Many people’s homes in the developing world lack a formal street address, which is a problem for postal, health, and emergency systems, ecommerce companies, NGOs, and anyone who needs to get to a place that does not have a street name or number. Bloomberg reports (porous paywall) on a startup called What3Words:
- The company has divided the entire world into a grid of 57 trillion squares, each of them three meters by three meters (9.8 feet).
- Each square is designated by a three-word address, generated randomly by computer. SupChina’s main office in Brooklyn, New York, is at navy.period.late. It’s free to use with a mobile app or online map.
- The system currently has 27 languages, including English, but not Chinese. The company says both traditional and simplified characters are in development.
- Daimler AG and TomTom NV use What3Words in their navigation systems, and “the postal services of eight countries or territories, including Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, and Nigeria, deliver mail with them. Domino’s Pizza drivers on the Caribbean island of St. Martin use three words to bring pies to customers’ doorsteps.”
- If you search for Tiananmen Gate, What3Words takes you to the address surreal.crazy.short. Positioning the square just underneath the Mao portrait at Tiananmen gives you improving.shrimps.legal.
- In China, the map and satellite images are out of alignment. The addresses above are based on the map — toggle to the satellite photo version to see the problem. This may be caused by the China GPS shift problem.
So what’s the China connection?
- The GPS shift problem may render the system unusable in China.
- The Party has always been paranoid about foreign entities making accurate maps, or drawing borders that China does not like. The paranoia remains strong in the age of drones and GPS-enabled smartphones.
- If What3Words becomes a global standard, we can expect to see it blocked in China and a domestic national champion allowed to grow instead.