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"What3words turns the world into trillions of word-trios, and could change the way we navigate the Earth"


There’s poetry to dividing the entire planet into 57 trillion three-metre squares. If not in the act itself, then in the results, naming each of those squares an obscure permutation of three semi-random words. I’m typing these sentences, for example, sitting at “cuts.eagles.port”. If I move a couple of steps, I’ll be at “”. Behind me is “snail.bubble.drums”.

What3words splits the Earth into 3 x 3m portions, and gives each of these squares a unique name. Think of it like GPS imagism, with a trio of easy-to-remember words translating to very specific locations. Download the company’s app or visit their site online, and you can find a three-word code for where you’re standing. Input another code, and it will tell you where in the world that is. “inspector.snoring.carrots”? That’s on the outskirts of Moscow.

“What that means,” says co-founder Chris Sheldrick, “is if I’m in Namibia and I want to communicate a location in the desert where I’m going to be later, I can look it up on the What3words app, give the words to someone else, they’ll type it in and we’ll both be looking at the same three-metre square.”

“Why would I need such a thing,” you mumble. “I’ve got a postcode.” Yes, well, a lot of the world doesn’t. Last year, Mongolia’s postal system announced it would be changing all of its address to three-word phrases. For a vast country largely inhabited by sparse, semi-nomadic populations, the postal system had its work cut out trying deliver letters to homes without street names or numbers. “Try to find someone moving around with their animals on a territory the size of Alaska,” the chief executive of Ard Financial Group, an owner of Mongol Post, told The New York Times.