Home' Position : Position Apl May 2015 Contents And that's the key to the system -- it uses
a memorable combination of three words
to define any location, rather than a com-
plicated and forgettable string of numbers.
"Using words means non-technical
people can find any location accurately and
communicate it more quickly, more easily
and with less ambiguity than any other
system like street addresses, postcodes, lati-
tude & longitude, or mobile short-links."
What's particularly clever about
what3words is that it isn't actually
a database of world-wide locations
with assigned names, it's actually
algorithmically determined, meaning it's
a cinch to store.
"There are 57 trillion 3x3m squares
with 16.5 trillion of those on land. As we
use an algorithm, rather than a database,
the entire what3words system is 5MB,"
said Chris. "This is small enough to
fit within an app so that users can use
what3words when online or offline, i.e.
you don't need a data connection to find
your current 3 word address, or search for
a 3 word address you have been given."
Of course, trying to remember a com-
bination of three English words is easy for
English speakers, but they might as well be
gibberish for speakers of other languages.
As such, what3words is also developing pla-
cenames for a number of other languages.
"We have rolled out our three-word
address system in eight languages: Eng-
lish, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Rus-
sian, German, Turkish, and Swedish,"
said Chris. "We are adding to those every
month and are currently working on Ital-
ian, Greek, Arabic, Swahili, and more.
"Each w3w language is powered by
a word list of 25,000 words (40,000 in
English, as with English it covers the sea
as well as land). The word lists go through
multiple automated and human processes
before being sorted by an algorithm
that takes into account word length,
distinctiveness, frequency, and ease of
spelling and pronunciation."
While the concept has an important
role to play in the developing world,
what3words also has myriad applications
for people and businesses in developed
"Even in countries with advanced
address systems, people get lost, packages
aren't delivered, and businesses and
tourist attractions don't get found."
Just think about an address inside a large
apartment complex, for example. It's often
difficult to help a lost courier find the right
entrance to your complex, or to guide them
to your front door. With what3words, you
can give them your three word address over
the phone, which can then be remembered
long enough for the courier to type it into
the what3words or other navigation app.
As such, having a consistent, precise,
and ubiquitous method of addressing
provides notable benefits for many
"Better and easy to communicate ad-
dressing can impact four key groups of
business," said Chris. "It can: improve cus-
tomer experience for mapping/navigation/
tourism/travel business; drive efficiencies
for delivery/logistics companies; enable
growth for ecommerce/banking entities;
and improve lives for governments, NGO
and UN organisations."
To help businesses adopt and integrate
the addressing system into their business
processes, what3words also offers an API
(application programming interface) and
SDK (software development kit).
"While we have our own apps and
web service used by many consumers
and companies alike, our API or SDK
are plug-ins for businesses for whom
communicating location is important,"
said Chris. "To date, the system has been
integrated into 25 apps & services, and
one national mapping service."
One of the what3words team's favourite
uses of its API and SDK is the navigation
"[Navmii] is a free offline navigation
app with a global community of
millions who contribute to make car
journeys as hassle-free as possible,"
said Chris. "It is much more reliable
than almost any other paid-for
satellite navigation system, and uses
OpenStreetMap data, ensuring that road
layouts are always up-to-date, thanks to
its open source nature.
"With what3words integrated as an
address system, you can now drive to even
the most difficult places using a simple
Chris Sheldrick will be presenting a
keynote at the 2015 GeoNext Conference,
to be held at the Melbourne Cricket
Ground on 19 August. For more
information visit www.geonext.com.au. ■
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