The URL's of the Physical World

by Jack Sommer

It can be frustrating when you're trying to meet up with someone and you want to meet in a specific location that doesn't have an exact address. Perhaps it's in Central Park by a particular bench or in the middle of a particular trail in the woods. Maybe there's a certain entrance to an office or stadium that's not showing up because the address pin is just dropping in the middle of the building. You're stuck trying to describe nearby landmarks ("There's a Starbucks next to a Pine tree!").

Every little section on Earth deserves an address. That's the theory of what3words, who has divided the world into 3x3 meter (or 10x10 feet) squares and assigned each with a combination of three words from the a wordlist of up to 40,000 options (an example being "dog.chair.whistle" or "myth.hitchhiked.feels"). That works out to 57 trillion squares total.

The words are randomly selected using a mathematical algorithm and they are unrelated to both the area around them or the other squares. It partially sorts this by simpler, more common words are used in more populated areas. You can then navigate using these assigned addresses using their own what3words app.

Not only does it give people an accurate way to share their location, it also (and arguably, more importantly) gives a physical address to the 75% of the world's population who don't otherwise have a designated postal address. This is also in the language of the location, but can be translated to any language as well.

This is especially important in areas of low population or resources where prior an ambulance could take half a day to respond, compared to now a much quicker response. It's literally a matter of life and death. Mongolia even adapted it last year as their official format for their address system, a country who had mostly no addresses for a lot of the country prior.

The technology can also be helpful when navigating roads and using GPS for anyone - especially with the rise of Voice Assistant, where you can say 15 Broad Avenue and it may interpret it as 50 Broad Avenue and lead you 10 minutes out of the way to the wrong address. Or even worse, you could go on a five hour drive in the wrong direction in a foreign country - like this tourist in Iceland - for being one letter off on a hard-to-pronounce and hard-to-spell town name. What3words takes care of this by making sure that addresses with similar three-word-names are in drastically different places. So you know that if you're trying to drive from New Jersey to Pennsylvania but your address is a letter off, and it may give you a location on the other side of the world, like in Australia, so that you know you've made a mistake.


What3words offers a global universal address solution that seems so obvious that it makes you wonder how no one else had thought of it before. Even The Atlantic went as far as saying: "Postal addresses are a technology. They are the URLs of the physical world." We can't argue with that, so we're glad to see someone is cracking the code.

Being that what3words has already covered the whole world, and the addresses are permanently set forever, it's now more a matter of just getting more and more people to actually use it. With our habits so engrained in normal addresses and Google Maps, it will certainly be an adjustment to get people to use the technology and service. However, in those areas with lack of addresses or accuracy - it will likely grow very rapidly and become the norm. And with a trial monetization policy around a business being able to brand a location with a secondary layer (on top of the base three word name), so that it's easily searchable, what3words has 57 trillion options to sell squares for $1.50 each and become a trillion dollar company even if they only sell a percentage of them. Regardless, with such a great platform, the future is looking bright.