Sugars. Trees. Caring. That’s the new name for San Francisco—a place I call home.

But it could also be: Peanut. Butter. Brownie. It just depends on which 9 square meter(sqm) of land I’m staying at!

Three little words. That’s the solution London-based startup What3Words came up with to standardize the long and complicated address formats from around the world.

What this British startup did is very simple:

  1. They divided the globe into 57 trillion squares. Each of these square measures 9sqm
  2. They then used an algorithm to pick from a list of 40,000 or so dictionary words.
  3. They randomly assigned three words to each square.

Voila! My address is now: Sugars. Trees. Caring.

geocodingOf course, they ensured their word collection did not include offensive terms or homophones, so we don’t end up with an address like “Stupid. Die. Dye.”

However, I did discover Toxic. Manhole. Drivers as a three-word code for an area in Frankfurt.

(I must say, it’s fun navigating over that map to find out what combination of words pops up!)

At first, this idea may seem somewhat crazy. Can you imagine using an address made up of random words?

However, if you think about the challenges we have with our global addresses today, you might be the first to say, “This isn’t a bad idea, after all!”

While looking into this, various questions shuffled through my mind:

  1. How does this system handle addresses within a multistory building with many offices in it?
  2. What about the similar challenge for large residential apartment buildings in cities with multiple flats?
  3. How would you handle scenarios with two friends sharing an apartment or house? How do you ensure mail delivery to the right person?
  4. As Rob Karel says, how do you zone a neighborhood? If this is a random assignment, how do we group certain areas (people living in high-value zip codes, employees of a company who share the same address, and more)?
  5. What are the privacy implications? Today, for privacy purposes, postal services offer post boxes, making it possible to receive mail without revealing your physical address.
  6. What about countries like China, Japan, and Korea, where addresses are written in their native scripts?
  7. What happens when we misspell a word? Will the mail end up in a completely different part of the world?

Location domain is an important aspect of MDM (and one of my favorite topics that I’ve covered in a previous blog on geocoding). In my view, we’ve created a hugely inefficient way to locate places on Earth with our borders, local rules, and political systems.

As my old colleague and Twitter friend James Taylor pointed out, this, in fact, is a crowded space with many companies, such as Open Location Code, geohash.org, and MAPCODE, trying to solve this problem.

It’s nice to see startups trying to address this challenge! And only time will tell if the What3Words system will work.

In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming of a day when I can tell Amazon where I live in three words and expect one of their drones to deliver my package accurately, in the shortest time possible!

What do you think about the three-word address idea? What works? What doesn’t? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below or connect with me on Twitter at @MDMGeek to continue the conversation.

Special thanks to Prashant Kondi, who told me about What3Words.

Image courtesy of gubgib/freedigitalphotos.net