Chin. Spike. Flops. – How three words could change mapping forever

Alex Hackett

Group Director of Digital

PLMR’s Alex Hackett on how the way we find locations online could be changed with three words

No you read that right. Chin. Spike. Flops. 

That’s all you need to enter to find my desk here at PLMR towers in central London. No need for anything as pedestrian as a postcode, street name or number – these three words give you my location within an accuracy of three square metres.

What Three Words is the brainchild of innovator Chris Seldrick who, as a former events organiser, found it impossible to get bands and equipment to locations on time due to the myriad of unclear addresses he encountered. Five years (and a few million pounds in VC funding) later, and Chris and his team have successfully remapped the world, covering the entire globe in 3m x 3m squares, each with a unique three-word code as a single point of reference.

I know what you’re thinking. Why Do This? (which incidentally links to a warehouse in Fujian Province, China)

Well there are many reasons. Firstly it’s a godsend for the deliveries sector. Gone are the “just down the lane on the left behind the blue Skoda” directions of yesterday; your location can be nailed down within the length of the average rowing boat. A system like this may pave the way for the Amazon drone takeover that the futurists have been promising us. With a robot-friendly grid reference, human mapping quirks can be well and truly eradicated.

But it doesn’t stop there. Foreign street names and confusing local mapping customs can be overcome in an instant for travellers and tourists. Planners and developers need only give a clear list of grid references to explain what areas are under discussion to residents and local government. There may even be an application for the emergency services, speeding up the time it takes for an ambulance to correctly grasp where a person is without having to enter tediously long details.

It does have its draw backs, and not just because you might find yourself lumbered with “Slurs This Shark” (10 Downing Street). Traditional street addresses give a number of useful clues about location you are describing, including the length of the street it’s on, it’s history, and crucially which city, town and country it’s situated in. Three Word addresses dispense with all this, removing city boundaries and national borders for both good and ill. Without access to the Three Words site or app, your three word address is as good as useless. I know it’s in my contract to say “Digital is the Future™” in every blog I write for PLMR, but sometimes you need things to work as well offline as they do online (I’ll see myself out).

Whatever your thoughts are on the Three Word world, I recommend you give the site and the app a try – for all its benefits and pitfalls, It’s Very Fun. (a children’s play park just outside Charlotte, Tennessee)

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