what3words: A new way to identify any 3-meter location gains traction

February 5, 2015  - By


what3words (w3w) is such a simple concept that I’m kicking myself for not think of it first. Developed in 2013, what3words is gaining traction with many non-GIS users as a more user-friendly way of identifying locations. It’s a system of 3-meter grid cells covering the Earth’s surface, with each cell identified with a unique three-word group.

The three words don’t mean anything, but like the phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta…) used in radio communications, the words make it easy to communicate and easy to remember. By contrast, a long string of lat long degrees, minutes and seconds, or MGRS characters are tedious to copy, hard to remember and easy to screw up.

Additionally, because the w3w cells are small, communicating an exact location is easy. So, if I wanted to meet someone at a large sporting event in the parking lot or particular gate, the unique 3-meter cell puts me face-to-face with my colleague. Since the words follow no particular hierarchy or grouping, an error in one word would be very obvious or show zero return.

See the video at the what3words website for a full explanation. My guess is that very soon your business card will not only list your address, but the three word location of the right door to enter your building and perhaps even your cubical location, once indoor location technology is perfected.

My column is short for now because I’ll be attending the Esri Federal GIS Conference in Washington next week.  I’ll be posting video clips from the conference and expo, so watch this space Monday and Tuesday for highlights.

This article is tagged with and posted in GeoIntelligence Insider, Opinions

About the Author: Art Kalinski

A career Naval Officer, Art Kalinski established the Navy’s first geographic information system (GIS) in the mid-1980s. Completing a post-graduate degree in GIS at the University of North Carolina, he was the Atlanta Regional Commission GIS Manager from 1993 to 2007. He pioneered the use of oblique imagery for public safety and participated in numerous disaster-response actions including GIS/imagery support of the National Guard during Hurricane Katrina; the Urban Area Security Initiative; a NIMS-based field exercise in Atlanta; and a fully manned hardware-equipped joint disaster response exercise in New York City. Kalinski retired early from ARC to join Pictometry International to direct military projects using oblique imagery, which led to him joining SPGlobal Inc. He has written articles for numerous geospatial publications, and authors a monthly column for the GeoIntelligence Insider e-newsletter aimed at federal GIS users.