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What3Words Fills In Location Blanks For Businesses And Consumers, No Address Needed

The best point of entry to a place doesn’t necessarily correspond to its official listing.

Finding a store or an office complex often requires more than just knowing the address. As geospatial startups try to find a point of differentiation, mapping startup what3words’ promise to marketers and shoppers is that it can get them to the best point of entry, no matter what a map says.

The UK-based company recently completed a $3.5 million funding round led by Intel Capital, and was awarded “Best British Startup” at last month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

“Out of the triumvirate of mapping, navigation and addressing there are dramatic advances in the first two: you can navigate from A to B with state of the art tech, crowdsourced traffic information, image recognition with near real-time satellite imagery but the central part of the experience – identifying a specific location – has not evolved,” said what3words marketing director Giles Rhys Jones. “The problem is that both A and B might not be exactly when you think they are.”

The problem with addressing

According to what3words, around 75 percent of the world suffers from “poor addressing.” In developed parts of the world, we take for granted that every building on every street has an accurate, distinct address that can be plugged into a GPS, but that’s not so in other parts of the world. “The geospatial industry is worth an estimated $150 billion annually, yet there is no precise global address or location reference system that can be used easily by everyone,” said Jones. But even in the middle of New York City, sometimes just an address isn’t enough information.

A building might show up as a big blank block on a GPS app, so how do you indicate to customers where the entrance is? What if there are multiple entrances? How do you indicate where inside a large building the bathrooms or Starbucks are? “Specifying and communicating the location of roads, buildings, entrances, or anywhere without a standard street address is challenging especially when moving between devices, writing them down, telling someone over the phone, radio or in person,” Jones told GeoMarketing. “Try doing it with untrained people and errors are guaranteed.”

What3words’ solution is to divide the entire earth up into 57 trillion 3 meter by 3 meter squares, each with a unique, 3 word phrase assigned to it. Areas of high population density use short, common words (call.office.chart) while a spot out in the middle of the Atlantic ocean uses longer, more complicated words (manipulable.cheeseburgers.grocers). An algorithm makes sure that no two squares near each other have codes that are too similar.what3words

Anyone who has been on the phone with an Uber driver for 5 minutes trying to explain exactly where you are can see the benefit of narrowing location down to 10 foot square.

“The applications for simpler addressing are almost limitless,” said Jones. “From dramatically improving the efficiencies of postal, delivery, e-commerce, asset management and mobile workforce to reducing frustration for tourists, sports venues and at events. We enable businesses to be found easily, make it easier for aid to be delivered and offer a ready made and inexpensive infrastructure for governments. Location is also at the heart of a number of technological shifts including drone delivery, wearables, international location sharing and indoor.”

Redrawing the map

While what3words touts the benefits to many industries, like healthcare and government aid programs, retailers can also make use of more accurate addressing. “Improving customer experience for mapping, navigation, travel, and events, driving more efficient deliveries, and enabling growth for geographic information systems (GIS)” are all ways that precise addressing can help businesses, says Jones.

Speaking about what3words, Jack Dangermond, president and founder of Esri, said in a statement: “location information is a fundamental business tool.”

The idea of creating codes for small areas is not entirely new. Google began experimenting with Plus Codes last year, developed at the company’s Zurich engineering office, that could narrow down areas from a few miles wide to just a few feet and are searchable on Google Maps. Even before that, the idea of dividing the world up into a grid and assigning a code to each has its roots in the idea of geohashing.

“The last mile accounts for approximately 28 percent of delivery costs, much of this is down to poor addressing and geolocation,” Jones said. “UPS are quoted as saying that if they can save each of their drivers 1 mile a day it would equate to $50 million a year. 80 percent of calls at events are to do with location. The #1 complaint about new cars in the US is poor voice navigation. The #1 cause of arguments whilst travelling abroad is navigation. We want to fix that.”

About The Author
Daniel Parisi Daniel Parisi @daniel_parisi_

Daniel Parisi is a New York City-based writer and recent graduate of the University of Maryland. Daniel specializes in coverage of mobile payments, loyalty programs, and the Internet of Things.