Remapping Britain: What3Words is fixing our “High Street” conundrum

By Oliver Smith 1 March 2016
What3Words co-founders Chris Sheldrick (right) and Jack Waley-Cohen.

One company is on a mission to fix the world's broken addresses.

In London there are eight Lonsdale Roads, which isn’t just a problem for the postman, it’s a problem for navigation apps like Citymapper and Google Maps too.

Or how about the 5,410 High Streets in the UK?

Things get even worse abroad, in India there are 91 Mahatma Gandhi Roads in capital region of Delhi alone.

Street names and addresses are relied upon for millions of deliveries from Amazon and ASOS every day, directions for thousands of Uber and Hailo trips, and billions (yes, still billions) of letters every year.

But addresses are broken, and there’s one man on a mission to fix them.

Finding What3Words

“We’re not just trying to fix the problems of remote locations, but also places where the address just doesn’t point to the right place or there just is not address, or the address is confusing or plain wrong,” Chris Sheldrick told The Memo.

There’s also the not-small problem of some four billion people on earth who live in a location without a formal address.

Sheldrick in 2013 came up with a cunning idea along with his co-founder Jack Waley-Cohen to solve all these problems. They divided the entire world into 3m x 3m squares, and gave each square a three word name.

Maybe the end of your garden is gazed.sand.looks or the post box at the end of your road is solid.turkey.card both are far easier to remember than traditional addresses or GPS coordinates.

“Just imagine if your delivery driver never finds the right entrance to your shop or house, you could use What3Words to give them a much more specific address,” explains Sheldrick.

The other cool feature of What3Words is what happens if you make a mistake, say you choose table.chair.lamp instead of table.chair.lamps those two locations are on different continents, so the mistake is quickly clear to everyone (unlike postcodes or street addresses).

What next?

While What3Words started off as a service on its own, today Sheldrick’s vision to map the world is expanding.

“We have our own platform, app and website, which are all continuing to gather momentum, but really it’s all about the other apps you can use a What3Words address in.”

Esri, the world’s biggest geospatial software company used by utility companies, national mapping agencies and the UN, now accepts What3Words, as does Navmii, one of the largest offline navigation apps.

But what about bigger players? Will Google ever build What3Words into Google Maps?

“We’re speaking to all of the big navigation apps at the moment, because everyone realises the problem,” says Sheldrick, sidestepping the question.

He’s got more than enough on his plate anyway, What3Words have experimented with bringing voice recognition to their system (“You get into a car, say three words and your GPS just takes you straight there”) and drone makers are showing interest in the technology for the parcel deliveries of the future.

“For deliveries a drone has to be a lot more targeted than just a street address, so they’re using What3Words to do that.”

The future looks bright for Sheldrick and his team based at, of course, index.home.raft.

Find the three words for your house or office with What3Words: