GIS Spotlight: What3words

What3words is an addressing system that works as an alternative to using latitude and longitude. The system consists of a grid of three meter by three meter squares laid over the globe with a three word code randomly assigned to each square. Their system is based on the idea that three words are much easier to remember, as well as record and relay, than multi-digit latitude and longitude coordinates.

This new addressing system is extremely useful for countries where there are inconsistent or nonexistent addresses or street names.  The Mongol Post has adopted what3words as their addressing system because of the considerable nomadic population in Mongolia and the lack of road names over much of the country.

Even in countries with functional postal systems what3words can be used to identify places that have no address. For instance, the Alma Mater of The University of Illinois has no street address, but in what3words its address is stores.basin.frame.

14251424459_4b27cbbd25_bI think that what3words is a really interesting idea, and since I love maps I find it enjoyable just looking around their website. It’s fun to find a what3words that’s very apt for its location (despite the random distribution of words), or… one that’s not.  For example, worlds.largest.ocean is located just outside of Marshfield, Wisconsin.

worlds.largest.ocean

There are some limitations, however. What3words only gives information about the surface of the Earth. It does not give any reference to where things are vertically. Addressing in urban areas would not be able to rely solely on what3words for this reason; an apartment number or floor would have to be added. What3words has said that it’s possible they could incorporate a height dimension in the future.

What3words can be used with ArcGIS, a mapping software that the Scholarly Commons has available on all PCs in our lab. Since the Scholarly Commons is located on the third floor of the library, I can’t direct you here solely through what3words. I can however, specify the best library entrance for getting here.

Enter at and go up the stairs.

Come visit us!

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