What3Words Global Addressing

May 14, 2017 at 10:11 pm | Posted in Internet, Online services, Software, Technology, Web Apps | Leave a comment
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You may be familiar with the domain name system for the Internet. By using domain name servers, the human-friendly domain name is converted into the actual numerical IP address of the web server. For example, you can type Google.com into your browser and it will look up the real address of the server, then load the site. This is much easier than remembering something like And this is even more true of the coming IPv6 that will have much longer numbers.

This issue is greater still for mapping the world. Street addressing is somewhat random and in older cities like London or Tokyo, is rather a maze. And what of meeting someone in a large space like a stadium parking lot or a busy monument? And what about all the places that don’t have an address, like a park or forest?

The US Air Force developed the space-based Navstar Global Positioning System (now just called GPS) in 1973. It was fully rolled out by 1995 but only low level resolution was available to the public then. It has been progressively upgraded since and other overlapping systems have been added by other governments. With a GPS receiver, we can locate ourselves quite specifically on the earth. Most modern cell phones include one.

But once again, we have the same issue as with a server IP address. How human-friendly is a latitude & longitude like 49.303371, -123.136826? What about telling someone to meet you at marching.commented.priced instead?


This is where What3Words (w3w) comes in. This is a tool that converts the GPS of a 3 sq meter (about 9′ square) space into 3 random words. 57 trillion human-relatable spaces on the globe and each can be addressed with 3 simple dictionary words. The words are randomized to avoid confusing similar words nearby. Thus, unlike street addresses or postal codes that are usually sequential, w3w is not.


Where are you now? You can do a search, then drag the map to place the pointer at your exact location. Simple.

You can search by street address or by w3w address. If searching by street address, be careful with mapping accuracy. Google Maps addressing isn’t perfect. I’ve reported errors to them a few times.

In the free smartphone w3w app, Compass will tell you where you are. Its accuracy depends on if you have GPS turned on in your phone. With it off, my cell phone had a 21m radius of accuracy. Surprisingly close but not precise. With GPS on, it dropped to 7-12m – a big improvement but not the 3m accuracy of the grid. To give an exact address, you can drag the marker to the precise location first. And that depends on the quality of the map – w3w does offer several map options.

The key is giving an accurate reference point to the recipient, then it’s easy for them to find it.

There is no intuitive way of cross-checking accuracy if the map is vague or your GPS is imprecise. Also, the location entirely depends on their system as there is no real-world reference points for w3w, like an address on a building. But I can certainly see the advantages for sharing a point when there isn’t good street address references. Or you want someone to come to a side or back door. The above ‘marching.commented.priced‘ example is on a trail in a large park in western Canada. Want to go to Beaver Lake?

As the technology in use gets more refined, this will automatically become more precise.

w3w is an interesting idea that is evidently being used by transport and delivery companies in parts of the world where addressing has been an issue. If you have trouble getting people to the right place, it may be useful for you too.

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