Sunday, March 18, 2012

New App Replaces Latitude/Longitude with Words

There is no such thing as a foolproof addressing system. Lattitude/Longitude coordinates are extremely accurate, but most people are just confused by the string of numbers. Physical street addresses are easier to understand, but also harder to find in unfamiliar places and often inaccurate. Now, a new startup company is attempting to revolutionize the way we give directions and discover new locations.

The company what3words has taken the entire globe and divided it into a grid of 3 meter by 3 meter squares–a total of 57 trillion squares. Each square is then assigned three random common words to identify that particular spot. The ingenious thing about this mapping system is the level of accuracy without the need for special equipment or any additional knowledge (which is often the case for latitude/longitude).

Big w3w pinFor example, the front step of the White House is located at librarian.candle.complains., while the Statue of Liberty is at odds.blues.neon. On what3words homepage, you can drag the map around and play with it yourself. And I can tell you, it’s plenty of fun.

Of course, the downside is that this could really only take off if everyone started using it. If I called my father and told him to meet me at he would probably think I went crazy. However, the simplicity of this system is pretty sweet and (unlike GPS coordinates) I think I might actually be able to get my non-tech friends to use it. And that’s just first world perspective. In developing countries where street addressing is poor or nonexistent, a system like this could be incredibly helpful for visitors. The more I think about it, the more places I could see this being incredibly useful. Then again, as with all new things, it really depends on how well it takes off.

The app is available for download on both iOS and Android, and can be used both online or offline for both mapping and directions.

Here’s a video from the website explaining a little better how it works:

Even if it doesn’t work, I definitely applaud the concept. So what do you think… is this going to replace latitude/longitude coordinates? Do think think it will take off? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Max Bramel says:

    I share your apparent sense that this is quite clever and potentially very useful, but it’s an uphill battle to gain wide acceptance. It reminds me of Windows 7 vs Windows 8; even if the latter is better, we’re used to the old way, darn it. Any new way is another level of complication, even if it’s simpler or better.

    I *did* download the app.

    • I agree completely, and sadly, I seriously doubt it will actually go anywhere. However, I still love the idea behind it and I’m definitely rooting for the developers to gain some widespread adoption!

  2. This idea sounds really clever… for about a nanosecond until you actually think about it… At which point you realise it’s completely and utterly idiotic.

    One of the advantages of ‘real’ addresses is that they tend to work on a homing in principle. If I’m looking for an address in [UK example] M23, I know it’s in a certain postal zone in Manchester. When I narrow into that postal zone and get a bit closer, so I’m standing outside no.25 SomeStreet, and my desired location is 85 SomeStreet, I can make the reasonable assumption that it is on the same road. Likewise with grid references or plain old Latitude and Longitude.

    With What3Words, I’m standing outside “Pork Spanner Bread” and looking for “Shed Teapot Horse” and every location in between is defined by an equally random triplet of words. There’s no way to tell if I’m 10 feet away from my desired location… or 10000 miles away. And, as I set off walking in any direction, nothing to indicate that I’m getting nearer or moving further away.

    Completely and utterly pointless. I wish otherwise sensible people would stop giving this idea the credence it patently doesn’t deserve.

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