Three words can get you to any location

What3Words has mapped the planet into 3m boxes, and assigned three words to every box


Do you know your Eircode off by heart? There is a simpler way to get a precise location and What3Words reckons it has the answer. Created by a former music promoter, the firm has mapped the planet into a 3m x 3m grid and assigned three words to each and every box.

That means you can not only give someone the street you are on, but pinpoint your location to the bench you are sitting on.

The idea is the brainchild of Chris Sheldrick, a former music producer, mathematician Mohan Ganesalingam and table quiz fan Jack Waley-Cohen.

Sheldrick was constantly frustrated with suppliers not finding site entrances, and bands not finding their way from the hotel to their gigs. He tried distributing addresses and GPS co-ordinates for years but both failed him on numerous occasions – he was certain there was a better way.

Clare Jones, chief commercial officer at What3words, explains the firm’s solution.

“Each country has a particular addressing system, but in a world where we are incredibly connected and people love travelling and staying in AirBnBs and the like, so we’ve basically figured we should design a universal addressing system.


“We have divided the entire world into a grid of 57 trillion squares and each is 3m x 3m and we’ve labelled each of those squares with an address actually made from three words from the dictionary.

“So, for example, I could ask you to meet us at our office in London, and I could say come to index.home.raft and that is the exact 3m squared to get you to the front door of our office. So you can’t go wrong as that is a unique address in the world. Even in the sea, everywhere on the planet has a unique identity address made up of three words from the dictionary.

“Three words are easier to remember than a more complicated mix of letters and numerals,” says Jones.

Jones sees What3Words as a complement to current addressing systems rather than a replacement for the likes of Eircode.

“In the UK, for example, we have a pretty sophisticated addressing system already, but companies can use our system to give an added layer of accuracy. So you can address a delivery to an exact door, or for people you can give the exact location of a football game right down to a specific pitch.”


The firm has secured contracts with some governments through their national postal service, for example. In western Europe we take it for granted that we have addresses we can use for ambulances, for example. However, in a lot of countries they don’t have consistent addressing systems in place. So What3Words is able to help them to leapfrog to exact address locations, for sending parcels or letters or ordering deliveries.

So where can you enter the three words to get directions?

“There are several mapping services that use our system, and we have a native free app – what3words – that you can use, and through the app you can use it in conjunction with the likes of Google Maps or Apple Maps to get directions.

“It’s also built into things, so we have a piece of code that lets companies add it to their existing apps and maps. So, for example, with NavMe, one of the world’s largest offline SatNav maps that drivers use, you can tell me to meet at Apple.Banana.Spoon. I can simply type those three words in and it will set my route to there. It’s just like any other address only this one is very precise.

“At the moment we are working with a lot of car companies, so if you are buying a new A-Class Mercedes you can use voice command to say the three words and the car’s SatNav will bring you to that exact 3m by 3m location.

“We have done 28 languages, so you can use it in English everywhere you go, but equally if you are a French, Portuguese or Japanese speaker, you can use it in your own language wherever you go. This year we have a big focus on Asia, with launches of versions in Chinese, Malaysian and Thai.”


While some shops or hotels may wish to change their three-word address to match their advertising, Jones explains the word combinations are already assigned so you can’t change your three words.

“That’s actually really important,” says Jones. “One of the problems with addressing systems is that, for example, when you build a new house, it can sometimes take up to six months to get an official recognised address, but with this system the address is already assigned, they are fixed and they never change.”

So how does the firm make money?

“The app is free but we licence our technology to companies, often logistic firms or navigation software firms.”

There are alternatives, of course, so What3Words isn’t going to have things its own way. Yet its most attractive feature remains its simplicity, and for all the calls for patience as the Eircode system beds down, there is no getting away from the fact that it’s easier to remember three words for a precise location than a jumble of letters and numerals.

And the system’s ability to pinpoint such a precise location means that you can give a quick and accurate location to within 3m from wherever you are on the planet.

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