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Providing Addresses for 4 Billion People Using Three Words ( 393 writes: 75% of the Earth's population, i.e. four billion people, effectively "don't exist" to modern computer systems because they have no physical address. The "unaddressed" can't open a bank account, can't deal properly with a hospital or an administration, and can even struggle to get a delivery. Now Frédéric Filloux writes at Monday Note that What3Words, a London startup, is seeking to solve this problem by providing a combination of three words, in any language, that specify every 3-meter by 3-meter square in the world. Each square has a 3-word address that can be communicated quickly, easily and with no ambiguity. Altogether, 40,000 words combined in triplets label 57 trillion squares. Thus far, the system has been built in 10 languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Swahili, Portuguese, Swedish, Turkish and, starting next month, Arabic. All together, this lingua franca requires only 5 megabytes of data, small enough to reside in any smartphone and work offline. Each square has its identity in its own language that is not a translation of another.

Messy addressing systems have measurable consequences. UPS, the world's largest parcel delivery provider, calculated that if its trucks merely drove one mile less per day, the company would save $50m a year. In United Kingdom, bad addressing costs the Royal Mail £775m per year. "One might say latitude and longitude can solve this. Sure thing. Except that GPS coordinates require 16 digits, 2 characters (+/-/N/S/E/W), 2 decimal points, space and comma, to specify a location of the size of a housing block," writes Filloux. "Not helpful for a densely populated African village, or a Mumbai slum." The system is already being used to deliver packages in the favelas in Brasil with Cartero Amigo, solar lights to the Slums in India with Pollinate-Energy and mosquito traps in Tanzania with in2care. For What3Words, the decisive boost will come from its integration in major mapping suppliers such as Google Maps or Waze.

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Providing Addresses for 4 Billion People Using Three Words

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  • by WarJolt ( 990309 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @04:28PM (#51059145)

    I can't imagine this being useful for a post office in developed countries. Drones on the other hand, are going to deliver packages in a back yard and if you can tell the drone search for a place to drop a package in a 3m by 3m square that's definately useful. Especially if there is a designator nearby to better pinpoint the landing zone.

    • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @04:32PM (#51059173) Homepage

      I can't imagine this being useful for a post office in developed countries

      Well, think this is an example from TFA (Japanese characters removed):

      Here is just one example, an address in Tokyo.
      100-8994 (zip code), (Tokyo-to, i.e. Tokyo prefecture or state) (Chuo-ku, i.e. Chuo Ward) (Yaesu 1-chome, i.e. Yaesu district 1st subdistrict) (block 5 lot 3), (Tokyo Central Post Office).

      Apparently, in some places addresses can get pretty screwed up.

      • by suutar ( 1860506 )

        Japanese addresses are so generally screwy that it is normal behavior to draw maps when giving directions.

        • Japanese addresses are so generally screwy that it is normal behavior to draw maps when giving directions.

          Yes, I've heard that map programs for finding addresses are the first thing that Japanese install on their phones. Outside of every train station and otherwise scattered around are maps of the neighborhood that show blocks and buildings with their numbers. See, everything is divided up by Prefecture, City, Neighborhood, Block, Building (floor, office) and numbered in no particular standard order for streets that are certainly not even laid out in a grid pattern. There's no way to find an address without a m

    • For delivery, having a "radio homing beacon" mode on your cell phone would be more useful. It would also be a great feature for emergencies.
    • I can't imagine this being useful for a post office in developed countries.

      Japan []

  • 75% (Score:4, Funny)

    by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @04:31PM (#51059157)

    75% of the Earth's population, i.e. four billion people, effectively "don't exist" to modern computer systems because they have no physical address. The "unaddressed" can't open a bank account, can't deal properly with a hospital or an administration, and can even struggle to get a delivery.

    Because those Kalahari tribes are really desperate to receive pre-approved credit card spam, hospital bills, and their Amazon Prime deliveries.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do you know what the real "lingua franca" is? Numbers. And numbers don't need a fancy encoding that requires the use of a computer to map it back to actual location information.

    • No, it's not the first time it's been discussed here, and Yes, it's still cute for about 10 minutes until it dawns on you what an incredibly stupid idea this is.

      Unless you're what3words and you're trying to enhance your "oooh! shiny!" revenue stream by conning other services into tying themselves to your system, of course.

  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @04:41PM (#51059235) Homepage []

    Nice job, dingbat. Your image shows an address collision within about 500 metres.

    And you need to learn about drop shadows, or at the very least adding outlines to text.

  • by danbob999 ( 2490674 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @04:42PM (#51059239)

    In a high rise residential building, 3x3 meters isn't precise enough. We also need to know elevation.

    • 3 words plus one number?

    • by Sowelu ( 713889 )

      This is mostly a solution for disorganized places where unit labels don't already exist. If they exist (that high rise building), use them. Doubt you're going to be stacking scrap-metal shacks more than two or three high, and even in that situation you're still identifying a small enough group of people that you can probably talk to all of them at the same time (unlike multiple floors of a high rise) to find the person you're looking for.

      • by mspohr ( 589790 )

        A lot of "organized places" have screwy street names (change names along the route or over time) and numbers (i.e. Japan).

      • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

        Kowloon City, if it still existed. There are disused skyscrapers occupied by squatters in various parts of the world, but yea.. generally there'd be a floor number at least.

    • 3x3 plus an apartment number? You find the building, you can find the sub-section of it. But the point is more for places that don't have solid street names and such, which aren't likely to have high-rises to any appreciable extent...

    • by k3vlar ( 979024 )
      As many other people seem to have pointed out, there's nothing stopping you from using a unit number like you currently do. Like saying, for instance: "1907 gender.dizzy.ranged".
    • Ensure you add negative altitude, some people live in caves, or their mothers basement.
  • And I still have the same thought: "Hidden Forbidden Holyground".

  • As with all systems that blindly pick words and string them together, you're bound to encounter some that are less than flattering. "danger" and "skunks" appear in one pair of three, etc. Thankfully, this is only a parking lot, but imagine a person's place of residence with something like that.

  • by nukenerd ( 172703 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @04:53PM (#51059323)

    bad addressing costs the Royal Mail £775m per year.

    So how will this system solve that? A sender can still give a bad address. Most badly addressed mail that I nevertheless get has the postcode wrong, a fairly arbitrary set of letters and numbers. This new system is a totally arbitrary set of words. People do not remember post codes - they copy them from an address book, incoming letter, or database and can copy it wrongly. Likewise, people are not going to remember these word triplets (I've got 50 Xmas cards to send), they will copy them from an address book, incoming letter, or database and can still copy it wrongly. Get one word wrong (I gather pluralisation matters) and it will go to Timbuctoo instead of Kansas.

    It would save the Royal Mail and other couriers a lot if their guys actually rang my doorbell when they arrive instead of just posting a "You were out" card through - they seem to have a phobia about it. But I live in a remote scenic area and I think they like the idea of a second morning's relaxing drive this way instead of fighting city traffic the following day.

  • No address (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04, 2015 @04:55PM (#51059343)

    What an idiotic system. There already exists a solution to this problem.

    Generate an IPV6 address for each 3x3 square. Encode the same address in a chip and implant this chip in each individual who is allowed to occupy the 3x3 space. Any person whose implanted chip does not contain the correct address may not occupy that space and will be subject to immediate detainment and questioning. We can also look into walling off each 3x3 square so that no illegal square immigrants come in.

    Do you people have any other problems you need me to solve for you today?

    Sincerely Yours,
    Donald Trump

  • Not that this guy doesn't know that already; he needs to get his startup funded so let's just skip over that.

    If you just need to pin-point a spot on the earth, GPS is your goto method. But as others point out, identifying a spot on earth != usable address for commercial/social/infrastructure purposes.
  • Do I share my 3 words with my downstairs neighbor?

  • by bongk ( 251028 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @05:03PM (#51059417)

    This seems like a cool idea, but are we really going to get the world to start using an algorithm for determining location that appears to be proprietary and closed-source? I was looking to find specifically how it works and as far as I can tell you can only implement this by downloading apps or APIs from what3words, and their closed code will do all the work mapping locations to words and vice-versa.

    Why would anyone build any type of important solution or process on top of this and have their hands tied to this one vendor to use it going forward. Its not like you could upgrade or convert to a different process later if your plan was to get people to use this new method for specifying their location.

    • by akpoff ( 683177 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @05:20PM (#51059539) Homepage

      There are also the questions of long-term viability of the company, patents and copyright issues on the three-word locations. On their website they promise the tech will always provide free ways for individuals to use it. And in the case the company can no longer maintain the technology (or find another company to do so), they also promise to release the technology and code into the public domain.

      what3words will always be free for individuals to use on our own site and apps. If or when we do charge for access to our web API or offline SDK, there will always be ways to use them for free.

      In particular, we intend to support fair and equitable use of our core addressing technology. We employ a fee structure that provides qualifying organisations with a range of free and discounted usage plans, in addition to country-based pricing. Qualifying organisations will include humanitarian and not-for-profit entities in any country, and regional and national government and associated organisations registered in countries that fall under the World Bank Low-Income Country (LIC), Lower-Middle-Income Country (LMIC) or Upper-Middle-Income Country (UMIC) categories. Discounts are based on world economic indicator data [] compiled and published by the World Bank.

      Furthermore, we understand that organisations whointegratewhat3words need assurances about the long-term viability of the technology.

      Our goal is for what3words to become a global standard for communicating location. At the moment, the core what3words algorithms and data are not in the public domain. In the future, we may release some or all of our source code â" we will continually evaluate the business case for doing this.

      In the meantime, we commit to the following:

      If we, what3words ltd, are ever unable to maintain the what3words technology or make arrangements for it to be maintained by a third-party (with that third-party being willing to make this same commitment), then we will release our source code into the public domain. We will do this in such a way and with suitable licences and documentation to ensure that any and all users of what3words, whether they are individuals, businesses, charitable organisations, aid agencies, governments or anyone else can continue to rely on the what3words system.

      Promise on pricing [] page.

      That's a lot of promising.

      I really like the idea but I'd like to know it's free and open for everyone to use without limitation. Like many things, the market will ultimately decide its fate.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        What the fsck is their technology anyway?

        Encode like this [] except with 0.0002 degree precision = 50,000 offsets instead of 10,000,000 so it fits in a short. You now have a 2+2+2 = 6 byte = 48 bit coarse representation of a coordinate. Take a dictionary, number words 1-2^n in binary. I'd say n=16 for 65536 of the 171,476 in the Oxford English Dictionary. You now have 3*n = 48 bits of data. Map. Done. Seriously, that's all.

  • Granted, this is not a perfect system. As some have already stated, it dot not address elevation, and the words are not in a predictable order. This is not supposed to replace GPS, it is, in a small, easily *PRINTABLE* or storable form, a way to refer to places that don't have conventional addresses, and do it in a way that a person can easily remember. This is invaluable for hikers, campers, archeologists, doctors, aid agencies. Pretty much anyone that needs to find a place in the back of beyond, or con
  • by juancn ( 596002 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @05:09PM (#51059459) Homepage
    So I checked the site, and the tree words that it picks for the location it guessed I was at are "meto.pienso.coger", which in Argentinian Spanish would translate to something like: "I put (something) in. I think. To fuck" Somebody didn't think this through.
    • by Jon Abbott ( 723 )

      Agreed. I looked and some poor schmuck three hours north of Brisbane, Australia has the address "riding.hustlers.hotel". No joke.

  • Oblig (Score:5, Funny)

    by jxander ( 2605655 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @05:14PM (#51059485)
    You live at horse.battery.staple, correct?
  • An older slashdot story about the same thing

    "Describe Any Location On Earth In 3 Words" []

  • I want to go where the Super Awesome Dragons are at! []

  • They would charge companies to use it, which makes it unusable in the bigger picture. If they opensource their algorithm and word list under a good license, this has a chance. Until they do that, this won't go anywhere.

    Imagine the big mail/freight carriers having to pay them every time they have to translate a 3 word address. Not going to happen.

  • The world's population is 7.3 billion. 75% of that is over 5 billion. How did they get 4 billion? []

  • by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @05:52PM (#51059749)
    "The 'unaddressed' can't open a bank account, can't deal properly with a hospital or an administration, and can even struggle to get a delivery."

    Putting a "can even" or "can't even" at the end of a list implies that that last option is especially surprising or shocking. However in this case struggling to get a delivery is pretty much a no brainer.

    If you want someone to send you something, the person you're asking needs to know where to actually send it. If you can't accurately describe where you are then they have no way to get to you.

    Opening bank accounts or going to a hospital on the other hand are things that shouldn't actually require you to have a permanent place of residence, labeled or not.
  • In my area, UPS has already figured out how to drive one mile less a day. They stop by my house ONCE, leave a pretty little yellow slip of paper somewhere (sometimes on the front door, but that usually falls off and I've found them in the front lawn) and I have to drive 20 miles round trip to the local UPS office to pick whatever it is up.

    Oh, yes, I could pay them extra money to deliver it someplace else that they ALREADY GO TO EVERY DAY where I actually am during delivery hours, of course. It would cost t

  • I'm where it's at...

  • I too thought of my Maidenhead grid square (I'm typing this from CN89lg).

    The most generally whacked-out addresses I've seen are in Costa Rica. No house numbers or anything, mail is addressed by landmarks. One hotel I've stayed at had the postal address "300 meters East of the Escazú Country Club, Old Highway to Santa Ana, Escazú, Costa Rica". Mail may be addressed with respect to any well-known (to locals, at least...) landmarks; I've seen stuff that referenced the town square, the bus station,

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly