what3words is Building a New Global Addressing Standard

Written by Josh Wigmore on March 12, 2019 Blog, Customer stories, eCommerce inspiration.

When Chris Sheldrick started a business organizing live music events, he noticed that people got physically lost all the time. It was so common, frustrating, and bad for business – you can’t afford bands or instruments being late to gigs and festivals! – that he met up with a mathematician friend to come up with a solution.

From a daily frustration came a digital solution for organizing physical presence, now on its way to becoming a global addressing standard: here’s the what3words story.

Helping Everyone Talk About Everywhere

Clearly, standard street addresses aren’t the end-all for finding physical locations. That day, Chris and his friend scribbled a new plan on a napkin – a way to identify physical locations, no street names (or streets!) required:

  • Divide the world into squares, three meters by three meters.
  • Randomly assign each square a combination of three dictionary words.

So, for example, if you told a friend to meet you at ///ahead.domino.freckles, they’d be able to search a map for those three words, see that exact 3m x 3m, and know exactly where to go.

An image displaying the what3words address of a spot on a Portugese beach.
///ahead.domino.freckles is a 3m x 3m spot on a beach in Portugal that has no regular address.

They developed what3words, a simple, global, human system that helps everyone talk about everywhere. The idea took off, won multiple awards, and turned into a business and product. what3words is now available for anyone to use in a free app (download for iOS and Android), or as an API that businesses can integrate.

Mercedes-Benz and Ford have integrated the system so drivers can use it in their cars to get directions to an exact spot. Emergency services in the UK and humanitarian agencies around the world use it to quickly locate people in need of help. Domino’s in Sint Maarten is delivering pizza faster than ever to customers that give their precise three-word addresses when they order.

A page in the Lonely Planet guide to Mongolia showing locations paired  with three-word addresses.
Lonely Planet has added a three-word address to every location in its latest Mongolia guide.

Give Me a Sign

To help people find them easily, thousands of hotels, restaurants, and other points of interest have added their three-word addresses to their websites, social media accounts, and confirmation emails. Some even display them on actual signs.

A man holding a sign displaying the three-word address for Fforest Fields Caravan & Camping Park.
Will Barstow, owner of Fforest Fields Caravan & Camping Park holds up a sign with the three-word address he uses to direct people to the campsite.

In its early days, what3words made stickers and erasable three-word address signs for food trucks that could be updated when they moved. When someone asked for directions, the three-word address could be easily read out or sent to them by text.

The next step was a limited-edition Christmas run of three-word address signs. They proved very popular: people wanted them for their front doors, businesses for their offices, and chains for their branches. Restaurants and hotels got theirs to help employees give the three-word address over the phone, and to give customers an easy way to give a location along with a recommendation. And, let’s face it, they’re a great conversation starter about a cool, new tech.

Then, what3words set up an online sign shop – powered by WooCommerce.

The shop offers indoor and outdoor signs in a range of colors and finishes. People can pick the kind of sign they want and tailor its color, size, and mounting. They can then enter their three-word address, see it appear live on a sign, and try it out on different backgrounds.

The product page on the what3words sign shop, powered by WooCommerce.
The what3words sign shop

Seeing the digital product take a physical form was an exciting milestone for the team. Displaying three-word addresses in the wild makes the system more visible, so people are more likely to use it. And if they don’t know what the three words on the plaque are, they’re probably going to ask, and then wonder what the three-word address for their home is.

what3words for WooCommerce

WooCommerce store owners can add a three-word address field to their checkout page so customers can add one to their address information. This extra layer of accuracy means deliveries can be made more efficiently.

The free what3words plugin for WordPress supports WooCommerce and allows you to:

  1. Add what3words’ AutoSuggest feature to the address field
  2. Save the three-word address against the customer’s order details, and
  3. Display a tooltip to help people enter their three-word address.
mani-life.com has added a three-word address field on its WooCommerce online checkout.

mani-life.com has added a 3 word address field on its WooCommerce online checkout

You can install the what3words plugin automatically from WP Admin. From the Dashboard, navigate to Plugins / Add New and search for “what3words AutoSuggest plugin” and click on the “Install Now” button. Read more about installation.

Global addressing for the web and the world

what3words’ vision is to make three-word addresses a global standard. They’re working with customers, fans, and ambassadors to put three-word addresses everywhere. They’re displayed on signs and published online. They’re being used to navigate care more accurately in cars, find people in emergencies faster, and deliver more efficiently. They’ve also given some people around the world an address for the first time ever.

With a system simple for people to use (in 26+ languages), for machines to convert to coordinates, and for businesses to integrate, what3words is making the world a less frustrating, more efficient, and safer place.

Find the three-word address for your home or business on the free what3words app (download for iOS and Android), and get your very own sign in the shop.

9 Responses

  1. InvenTech Solution
    March 13, 2019 at 9:14 am #

    Congratulations

  2. Manuel Rodrigues
    March 13, 2019 at 4:38 pm #

    Now this was an interesting article. Thank you for sharing.

  3. knightonlineio
    March 22, 2019 at 8:03 pm #

    I like the idea as well. It is almost always hard to change standards.

  4. Anthony
    March 26, 2019 at 7:47 pm #

    The use of ENGLISH words for a GLOBAL mapping system seems horribly conceited and deeply flawed. How many people in the US/UK would adopt it if it were 3 Chinese characters instead? And yet 3 Chinese characters would be an equally valid – and also deeply flawed – way to designate the addresses.

  5. epfricker
    March 27, 2019 at 12:54 am #

    Interesting but not very useful. Because the risk of misspelling is too big.
    And people who have the tendency to get lost looking for an address will always get lost. Nevermind with which address system.
    At least for the next 40 years I stick to the good ol’ system.

  6. Gaurav Tiwari
    March 28, 2019 at 11:43 pm #

    That’s one great inspiration – too good to be on WordPress.

  7. rachelhalerock
    April 8, 2019 at 12:17 pm #

    This is a very interesting article! You gave me so enjoying reading. But I think that 3 words could be not enough. I don’t know how would I describe online blackjack real money new york in 3 words. If you have an idea, please tell me. But I still like the post. Thanks for sharing!

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