what3words reimagines the way that we think about addresses

what3wordsIt is not often that we come across technology or services with ground-breaking, far-reaching applications, but that may just be the case with London-based startup what3words, which provides a fresh take on the way that we think about addresses and locations.

Knowing exact locations is a pretty important aspect of life for just about everyone, but finding precise information can be a bit of a challenge for areas without specific addresses or when you find yourself in a foreign country and using an unfamiliar system. One option is using longitude and latitude, but that requires learning a long series of numbers and that can be pretty cumbersome. what3words has created a somewhat ingenious way to tackle this problem by dividing the planet into a gigantic grid of 57 trillion squares (3mX3m) and assigning a set of 3 random words to each square. From there, users of the apps for Android or iOS, as well as the web platform, can click to view markers for various spots or try to find a location by searching for the words. They started out with an English-language version, which draws from 25,000 words in the dictionary, but they have since added options for Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Swedish, Turkish, and Russian-speakers.

The team behind what3words, which launched in July 2013, has opted to keep the platform free for individual users, instead charging businesses a fee based on API conversion. It is not a flat fee, however, as the service remains free for low-volume users and progressively more expensive, depending the amount of use.

At the moment, the startup reports that they have attracted 30,000 users from 171 countries to their apps, while accessing many more users through partner platforms. what3words claims 1.5 million pounds in funding from private angel investors.

This startup has grand ambitions in terms of partnerships, currently talking with global delivery companies, postal services, and international charities. The service is currently in use for dealing with favelas, festivals, mosquito breeding grounds, townships, and waterpoints, but they tell me that they are aiming to address a country by the end of this year.

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