A new London company has invented a way to uniquely, easily and memorably identify every single patch of the planet. It’s fun, and could be extremely useful to OPPs
In the history of great ideas, this might be up there with sliced bread and the decimal system. What3words.com is a simple mapping device where the world is divided into three metre square blocks, 57 trillion of them, covering every metre of land and sea on the surface of the globe. Each square has had a random combination of three everyday words assigned to it.
If I want someone to come to my office, for example, I simply say, text them, write on a postcard, email or whatever, the three words, which I have found on the app to be “tolerates fees meanest” for my office location. My visitor simply enters the the three words into the app or any web browser and my exact location appears on a map. Try it, it’s: w3w.co/tolerates.fees.meanest. When you clicked on that my location should have appeared on a browser window. If I wish, I can then customise that name for a £1.49 charge.
Suppose I am conducting a viewing with a client to a house with a difficult address, perhaps to people who don’t speak English? No problem, I just give the client the three words – it works in several languages – and they can find it simply and immediately on any smartphone with no need to follow street addresses.
If my visitor gets it slightly wrong, nearby squares are assigned completely different words, so if my visitor forgets the ‘s’ on tolerates but gets everything else correct he would be directed to a forest in Finland, which would be easy to see is wrong. There are also no homophones (site/sight, deer/dear etc) so the words can be said over the telephone without needing to spell them out.
There are several advantages to what3words compared to conventional addresses. Firstly, not everywhere in the world has an address. That is especially true for new-build property developers in far flung parts of the world, or even in well-mapped parts of cities. Explaining where a client’s property is on a new development becomes simple too. Of course you could do the same with a GPS position, but what is easier to remember and pass on, N50.8747/E00.0077 or tolerates fees meanest? And once the three-metre square has been found, you can pay to customise the square by paying £1.49 for a year (£7.49 for 10 years). So I could christen the square on which my office stands as *chriseditorOPP, and that would be mine to keep and to take with me even if I moved office.
CEO of what3words Chris Sheldrick spent ten years in the music festival business, much of that, he says, explaining to staff and suppliers exactly where in a large field or arena he was. For what3words he teamed up with Jack Waley-Cohen to create the app. The practical implications for the overseas property business go beyond being able to find difficult addresses in foreign places. Jack Waley-Cohen told OPP: “For international estate agents, one angle is to see it from the property searcher’s perspective. If I’m looking for somewhere to live/develop in a city/country/jungle I’m not familiar with, I need someway to reference places I’ve seen. So if I’m going to buy a house in Marseilles, and driving/walking through the city I come across an area I like, I may well not know what that area is called or how people refer to it. What3words gives me a way to do this, so I can then return easily to the area or use the w3w address for more detailed searching subsequently.”
So far, UK portal Nestoria use the system, allowing search to input w3w combinations.
“For the actual property developers,” says Mr Waley-Cohen, “instructing deliveries of materials etc. to different site entrances when satnav is going to be useless and maps non-existent is a potentially very powerful application for w3w.”
But you also get the feeling that since the system was launched in the summer of 2013, many more practical uses are still to be discovered. Certainly for a system like Twitter, being able to identify my address in the world as simply as *chriseditorOPP seems handy, to say the least.
What3words is now available in English, Spanish, Russian, German, Italian, French, Turkish and Portuguese. Chinese is planned for 2015. Crude and rude words are omitted, though there is no accounting for euphemisms or slight embarrassing combinations of words. Large bottom loving, to take three completely random words, is a wheat field just outside Iowa City.
by Christopher Nye, Editor, OPP Magazine,