Location Mapping

Get Your “3-Word-Address” With What3Words

An in-depth analysis of this emerging technology with sample code implementations in JavaScript

Mahdhi Rezvi
Feb 8 · 4 min read

WHAT THREE WORDS?

This is a clever way of addressing your location only by using 3 words. What3Words was co-founded by Chris, Mohan, and Jack. What3Words divides the world into 57 trillion squares, each with a unique three-word address.

This innovative idea has the potential to even save a life. There have been instances where this technology has been used to locate stranded people. Read more on the BBC.

This article consists of an introduction to this technology, a weight of its pros and cons and few sample code implementations to get you started with W3W.

How does this technology work?

What3Words divides the world into three-meter squares and gives each one a unique three-word address.

For example ///filled.count.soap marks the exact entrance to What3Words’ London headquarters.

3 word addresses are easy to say and share, and are as accurate as GPS coordinates.

51.520847, -0.19552100 ←→ /// filled.count.soap

Why was this initiated?

What are the benefits of using What3Words?

According to the official What3Words website, these are some of the benefits.

Source: What3Words

Who would even use this?

Well, quite a few big industrial giants have started to adopt this technology. Emergency services also have started to use this technology after realizing how helpful it is during emergency situations.

Source: What3Words

Here is a list of all the companies.

Is this an alternative to Google Maps?

What3Words isn’t a navigation app like Google Maps. It’s a global addressing system that makes it really simple to communicate exact locations. You can use What3Words alongside Google Maps to navigate to precise destinations and to save and share exact locations faster and more easily than ever before.

Although you can’t yet enter a 3-word address directly into Google Maps, you can find a 3-word address on the What3Words app or website and navigate there via Google Maps.


Sample Code Implementation in Javascript

1) Sign up and get your API key
This is pretty straightforward. Once you are done, proceed to the next step.

2) Load the what3words JavaScript API by using the script tag.

<script src="https://assets.what3words.com/sdk/v3/what3words.js?key=YOUR_API_KEY"></script>

Congratulations. Now you are ready to use W3W.

Usage

Convert to 3-word address
Convert coordinates, expressed as latitude and longitude to a 3-word address.

what3words.api.convertTo3wa({lat:51.508344, lng:-0.12549900}).then(function(response) {
console.log("[convertTo3wa]", response);
});

Convert to coordinates
This function converts a 3-word address to a position (expressed as coordinates of latitude and longitude).

It takes the words parameter as a string of 3 words 'table.book.chair'

what3words.api.convertToCoordinates("filled.count.soap").then(function(response) {
console.log("[convertToCoordinates]", response);
});

Visit the developer resources page for more information.

Sample Methods to convert to and from coordinates and 3-word addresses

Criticisms

The algorithm isn’t open source

The algorithm used to generate the words is proprietary. You are not allowed to see it. You cannot find out your location without asking What3Words for permission.

Cost

What3Words refuses to publish their prices. You have to contact their sales team if you want to know what it will cost your organisation.

Open standards are free to use.

Tectonic Plate Shift

Source: giphy.com

Well, this might sound like it’s straight from the 2012 movie, but this is in fact a real-world issue.

When earthquakes strike, the tectonic plates can shift. But the addresses don’t. If you think this is an edge case? It isn’t. Australia is drifting so fast that GPS can’t keep up. This would lead to an inaccurate location being mapped by the static What3Words algorithm.

Internationalization

What3Words is available in over 35 languages. Suppose you have a location “cat.dog.goose” that needs to be translated into French. It is not as simple as translating in Google Translate. Each language has its own word list. There is no way to translate between languages.

You have to use the What3Words API to get the location in French. They do not publish their word lists or the mappings between them.

So, if I want to tell a French speaker where ///mile.crazy.shade is, I have to use ///embouchure.adjuger.saladier

Loosely translated back as ///mouth.award.bowl an entirely different location!

Read more at Terence Eden’s Blog.


Conclusion

Even with the above-mentioned criticisms, I personally believe that W3W has the potential to change the world. Any innovation would have its criticisms. But the positives of W3W overweigh the negatives.

“There is no doubt in my mind that these incidents could have had very different outcomes had we not been able to use What3Words,” Mr Redshaw said.

These words were uttered by the Humberside Police control room supervisor. This was after a rescue operation to find a group of foreign nationals, including a pregnant woman in labour, who were trapped inside a shipping container at a port. The operation was successful thanks to W3W.

Read about my article on Plus Codes which is an alternative to W3W.

Hope you learned something new. Happy learning!

Resources

What3Words Official Website
BBC News — Benefits
BBC News — Criticisms
Terence Eden’s Blog
What3Words Developer Docs

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Mahdhi Rezvi

Written by

http://bit.ly/31DaMkc — Writer at JSIPE, Better Programming & Level Up Coding❤️ Undergrad at UOM ❤️

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Learn the web's most important programming language.

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