What3Words - problem.seeking.solution?

I keep seeing ads for a service called What 3 Words. they’ve divided the whole world up into 3 metre squares, and assigned each one an address that comprises three English words, separated by a dot.

Apparently, this is going to revolutionise delivery of products, and deployment of emergency services.

Except I really don’t see it - and here’s why:

[li]There’s no logic or hierarchy to the system - if you use lat/long, Easting/Northing, grid references, postcodes etc, you can usually tell when you’re getting close, but the What3Word addresses are not like that - the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain (AKA ‘Statue of Eros’) in Piccadilly Circus, London is bumpy.remain.pigs - the square 3 metres North of the same is swim.twig.tune[/li][li]Because there’s no hierarchy, it won’t work offline from the DB - the only way to know where a location is - at all - is to consult the DB. not sure if it is available in offline form.[/li][li]The words used are ambiguous. I tell you I am at carrots.swings.select (which is in Nebraska) - or did I say carrots.wings.select (Turkey), or carrot.swings.elect (South Atlantic Ocean) or carrot.swings.select (South Pacific) or carrot.swing.select (somewhere in the ocean off Australia), and so on.[/li][li]The words are poorly chosen. Let’s hope you never have to tell someone you are at insert.finger.nuns (in Michigan) or glitter.admires.youth (in China), or mouth.flaps.stupidly (in Australia) or huge.rounded.bottom (in California) (not to be confused with huge.round.bottom, which is in Texas)[/li][li]The map is insufficiently granular - apparently Dominos Pizza is using the system - except they can’t be using it for deliveries, because there are plenty of city locations where a grid square spans the front doors of more than one house.[/li][/ul]

Seems to me like this is reinventing.the.wheel or a pointless.reference.system - what do you think?

What a lovely run of Band Names!

Anyway, I agree. Who is this system for: humans? Not really. Computers? Why use words and why the limit?

Yeah, it won’t do that in most modern countries, since we have established methods that work relatively well, and a high barrier to change. It’s overhyped for certain.

That is a feature, not a bug. If I enter “25 Washington Street” into Google I get multiple results less than an hours drive from where I am. If I enter author.jokes.strike I get the one I wanted, and the closest similar matches are in New Jersey and Vermont, so plausibly easier to down prioritize by the navigation system I might be using.

That’s a valid point. It’s a commercial product, though, and they probably see that as a feature, not a bug.

If I say I’m at 25 Washington street there are hundreds of options in the US. This seems like a non-issue for any likely application for this system. I don’t think anyone envisions this will be the one and only address you type into Amazon for delivery, with no checks on accuracy.

insert.finger.nuns is in someone’s yard, just pick the one next to it. Also it is not all that problematic. After playing the “find amusing names” game for a bit I’ve found they’ve avoided a lot of potential fun and naughtiness.

Domino’s on Sint Maarten

I think you are expecting it to work better for you, where you live, and completely ignore challenges with traditional addressing that exist in other places, or for other people and purposes.

That said, I don’t see it being something that really catches on, unless people start using it as a supplement in the huge markets that do have traditional addresses. The hierarchy of the traditional address would aid in interpreting the words, the two systems would decrease errors, and you wouldn’t have to go “Yeah, it’s 26
Whatwhat street, but you have to enter through the back door, which is unnumbered and on Wherewhere lane.”

Actually, this one is easy.

Twigs are sometimes bumpy.
Pigs like cool places, so they might swim if the opportunity presented itself.
When you’re singing, it’s a good idea to remain in tune.

See? Nothing to it. Just use your imagination, and you can navigate just fine.

Sooooooo, it’s two dimensional? How does it know I’m on the 17th floor in #1712?

I’ve tweaked their system to account for that. 3m cubes! :slight_smile:

hippopotamus.giraffe.truffle.ground, hippopotamus.giraffe.truffle.up, hippopotamus.giraffe.truffle.upup, hippopotamus.giraffe.truffle.upupup, hippopotamus.giraffe.truffle.down, hippopotamus.giraffe.truffle.downdown,


NB: this proposal is as serious as a Nerf sword.

I’ve been a geocaching for a while and have been using the system for a couple of years now. It works great for that.

As for how it works for general navigation…
With the app downloaded and the advent of gps systems in autos I think it’s a good system to pinpoint precisely where you need to go. The idea that it’s not hierarchal would work against it in a paper map world.

Having said that, it’s got a long way to go to displace the Lon/lat system currently in use for the same reason there is resistance to the metric system in the US, the current system works good enough - no need to relearn something new.

[quote=“naita, post:3, topic:822015”]

That is a feature, not a bug. If I enter “25 Washington Street” into Google I get multiple results less than an hours drive from where I am. If I enter author.jokes.strike I get the one I wanted, and the closest similar matches are in New Jersey and Vermont, so plausibly easier to down prioritize by the navigation system I might be using.

What you seem to be saying here is that it works really well if you already know the location you’re trying to pinpoint.

Fair enough, but I think in that case, it’s too late to the game, and doesn’t offer anything useful.

I don’t really think so. You can’t have a system that is selling itself on pinpoint accuracy, and just say ‘Oh, use the next square over - it’s close enough’

Crikey, I thought you were kidding at first. That’s almost a parody of an endorsement for it. It works really well in a location where any competent driver could literally know every single road by heart.

A little bit, I guess, but mostly, I just think it seems like a really brilliant idea, not so brilliantly implemented, with no brilliant purpose at all.

I will concede that it does look to have some potential use cases in off-grid locations such as hiking trails and such - maybe it’s more accessible than lat/long for regular people…

…except those sorts of places are likely where you can’t get a signal for the app to talk to the mothership.

So it’s a human-friendly alternative to latitude and longitude. I can see the case for it. Sometimes latitude and longitude is superior to street-type addressing. But to get this kind of precision you’d need to go down to fractions of seconds of longitude and latitude. Numbers like that are hard for people to convey, and remember.
This system reminds me of the “correct horse battery staple” password generation mechanism, in that it takes advantage of the meaning imbued in real words to generate a huge number of memorable possibilities.

They couldn’t just use one word for the longitude component and one word for latitude, because they’d need a huge dictionary. Hence the three words. They say 57 trillion locations, so that’s a much more realistic dictionary of about 40,000 words (cube root).

Latitude/longitude is variable-precision. No matter how precisely you describe a set of lat/long coordinates, you could have been more precise, or less. Lat/long can - theoretically - get you within a quarter of an inch (which you probably don’t need or want), or within a hundred miles (which you also probably don’t need or want, for the opposite reason).

3 metres (10 feet, give or take) has the advantage of being a human-scale size. When giving directions to a human-scale location, getting it right to within about 5 feet is normally what you need (not a quarter of an inch, not a hundred miles). The fact that this system is (roughly) to human scale, and intentionally omits the ability to operate at other scales, simplifies things.

Maybe it’s too “dumb”, too primitive, under-engineered. But maybe it’s exactly that "dumb"ness that will give it an advantage as far as being adopted. Maybe it’s at a human-scale level of dumbness, too. :slight_smile:

I don’t know. I really wonder if the game thread, finding funny word combinations, is actually this system’s shining moment, the only thing it’s good for. I hope not, cause it seems kind of neat.


I get that, but I think it’s a weakness. Words are notionally easier to remember than a string of numbers, but they are not necessarily easy to remember with perfect accuracy* - the solution implemented by What3Words is to distribute similar-sounding sets so they are not close together, but that only helps you to not go to a stupidly-wrong place - it doesn’t necessarily help you find the right place, if you have misremembered the three words.

*“Luke, I am your father”, “Play it again Sam” etc. Words are not especially immune to being misremembered.

I agree, words can be remembered inaccurately, and the use of similar variations of words, such as the example of ‘carrot’ and ‘carrots’, is a weakness, although I think I see why they made that choice. But I’d say that words are less prone to misremembering than numbers. Numbers are just noise to the imagination unless you’re Paul Erdos or someone, while words create mental images, which makes them more memorable.

It comes down to this: devise a system that allows people to specify precisely every number in the range 1 to 57 trillion, in a way that is easy to express and remember accurately.

The traditional way is the decimal number system, which gives things like 17,112,308,945,076 . The problem is that 17,112,308,945,076 is a rather similar to 17,112,308,954,076, and 17,114,308,945,076, and 17,114,308,545,076, and 17,122,308,945,074, and 17,112,309,925,076, and a lot of other things.

Latitude/longitude is not much different from the decimal number system, except it does divide and conquer the problem into two parts.

In the system being discussed here, if your number is carrots.swings.select, then yes, it is similar to some other numbers such as carrot.swings.selects, but fewer of them (I don’t think that “select” would be likely to be confused with the entirely separate word “elect”.) And you only have to remember three things. It’s not much harder than remembering a three-digit number, rather than a 14-digit one.

I don’t think the “Play it again, Sam” problem would affect someone who resided at the location. Like Casablanca superfans, they would know the precise wording, because it would be their own address. I concede that it would be a problem for people unfamiliar with the address, such as delivery drivers. They might have to fall back on context, i.e. “it’s either here or somewhere in Antarctica, so it’s probably here.”

And yet Domino’s there seem to have sufficient problems there to want to try this out.

You see it like a parody of an endorsement, since it’s an example of how it doesn’t apply to your world, I see it as an example of where it is finding some use. Places where traditional addresses aren’t precise and where saying “Hey, give us your location according to this app” might work better than “Give use your precise Lat-Lon” or “Your house is 123 Whatnot street now, that’s what you have to use. Stop using ‘Tumbledown cottage, Whittledown lane’.”

I don’t think anyone is likely to misremember ‘select’ as ‘elect’, but if spoken (and especially over the phone). “carrots swings select” is quite hard to distinguish from “carrot swings elect” or “carrots wing select”, etc. (unless you’re speaking the dot separators, I guess, but do they intend people to do that?)

I think it replaces one problem with maybe a set of different ones - people remember words in weird ways - the problem of concept blurring probably comes into play - if you’re trying to remember ‘artichoke’, you might actually misremember it as ‘asparagus’ or ‘avocado’, because what stuck in your mind was not the word, but some abstraction of it.

I do take on board all of your points - especially the bits I didn’t quote to respond to - I’m a little bit persuaded by some of the arguments in this thread.

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! I sleep at “Whips.Honey.Risk”

There is no application for this for which there does not already exist a better solution. Let’s say that I want pizza delivered to my house. Using this system, I’d have to first look up the code for my house, by going online and clicking a point on a map, or pushing a button on my phone for my phone’s current location, or something of that sort. It’d then tell me whatever my code words are, and I’d tell the Domino’s driver “I’m at silly.place.name”, or whatever. Why am I not just clicking on a map on Domino’s website, and saying “deliver here”, or using the Domino’s app to say “deliver to the location of this phone”? The app or website would still need to communicate the location to the delivery driver, but latitude and longitude (to however many digits of precision are needed) already does that.

Or maybe I expect to have to tell a lot of people where my house is. Then I just get an app on my phone that finds my latitude and longitude (again, to whatever precision is required), and stores it in my contact info. And whenever I need to tell someone, I don’t have to say “Give Bob directions to silly.location.name”; I just have to say “Give Bob directions to my home”, and my phone knows what I mean by “my home”.

Yes, you need a phone or similar device to do this conveniently, but you need that same device to use W3W at all.

Some related discussion in the discussion about the zip code article: https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?p=20904017

Also, for those who want 1 meter resolution, a more recent 4-word option: https://geokey.xyz/

So What3Words has been successful enough to invite competition.