Three words are changing the way we use addresses

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Here’s a question for you – without using Google could you tell us where this 26°08’31.1″S 28°02’36.2″E is on a regular old paper map?

While some of you might be able to many can’t and that’s a problem because geographical co-ordinates are the most accurate way to relay a location.

Thankfully that sentence is false because there is a new way to find locations and all it takes is three words.

What 3 Words is a firm that has been quietly dividing the world up in to 3x3m squares and assigning each square with a three word address.

For instance, plugging ///miracle.given.blows into the What 3 Words website will take you directly to the front door of WeWork in Rosebank.

Each block has a unique set of words that has been created by an algorithm. While there are doubles in the form of plurals, What 3 Words tells us that these plurals are very far apart. In the example above if you were to replace blows with say glow, you would end up somewhere near Seoul in South Korea.

The application and website will provide with suggestions should it find you are closer to other keywords and this serves as a form of error correction.

While What 3 Words has been operating within South Africa since 2017, the firm has recently planted roots here with a local office.

In doing so it has signed partnerships with a number of companies including ER24.

Speaking at a local launch event, country manager for What 3 Words, Lyndsey Duff explained why the application is so vital for South Africans.

“Being in urgent need of help and not being able to describe your accurate location can be incredibly stressful for the person involved and a really difficult situation for emergency services,” says Duff.

The manager showed us various examples of how addresses can be problematic in South Africa. For instance, if you are involved in an accident and all you know is you are travelling along the N1 highway, well that means you could be anywhere between Johannesburg or Cape Town. Yes, there are road markers you can use but I for one have no idea what those mean.

It’s especially vital in informal settlements where addresses either don’t exist or consist of an array of numbers. Try telling somebody you live on 78 268 Road in a hurry over the phone.

Because What 3 Words uses physicality rather than a building address, the three words for an address will never change so you can head to ///miracle.given.blows whenever you want and you will go to the same location every time.

What 3 Words is available in 36 languages and each language would have its own address. So if you were to translate ///miracle.given.blows into Afrikaans (which is a supported language) and head to that location it would be entirely different.

Of South Africa’s 11 official languages What 3 Words is available in English, Afrikaans, isiZulu and isiXhosa with more being added in the future.

While we’ve touched on the emergency services aspect, being able to relay your location efficiently opens up doors for people. Imagine having a restaurant in Soweto that you want folks to come to but not even you know your address. What 3 Words solves that.

Ecommerce outlets such as iStore have already implemented the functionality into check-out to make it easier for you to get your order. Mercede Benz has integrated What 3 Words into its navigation systems and there are many many more services being added as we speak.

While the app isn’t a location or direction service like Waze and the like, it is interoperable with those applications so you can open a location in your navigation app of choice and it will direct you.

It’s insanely simple and it works like a bomb.

We highly recommend downloading What 3 Words for iOS or Android for free and learning the three words of your address, you never know when you might need it.

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.