Sharing Location Coordinates Now Made Easy

Chris Sheldrick Executive Interview


LBx: What is what3words?

SHELDRICK: what3words is a U.K.-based start-up company that has created the what3words website, app, and API to enable anyone to share a precise location with anyone. We discovered that a sequence of three words can uniquely identify every 3-meter by 3-meter square around the world, and we use an algorithm to do that.

LBx: Why is this three-word sequence so important?

SHELDRICK: When an address is inaccurate, ambiguous, or non-existent, it is very difficult to explain the location of an exact spot, and equally difficult to tell a navigation application where you want to go. When you think about it, a lot of the most interesting places in the world do not have an address, but with us they do.

Without what3words, if someone wanted to share a location that does not have an address, they have to provide a lat/long coordinate which looks and sounds something like: latitude 39.745897, longitude -104.947647, or in degrees, minutes and seconds 39° 44’ 45.2292’’ N 104° 56’ 51.5292’’ W. While this may work for a computer system or mobile device talking to another device, it is a mouthful for a human being; and the human often gets it wrong.

The ability to reduce this geospatial coordinate to three words such as raced.yard.wonder makes sharing the location far easier. When sharing a location becomes easy, anyone can talk to anyone about anywhere. For the most part, only geo-professionals share coordinates, and what3words puts the power of both accuracy and communication into the hands of the everyday consumer. That’s why this is so important.

Background

Chris Sheldrick, CEO of What3Words (w3w) is on the speaking circuit bringing widespread attention to location referencing. GPS coordinates, otherwise known as latitude and longitude, are the set of numbers that enable geospatial professionals to identify and map a particular location. Originally in the domain of cartographers, these numbers are now used by software programs for mapping and navigation applications; they are not really used by the average person. We spoke with Sheldrick at the GeCo in the Rockies 2014 Conference about his vision for revolutionizing the use of coordinates.

LBx: How did you stumble into w3w?

SHELDRICK: I spent 10 years in the music industry, in which I produced events in the U.K., Europe, Middle East, and Asia. I spent a lot of time fielding questions from people getting lost in the field. You can’t imagine how difficult it is for artists or production suppliers to find the right entrance to a large performance venue. There are multiple entrances and none of them have a specific address. I thought GPS coordinates would be the way to identify a specific location such as an entrance, but unfortunately, people always seemed to type in coordinates incorrectly or complain about their length and complexity. That got me thinking about how sharing coordinates could be made easier, whilst preserving enough accuracy for everyday use. Numbers are good for machines, but words are much easier for people… faster to say, easier to remember.

LBx: What are some examples of places without an address?

SHELDRICK: I already mentioned an entrance to a building, or a building that is part of a larger campus of buildings. A specific villa in a sprawling Italian village. A farm building within a large farm. A football stadium car park. The loading entrance to a busy city hotel. The place in a park where you will have a picnic. The spot on the beach you are having a party. A bus stop. A specific building within a business park. Land or a home in some parts of the world that are “unregistered.”

LBx: Who is w3w for?

SHELDRICK: It’s for people and systems that support navigation and other location-based applications. w3w is designed as a consumer service, and will come to people’s attention through adoption by enterprise/system services/ apps. We are simultaneously bringing awareness of w3w to consumers and businesses. For a business to integrate with what3words, it either accepts what3words as a form of input (normally done through its normal search bar, as we have a unique syntax which can be checked), or displays what3words as a location, or both. what3words integration is a simple process for any business, through our API or offline SDK, both freely available.

LBx: How does it work?

SHELDRICK: We have made a grid of the whole world, using squares of 3 meters by 3 meters. To each of those squares we have assigned a unique combination of 3 words from the English dictionary. Whilst the words may appear random (they have no relevance to the location), there are various parameters which set the words. Shorter, more memorable words are assigned in locations where we are most likely to have users, and we remove words which could be offensive, and also homophones (words which sound the same but are spelled differently). This process is then repeated for each new 3-word language we launch in, where all of the land on earth then has an additional possible 3-word combination in another language.

LBx: How does one find a 3-word pattern for a particular location? And once one has a 3-word pattern, what does one do with it?

SHELDRICK:

1.Go to our website (www.what3words.com) or the what3words app on iPhone or Android. You can type in a location using conventional means such as place name or a street address, and then zoom and scroll to the exact point you want to reference; satellite view often helps. For current location, simply press the “current location” button and it will immediately display your current 3-word location from your phone’s latitude and longitude reading.

2.Once you have your 3-word location, you can share it with others. You can answer the question, “Where am I meeting you?” with your 3-word pattern. You can update your business card or email signature. Conference or event organizers can provide the 3-word location for each entrance.

3.Now you can navigate to the location with a navigation tool of your choice… Google, Waze, Apple, Bing, OpenStreetMap

LBx:What is empowering or inspiring about a 3-word address?

SHELDRICK: It is very empowering to have a 3-word address. In fact, in the developed world we take an address for granted. You can’t get someplace if you can’t locate it. Imagine the parts of the world where you either don’t have an address or the one you have isn’t recognized across the services in your country. You can’t get something delivered if you don’t have a recognized address. Without an address, you can’t get a bank account. It’s incredibly empowering to talk about or reference a location in an easy way. It breaks down the barriers associated with precise location.

what3words not only empowers the individuals, but it can revolutionize customer experience, operations management, location data solutions, and LBS apps. We have 57 trillion unique identifiers for the English language for land and sea, and we are in eight languages for the entirety of the land on Earth.

I would encourage people to simply try it. The ease of using three random words to describe a location will be the new norm. It’s just.that.simple (a location in Manistee National Forest, Michigan).