What 3 Words

This isn’t meant to be a post about the lapse of proper grammar (although a moment of silence for the demise of the words “which” and “whom”, please). Rather it’s a post about a fabulously accurate, easy and free navigation system you can access on your smartphone.

What’s so Great about What3words?

What3Words is unique in a couple of important ways. 1) It is highly accurate, dividing the world into “patches” of 3m or 10ft squared. 2) It works even where there are no roads or paths. In the middle of a park or field, for example. Or along an expanse of beach. Anywhere you might be hoping to meet up with others or have your lunch delivered, for example.

How does What3words Work?

What3words divides the world into a grid of 57 trillion 3-by-3-metre squares, each of which has a three-word address. The addresses are available in 50 languages. The system encodes geographic coordinates into three permanently fixed dictionary words. It takes out any rude words or homophones (words that sound like others, for example hour/our). However, that doesn’t stop there being some amusing combinations; the front door of 10 Downing Street in London (the Prime Minister’s address) is identified by ///slurs.this.shark.

Why Care about What3words?

It provides a more accurate location. And this can be especially valuable in situations like crowded street corners, expansive parks or beaches or in cases of emergencies, where you need to be found as quickly as possible. The London Fire Brigade, London Met Police and Los Angeles Fire Department already use What3words to more quickly locate people needing help. It also works better in voice navigation vs trying to pronounce long street names. The illustration below shows the difference in precision in comparison to using the intersection of streets “X” and “Y” as a guide, which could easily be 4 or more locations. With What3words, each of these locations has a distinct 3-word address.

Credit: what3words.com

How Can I Use What3words?

If you are looking simply to give someone directions to your desired address, you can go to what3words.com and type in the street address. This will bring up a map, and you can choose the exact area for which you’d like a 3-word address. Then simply share the words in that order.

If you’re looking to find a 3-word address, you can do so on the go by downloading the app (it’s free). You can find it in your favorite app store. Once downloaded, look for the icon and tap to open. Type in your 3 words with a “.” between each. See below, left. Then if you’re looking for directions, tap “Navigate”. You’ll be brought to a (third party) map, where, as normal, you can choose your desired mode of transport (car, bus/train, walking) and simply follow the blue dot to the pinned location (in red). See below, right.

This is an actual example of navigation I needed this weekend to find a party in a very large park (Regents Park in London). As you can see from the map, there are few signposts guiding you exactly where to find your friends, so What3words was invaluable.

You might want to check out the website now to familiarize yourself with how easy it is. And while you’re there, why not find out what the 3-word address is for your front door? I’ve noted mine down in the Notes section of my smartphone in case I need to access it quickly to give to emergency services, when I might feel flustered.

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