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ShareVision Blog

Conversations on technology for community service providers

What3Words set to Change the World


There was a recent news story stating that Google maps was incorrectly directing people not to the national park they were hoping for, but instead to one man’s private driveway. He regularly contacted Google to let them know of his frustration re-directing tourists and replacing signs and fences, but still each day dozens of people would flock to his property and start the trek up his driveway, because well Google maps was WRONG. 

Well Mongolia for one has had enough of this, and starting July 1st 2016 they will become the first country in the world to switch over to the what3words global addressing system. Mongolia? A leader in global technological thinking – who knew?

So what exactly is what3words? What3words is a new geocoding global addressing system (invented by two young British men, Jack Waley-Cohen and Chris Sheldrink,) that has mapped the world into a grid of 57 trillion 3x3m squares, and given each square a unique three word address. For example: unions.vibe.vines is smack in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge. rubbly.cowhide.elves is in the middle of nowhere on Easter Island, Chile. doubt.bombard.alley will take you to The Taj Mahal in India.

The company claims that what3words often gives a more accurate location than an address street name, number or postal code and takes away human error when trying to enter longitude and latitude into GPS systems. And well apparently much of the world isn’t mapped at all. Isn’t that right Google?

It is fantastic to think how this technology will change the world, and make it easier to support people in developing countries, during disasters, and those living in rural and off the grid places… such as Mongolia!

Even in the first world, a lack of a physical street address can mean the lack of services, lack of a bank account, and no ability to have goods or services delivered to you, and makes it hard to locate you in cases of emergency or evacuation. It also is easy to remember three words, making it useful for those with low literacy, or for those who are transient, homeless, or change addresses often. It is now available in ten languages with more being added, and has voice activation in all ten languages with auto correct. Social service agencies would find many useful applications of this technology in their efforts to support their clients.

According to the United Nations there are over four billion people in the world without an address, and over 130 countries with no official postal delivery system at all, so the global adoption of an addressing system seems long overdue. Who would have though Mongolia would be the first to get the ball rolling?

Businesses such as couriers that deliver goods are also in love with this technology as incorrect addressing cost them big dollars each year.  Taxis, disaster relief and humanitarian organizations, are also getting on board to utilize what3words to locate people and track activities. Another useful application includes The British Museum using it to map the original location of each artifact in its collection.

But how is it sustainable you might ask? Business and NGO users will pay a license fee to the company, and it is free to download for all users. A further benefit is that once the app is downloaded, it can then be used offline, so if you are lost it can pinpoint to within ten feet of your exact location. How helpful might that be for search and rescue operations? Very I’d think. It has even mapped the ocean (although this feature is apparently only available thus far in English, so don’t be practicing your Russian while lost at sea, alright?) Perhaps Google maps can use what3words to correct some of its – ahem – Canadian park navigation errors?

You can learn more about what3words and try it here to find out your unique address. It’s really fun I promise. https://map.what3words.com

Topics: Technology non-profit global addressing