I have an addressing problem. The apartment block I live in has a rear entry for visitor parking. It doesn’t have a street number. I direct guests to the right alley, and then make them call me, so I can tell them which garage door to access. I am usually in the middle of cooking something complex when they ring.
Until recently, the only alternative I had for directing guests to the right spot was “-33.884891, 151.217647”, and hope they can remember and interpret these numbers. Good luck with that. (I’m not even mentioning datums or projections, or visitors who don’t know what to do with GPS coordinates)
Three months ago I spoke with a young Briton named Chris Sheldrick. He used to work as an event manager, organising festivals and the like, and was paying people to meet delivery trucks at the edge of town, and explain to drivers exactly where to park, drop the chairs, or unload the catering.
Chris wondered why there wasn’t a simple, clear-cut, easy to remember system to communicate location in natural language. Addresses don’t work if there isn’t a property or building to address, and coordinates are hard to remember or interpret.
That’s why Chris created What3Words (http://what3words.com/; available for IOS and Android), and it’s now taking the world by storm.
The concept is elegant and refreshingly simple: divvy up the globe in 3x3 meter squares, and allocate a unique combination of 3 words to each square. A mathematical formula converts the words to a location and back, so you don’t need to be online to use the app.
Suddenly it’s possible to send out an invitation for a picnic on a remote beach, tell the taxi where you want to be picked up, or call an ambulance when you’re injured on a nature trail.
For years, we’ve been beholden to ‘official’ street addresses, and struggling where these are out of date, ambiguous or simply do not exist. Who doesn’t remember the tragic death of a teenage bushwalker lost in the Blue Mountains, when the triple-zero operator needed an address and ‘nearest cross street’ to direct the rescue team.
What3Words frees us from the shackles of traditional street addressing. It is empowering and puts each of us in control of communicating our own locations. It is by far the biggest disruptive technology in the geographic information domain since Google Maps came to town. I fully expect that five years from now, we’ll be wondering how we ever managed without it.
Want to know more? Check out http://what3words.com/. Or meet Chris Sheldrick when he’s in Australia in August. He’ll be delivering the opening keynote at the GeoNext conference in Melbourne (http://geonext.com.au). It’ll be big.
By the way, if you ever come to dinner, you can find our car park at http://w3w.co/handy.keys.edit.