Instead of address and postal code, Chris Sheldrick has started a company that has divided the world into 57 trillion 3 meter by 3 meter squares. Each square has been assigned three randomly generated words to identify its location. What3words.com is a mapping service that uses those three words to pinpoint any location on earth to within those squares. Sheldrick conceived the services as an easy and accurate way to identify and remember geographic locations.
Not every geographic point on a map has an address (think of a natural park or a country that doesn’t assign addresses to its houses). As Sheldrick notes: ”In terms of pinning locations on digital maps — it is very challenging to do this on existing platforms without actually being at the location. Google Maps, for instance, doesn’t make it easy to share a location in the middle of, say, Central Park or Hyde Park to organise a meeting point. Extend this into places like Australia or Africa or rural USA with vast open swathes where people live and work and it becomes more than just a fun tool.”
Sheldrick explained what inspired him to conceive the service to the BBC: “When I was in the music event business I kept telling people where a gig was but a number of people would always get lost”, he says. “The postcode system just wasn’t accurate enough, particularly in rural areas.”
While many people are in the habit of using a specific existing mapping service such as Google Maps, Sheldrick envisions that What3Word’s mapping service being of most value to those where traditional street number and street names don’t apply. ”We see our service being most useful where current methods of describing location (e.g. postcodes or ZIP codes) don’t do the job well enough or don’t do the job at all — but of course it has applications as a preferred alternative even where the existing solutions do a decent job, but perhaps less precise/customised than w3w.”
Layered on top of the three word geographic locator is a product service where users can lease one word customized locations. Each customized location starts with an asterix (*) and starts at $1.50 for a one year’s lease. Leased one word locations can be purchased for as long as one year. One word locations area accurate to within one meter. Users can take reassign their one word locations when they move.
The What3Words setup only works within the company’s mapping service and apps (available for both iOS and Android devices). The base map used is Google Maps which means users have access to all of Google’s underlying geographic data and Street View imagery.