[FoRK] What3words -- convert lat,long into 3 English words

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at jarbox.org
Wed Jul 9 10:41:22 PDT 2014

The Open Geospatial Consortium just started work on standardizing discrete global grid systems, or at least capturing best practices. What3Words has been mentioned in those meetings as a canonical collection of bad practices. :-)


The best and/or most capable systems for compactly describing points or gridded regions of the Earth (I don’t see an example listed below) use a 3-space embedding of the Earth’s surface where each dimension of the 3-space maps 1:1 to the set of integers (i.e. countably infinite).  Points or cells (which same thing actually) can therefore be uniquely addressed by the common prefix (e.g. the first n bits) of an interval on a given space-filling curve, with some concept of a unit interval (e.g. 1-meter) being defined as binary fraction of the universe.

It isn’t materially different from numerous “geohashing”-like schemes in terms of turning a point on a surface into a compact descriptor. However, it is vastly superior from the standpoint of spatial indexing, analysis, or computational geometry using those descriptors.  

On Jul 8, 2014, at 4:30 PM, Stephen D. Williams <sdw at lig.net> wrote:
> Interesting choices.  I thought perhaps they were using lat/long to index into a dictionary, maybe with a hash, but it seems they have semi-manually tuned the mapping of 3 words to every 3m by 3m square on the Earth's surface, perhaps minus ocean space.  Nicer IDs, but you need the proprietary database online for use.  They have "extra info", but so far I don't see any kind of semantic tagging, which is sad.
> I noticed GeoHash and related not long ago.  This is a new twist. I was involved with helping the startup of a friend of a friend of mine long ago called NetWord.  The premise was very close to the private OneWord for What3words.  A while back, I sent a letter to the USPS head suggesting a moveable 9+ digit unique zip code. This would allow people to have a unique short address that would be looked up in a database and sent to the currently registered location.  Perfect for students, consultants, or others who move frequently.  And private from the sender potentially.  No surprise: no response.  Then I thought about a service that would open and scan your mail for you.  A few difficulties, but would be useful.  But I thought better of it.  Another company did it later, using veterans to open the mail as a security selling point.
> Related links:
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geohash
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geohash-36
> http://geohash.org/
> http://www.bigdatamodeling.org/2013/01/intuitive-geohash.html
> Use of variable precision bounding box addresses in 2D or 3D, but closely held and proprietary:
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_Area_Code
> http://www.nacgeo.com/
> Similar: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_grid_reference_system
> http://tools.wmflabs.org/geohack/geohack.php?pagename=Military_grid_reference_system&params=21_18_34.0_N_157_55_0.7_W_&language=en
> http://www.colorado.edu/geography/gcraft/notes/coordsys/coordsys_f.html
> https://www.maxmind.com/en/worldcities
> http://opengts.sourceforge.net/
> http://www.swarmly.co/
> http://www.geoplace.it/
> http://www.loc.is/
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Geocodes#The_GeoDirectory
> http://www.cdxtech.com/Blog/post/Latitude-and-Longitude-as-an-Alternative-to-Using-Text-Addresses.aspx
> https://developers.google.com/maps/documentation/geocoding/
> http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/geocoding.html
> http://incurlybraces.com/gps-location-coordinates-android.html
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Geocodes
> http://mygeoposition.com/
> https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/maps/Kc0jjqzmlR8[1-25-false]
> Just for fun:
> https://tech.lds.org/wiki/Geo_code
> Stephen
> On 7/8/14, 10:14 AM, Gregory Alan Bolcer wrote:
>> cage.gust.regular -- the ICS building at UCI.  5 feet later: trillions.socket.added.  Seems legit.
>> Greg
>> On 7/8/2014 9:38 AM, Ken Meltsner wrote:
>>> Cannot decide whether this is brilliant or stupid:
>>> http://what3words.com/
>>>> From the FAQ:
>>> What is what3words and what does it do?
>>> what3words is a service which pinpoints any location on the globe (to
>>> the nearest 2 metres) with a unique 3 word combination. This is far
>>> more accurate than you can achieve with a postal address (if indeed
>>> the location you are trying to pinpoint even has a postal address),
>>> and definitely easier than remembering a set of GPS co-ordinates.
>>> We also offer a service called OneWord which allows you to create a
>>> customised, shorter, and even easier reference for any location of
>>> your choice, accurate to the nearest metre.
>>> Ken Meltsner at blues.skinny.nurses
> _______________________________________________
> FoRK mailing list
> http://xent.com/mailman/listinfo/fork

More information about the FoRK mailing list