What 3 Words

By Pablo / Word on the Street / 13th March 2017

“Meet me at Tides.Spades.Bubble”

“Where are you?” “I’m at Udder.Leopard.Gazed”

Delivery address: Potbelly.Telegraphy.Entangled”

“Drop me off at Primal.Alkaline.Rodeo”

“Go to entrance Limp.Meerkats.Conduct”

These instructions sound completely ridiculous, but they just may become part of our every day communication in the future.


Because of What3Words: the global addressing system. The idea was born when founder Chris Sheldrick got sick of artists and equipment turning up late to events due to poor addressing; think about how many times you have made a meeting point with friends and not been able to find them. Think about how many times you have put your Uber pin in the wrong spot. How many times you’re traveling, looking for a tourist attraction and cannot find it. How many times you’ve been late for a meeting because of poor addressing. First world problems.

Now think about Third World problems: 4 billion people in the world are essentially invisible because they have no address at all. They cannot report crime or emergencies, receive services, get deliveries or be active citizens in their community because they have no way to indicate where they live.

What started off as an idea to make sure people and things arrived on time has evolved into a solution for precise global addressing. Yes, we have lines of longitude and latitude to determine location, but I think its safe to say that nobody has ever written their address as 33.9249° S, 18.4241 .

The geniuses at What3words concluded that it is far easier for humans to remember a 3 word combination than various digits, decimals, postal codes and addresses.  “I love you”,“I miss you” “thanks so much”, “how are you” ,“I am sorry” ,“I don’t know”, “lets get high” – see, easy to remember.

So, how did they manage to give everyone and everywhere in the world an address? Simple: they shrunk the world into a 3mx3m grid made up of 57 trillion squares, each assigned a unique 3 word address, and it is highly accurate. For instance, at the moment I’m sitting at my desk in Cape Town at location ‘Dish.Excavated.Shushing’. My kitchen is at ‘Spicy.Chassis.Swaddled’. My bedroom is Shaggy.Irresponsible.Mailer. You get the picture.

Beside the fact that it is pretty fun figuring out the address of your refrigerator, What3Words could revolutionise the way we think about location. The app will ultimately be linked to Google Maps, Uber and any other digital device or application that relies on location to drive it. It also relies on GPS rather than data, so when your in populated areas where the signal is jammed (Green Point Stadium), or there is no signal at all (AfrikaBurn) and you’re trying to find your friends, you should have no problem at all if you’ve decided on a spot before.

The app is also idiot-proof – the developers have chosen not to use homophones – words that sound the same but are spelt differently – in a 3 word address. They have also placed all similar sounding 3 word combinations as far away from each other as possible to avoid confusion completely. For example; ‘Garden.Fairy.Telephone’ and “Fair.Garden.Telephone’ will be on separate continents entirely. This really would have been useful to me when I missed my doctors appointment in Wynberg and had to pay a massive cancellation fee because I went to Wellington Street instead of Wellington Avenue. Apparently there is also a Wellington Road, and they all are in within a 100m radius of each other – City planning at it’s finest.

Besides the fact that this app could save you a few hundred bucks or some precious time, what I find most cool about it is that it’s giving people who have never had an address before some form of identity. With that identity comes a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like food and water. Just like “I am sorry” and “I love you”, three words can make a difference.

“Check it out.”

Yours Sincerely

The Halfway Crooks

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