Bob is grumbling.quickly.gifted. Liz is profiled.dodges.roughness, while Chris Brown and Mark Lewis are both rebel.maternal.package. What on earth am I talking about? Or more accurately… where on earth? And what does this have to do with a blog about how the world communicates?
Both these questions are answered at what3words.com, a website which reduces the entire planet to a series of three-metre squares. Each square is defined by a unique combination of three words taken from a dictionary of 40,000 in total, giving 64 trillion possible permutations (it “only” takes 57 trillion squares to cover the globe). The above word strings are precise, memorable locators of exact global positions – in this case, not just Robertson House, 57-59 High Street, Twyford, Berkshire, but specific locations within the building.
All well and good, but who needs yet another addressing system when we already have postcodes, longitude, latitude, addresses and GPS co-ordinates? There are many answers to this question, but let’s pick the one which offers the biggest benefit of all: the developing world needs a system like this, that’s who. Many countries don’t have a widespread system of postal addresses, and so people in rural areas can’t easily get mail, or tell other people where they live. Longitude, latitude and GPS co-ords still work in these places, of course, but they hardly trip off the tongue if you’re telling someone else how to find you. By contrast, anyone can memorise three words.
Yes, but what if you don’t speak English? It’s OK, what3words is ahead of you there. They’ve already rolled out parallel systems based on Portuguese words (particularly useful in mapping the favelas of Brazil) as well as most other major European languages, and are expanding into other languages such as Swahili and Arabic.