

The what3words system is fixed and will never change. It provides a consistent location language across industries, countries & globally. 3 word addresses are intentionally randomized and unrelated to the squares around them. To avoid confusion, similar sounding addresses are also placed as far from each other as possible. The app will account for spelling errors and other typing mistakes and make suggestions, based on 3 word addresses nearby. what 3 words, how to, address, rural, find,

Plus, in our voice controlled world, you can now more easily search for a 3 word address by just speaking it. This would help when driving, particularly where street names are ambiguous or conventional street address searches drop pins in the centre of buildings, rather than at the entrance.

Opportunities for personalization?

The next development of this system could be to allow people to purchase their own address squares, and to give it a 3 word name of their choosing. I could make my office tech.gadgets.canada, in theory, or my home could be erin.lawrence.house . Apple HQ in California could choose steve.jobs.apple as one of their 3×3 squares. Your local wine store could get buy.wine.here . You can see the possibilities are endless.

Can I change my What 3 Words address?

Except the What 3 Words team has already put the kybosh on that, explaining that the ability to change or swap words undermines the perfectly fixed nature of this system. If we can start changing W3W, then we’re back to our old ways; re-naming streets, swapping numbers.

What about different languages?

One of the questions I had is, if I supply a three word address in English, does the app use a translation of those three words into, say Spanish or Chinese if I’m directing someone who speaks a different language?

The short answer is no.

Here’s what the W3W team says about that:

“The 3 word address in one language is not a translation of the 3 words used in a different language version.
This is for various reasons. There is no one-to-one translation of many words between languages, so table.lamp.chair in English might have many different translations in different languages: it’s linguistically not possible this way.

More importantly though, our algorithm assigns words around the world according to where each language is spoken. This ensures that, for example, the most common, memorable Swahili words are used in 3 word addresses in Kenya and Tanzania, whereas the most common, memorable Turkish words will be in Turkey, and so on, with each language carefully crafted to be as effective as possible.”

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Does What 3 Words work in high rise buildings?

The other question I had is about directing people to an upper floor on a high rise or apartment building; is it possible to get a W3W address up in the air?

In short, this answer is also a no.

“Most postal or address systems are designed to work in 2D (e.g. ZIP codes or postal codes in the UK, or indeed latitude/longitude coordinates on which what3words is based). These always need additional information to specify height: e.g. Flat 6, 5th floor, 12 Lonsdale Road. With a 3 word address, we recommend a similar approach, e.g. Flat 6, 5th floor, table.lamp.chair

In terms of indoor addressing, what3words covers all locations in 2D, but the supporting technology (indoor positioning, indoor mapping, indoor navigation) is not yet widespread enough for there to be any great benefit of specifying a point with height included. Once you arrived at the entrance, your device would not be able to help you navigate to the indoor location (on whichever floor).

However, if and when height becomes helpful to specify, we have various options for including this information with the 3 word address.”

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Can I use What 3 Words with Google?

While it’s easy to see the potential of this system, it’s not yet in widespread use. Google Maps, for example doesn’t yet support What 3 Words.
Plenty of companies are adopting the system though.

What 3 Words says the system is being used in over 170 countries by individuals, business and NGOs including Mercedes-Benz, the United Nations, the Red Cross, and many more. Plus, what3words is already the addressing standard for the postal services of Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Sint-Maarten and Mongolia.

What 3 Words is an amazing concept. Find out more about it here.

Erin L

Erin L

I'm a journalist, tech blogger, writer, TV producer, silversmith& jewelry designer, foodie and world traveler. I blog, write for publications, and supply freelance writing services to Calgary, and the world.

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