New Geocoding System Creates Hyper-Specific Global Addresses

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Are you bad at remembering long addresses, or frustrated that you still get lost in an age of computers and GPS systems? UK-based startup What3Words hopes to change that, The Atlantic reports, by creating a global grid that makes it easier for you to identify locations on a map, anywhere on the planet.

What3Words divides the globe into 57 trillion squares, each roughly 10 feet by 10 feet. Each one is given its own three-word code, which is selected using a computer algorithm. (Example: The front door of the White House is live.linen.slower.)

Since these squares are so small, you’ll be able to name a precise place when giving someone directions. And conveniently, all you have to do is list three words instead of providing them with your workplace’s street address, city, state, country, and zip code. In turn, What3Words’s system translates these words into addresses for free, via their website or a smartphone app.

Cities are busy and confusing, so What3Words makes sure the three-word names for urban areas are short and punchy, which in turn should mean that you’ll have an easier time getting where you need to go. In less crowded regions, the names get longer and clunkier, Washingtonian writes, with similar word combinations occurring in different continents. (Homophones and any dirty or offensive words are removed from the mix from the get-go.)

As both Washingtonian and The Atlantic point out, What3Words has incited skepticism among people in the geo-mapping community. A private company owns its global data, and critics argue over whether addresses can—or should—be privatized. However, as Quartz writes, this system might be useful for the 75 percent of the earth’s population with no address: people who can’t get items directly mailed to them, be reached in an emergency, or even open a bank account.

A prime example is the country of Mongolia. It's sparsely populated, and some of the streets in its capital city of Ulaanbaatar don't even have names. That's why the nation recently adopted What3Words as a mailing system, Quartz reports. Other global organizations, like the United Nations, have employed the system as well.

If you’re curious to learn more about the creative mapping system (or even just to see which poetic string of words describe your home, office, or favorite coffee shop), visit the What3Words website.

[h/t The Atlantic]