prices.slippery.traps
June 13, 2016 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Mongolia will become a global pioneer next month, when its national post office starts referring to locations by a series of three-word phrases instead of house numbers and street names. Britain-based startup What3Words has devised a system where the surface of the Earth is divided into 57 trillion three-square-meter locations, each assigned a unique word triplet. An estimated 4 billion people worldwide have no address for mailing purposes, making it difficult to open a bank account, get a delivery, or be reached in an emergency, and What3Words is intended to help solve this problem.

Some organizations have already been using What3Words' system for some time, including the UN (for natural disasters and humanitarian crises), but Mongolia will be the first to use the system for official government mail delivery. Previously.
posted by Hot Pastrami! (169 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
 
I like that it is multilingual. Very interesting concept.
posted by mightshould at 3:19 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


This makes me wonder if they're using something similar to Google's S2 Cells.
posted by radwolf76 at 3:20 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


So what this groundbreaking app does is that it replaces degrees.minutes.seconds with a different three-level hierarchy comprised of random words?

Is this an actual thing or an episode of Silicon Valley?
posted by dersins at 3:29 PM on June 13, 2016 [41 favorites]


I rather prefer those startups working to use GPS technology or other existing mapping systems that not only help locate and discover and permanently address but also integrate into our screen filled lives. There are quite a few out there - here's one that caught my attention early on:

“LocName API technology is divided into three basic but essential components,” Mourad said.

“Firstly, it is an address form simplifier, providing a replacement for long addresses with one simple field that predicts the correct address based on the user’s input. Second, it offers a backup dashboard report that provides the necessary information for delivering customer orders, including distance, time, and cost for a particular order and the shortest route plan to deliver said orders. Finally, the LocName API offers a delivery tracking solution that connects office teams with their runners through a live-tracking web dashboard and mobile application.”

The startup is hopeful phase two will prove as popular as phase one, which has taken off in parts of the Middle East and Africa. LocName plans expand in the Gulf, and in Asia and Latin America.

“Our market is mainly Africa and the Middle East. The gap spotted in the region is that there is not many companies doing solutions that solve addresses and incomplete maps in the region,” Mourad said.


posted by infini at 3:31 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


The 10' square cells gives me a few names to choose from on my property - some are prettier than others :) I wonder if they considered adding a fourth set of words for altitude, for those who live in multi-unit dwellings, or underground or something.
posted by Popular Ethics at 3:31 PM on June 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


fuzz.ever.innovators. There's like eleventy thousandrillion band names in this thing.
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:32 PM on June 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


I live in flesh.flesh.skinny, so I'm 100 percent down with this system.
posted by Etrigan at 3:32 PM on June 13, 2016 [39 favorites]


Their business model is entirely dependent on keeping exclusive control over their word index. I see this company launching many, many lawsuits in its future.
posted by Popular Ethics at 3:33 PM on June 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


90% of the computation time will be spent avoiding unintentionally hilarious combinations. And it will fail at that, hilariously.
posted by gurple at 3:34 PM on June 13, 2016 [14 favorites]


(As the updated article notes, it's not 3 square meters, but 3 meters by 3 meters, which is nine square meters.)
posted by xigxag at 3:34 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


go home new Mongolian wayfinding, you're drunk
posted by threeants at 3:35 PM on June 13, 2016 [5 favorites]




I'm very near to vibe.both.hurry. I can't decide whether it's better to say that we say that all the time around the ozzy household or never at all.
posted by uncleozzy at 3:38 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I worked with a guy whose home address was literally "White House Blue Trim".

At least until he woke up to the sound of someone nailing a number to his siding.
posted by ODiV at 3:38 PM on June 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


I've got three words for you: Plate Of Beans.
posted by zachlipton at 3:39 PM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Like...this kind of tickles me in a thought-experiment way, but it seems so problematic in a zillion ways, right? Most addresses will be too semantically suggestive for official use; does anyone really think the US Embassy will ever advertise their location as constants.stuffy.activism? Organizations spend so much time fine-tuning their messaging that I doubt anyone will be just open-armedly accepting excrement.scallion.rinse or whatever. Also...English words to geolocate the whole world? Pretty naked linguistic imperialism there.
posted by threeants at 3:40 PM on June 13, 2016


There's been a slew of not so great startups muscling their way into remote third world locations with mega funding support. A recent scandal is private education that consists of no more than training "teachers" how to download android based curricula and transmitting that to kids. Big SV firms fund it.
posted by infini at 3:40 PM on June 13, 2016 [9 favorites]


admire my tony address of clown.penis.fart
posted by entropicamericana at 3:40 PM on June 13, 2016 [24 favorites]


Apparently, I live inside of a delicious sandwich of some kind.
posted by Foam Pants at 3:41 PM on June 13, 2016


ah, sorry, I missed that it's multilingual. that's pretty neat, though I don't really get what it means in practice.
posted by threeants at 3:41 PM on June 13, 2016


(As the updated article notes, it's not 3 square meters, but 3 meters by 3 meters, which is nine square meters.)

MY LIFE IS A LIE!
posted by Naberius at 3:41 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


All the random/funny/MeFi-related three letter word combos I've been typing into the search field have been nonexistent except for one that landed me right in the middle of the Gulf of Oman
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:41 PM on June 13, 2016


A descriptive address (preferably a formalized one) will always be better because it's human readable and relatable. You know that 4th and Elm is only a short distance from 7th and Elm, or that 14 York Road isn't too far away from 201 York Road. fuzz.bang.wotsits and tinny.jack.waffleiron could be neighbours or antipodes. For the hassle of getting every Mongolian to remember a string of words, you might as well put up some street signs and hand out numbers--or whatever is culturally appropriate there. And such addresses would be useful for everything, not just a sophisticated postal system but also visiting or wayfinding without the use of any tech.
posted by Emma May Smith at 3:42 PM on June 13, 2016 [29 favorites]


If I go to prices.slippery.traps, it's like "well here's that, but maybe you meant price.slippery.traps or prices.slippery.trap". Seriously? I assumed the benefit of this over GPS is it's less fuck-up prone, but they didn't really ace that.
posted by aubilenon at 3:42 PM on June 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


So what this groundbreaking app does is that it replaces degrees.minutes.seconds with a different three-level hierarchy comprised of random words?

Is this an actual thing or an episode of Silicon Valley


In the last 10 years I have not been able to memorize more than two locations using long and lat with enough precision to drive there.

It took me 30 seconds to memorize my home, work, school (down to specific buildings) using this system.

It would be better if it was free as in beer, but still you can't deny that however horrible SV culture may be, it has produced some really useful and beneficial things.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 3:42 PM on June 13, 2016 [16 favorites]


Yes, I recently heard someone had built an app for beer delivery.
posted by infini at 3:44 PM on June 13, 2016


Yeah, allowing pluralized and non-pluralized words seems like a dumb choice, although it looks like they went out of their way to place related words far away from eachother.

Good thing they didn't crowdsource the word index, or else every address would be Yellow Gum Park in Melbourne.
posted by Popular Ethics at 3:45 PM on June 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


I actually think this seems terrific for its apparently original purpose of emergency dispatch, etc. Turning it into a general-use address system, as in the Mongolia case, seems like deeply weird scaling to me, though.
posted by threeants at 3:45 PM on June 13, 2016 [8 favorites]


In fewer words: I applaud any efforts to transform knowledge from computer friendly formats (long numbers) into actual human mind friendly formats (words, rhymes, emotions).
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 3:45 PM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


(words, rhymes, emotions)

That's in Iran
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:48 PM on June 13, 2016 [21 favorites]


01001001 00100000 01101011 01101110 01101111 01110111 00100000 01100101 01111000 01100001 01100011 01110100 01101100 01111001 00100000 01110111 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00100000 01101101 01100101 01100001 01101110 00100000 01100100 01101111 01110010 01101111 01110100 01100101 01101111

here's where you can convert it
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:49 PM on June 13, 2016


Sweet, I'm just off the coast of Brazil!

https://map.what3words.com/lefty.lucky.cats
posted by lefty lucky cat at 3:50 PM on June 13, 2016 [10 favorites]


As much as this is a pretty imperfect implementation (private company issues and people grabbing good namespots come to mind) it's good to see mental retain-ability starting to come up as a thing.
posted by solarion at 3:54 PM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


I assume that all the German ones are something like schadenfreude.zeitgeist.massenkommunikationsdienstleistungsunternehmen
posted by clawsoon at 3:57 PM on June 13, 2016 [14 favorites]


mental.retain.ability also comes up right near Louisville, KY

This might be my new favorite browser game
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:57 PM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


My choice of trigrams has a couple of really good ones, but I can't say what they are... hey, and lose my Sekrit Identity?

Grrr.

However, devonian.likes.beer is slap bang in the middle of the Western Australian Emptiness, so I'll take that and run.
posted by Devonian at 3:58 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


people grabbing good namespots

The names are already assigned. So are you talking about the idea of people buying real estate based on their names? Like maybe I would move to the middle of nowhere in Colorado to have purple.monkey.dishwasher or something?
posted by aubilenon at 3:58 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Okay, now this is starting to be a fun game:

-puff.puff.pass is somewhere in Modesto, CA
-lemon.lime.sprite is somewhere in the Eastern half of Australia
-bacon.bacon.bacon is outside of Ranea, Sweden
-There's NO bacon lettuce tomato, but there is beacon.lettuce.tomato
-harder.better.faster is in Eastern Wisconsin
-going.going.gone in Mountain View

Okay, this might get confusing:
There's a carrots.onions.celery in Nebraska
-BUT-
-There's also a carrots.onion.celery in South Dakota.
-And a celery.carrots.onion in North Dakota.
-And a celery.carrot.onion off the coast of New Zealand.
posted by FJT at 4:00 PM on June 13, 2016 [17 favorites]


Yeah, this is an interesting concept, but I'd definitely prefer a system that actually took *some* local geography into account. I feel like even something like an offset that refers to a nearby population center would be preferable, and I'm willing to bet there are even things you could do to make it easier to remember than random coordinate offset numbers.
posted by Aleyn at 4:01 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


In What3Words’ system, the idea is that a series of words is easier to remember than the strings of number that make up GPS coordinates.

That's probably true, but since my kitchen table in Austin is at closet.declares.tourist while closets.declares.tourist is somewhere along the border of Colombia and Venezuela, it seems like the downside of being easier to remember is that if you get the what3words sliiiiiiiightly wrong, you're not even close to where you should be.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:02 PM on June 13, 2016 [9 favorites]


Is this an actual thing or an episode of Silicon Valley?

Dis. Rup. Tion.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:03 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Just. Say. No.
posted by nfalkner at 4:05 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


To expand on that, 23skidoo, most addressing systems are hierarchical. The first bit gets you in the general area, and subsequent bits narrow you down closer and closer to your destination. This gives up on that completely; if the Mongolian letter-carrier's electronic device fails, they have a zero chance of getting the mail to a location they haven't memorized.
posted by clawsoon at 4:05 PM on June 13, 2016 [17 favorites]


actually, most.addressing.systems is off the coast of Baja California
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:08 PM on June 13, 2016 [11 favorites]


My sunny, hop vine covered porch is at shelter.serious.happily, so therefore I heartily approve of this flawless system.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:09 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


The choices for where I currently live are kind of blah but the house we're moving to next month? Amazing. I wish I could share without doxxing myself.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:10 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


We're also very good at recalling synonyms for common words just as well as the words themselves, aren't we? I seem to recall some cognitive science research on that. That could result in some interesting mix-ups.
posted by clawsoon at 4:11 PM on June 13, 2016


Tiny.little.finger is in Grand Rapids. Does Donald Trump know about this?

Happily.ever.after is in Chile.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:15 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is ripped off from gfycat, right? Who lives at fat.whopping.dikdik?
posted by knuckle tattoos at 4:16 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


More seriously than my last post, and continuing from 23skidoo and clawsoon, the three word idea is interesting but the re-ordered triplet for my address gave South Australia, Brazil and Shanghai. That's just not acceptable.

The DNS was invented for very good reasons, with a lot of thinking about the future, and the hierarchy was such that out-of-order addressing generally didn't work and you couldn't accidentally contaminate your namespace (well, not that easily, anyway). That's not so true with changes to the TLD specifications but it's a known problem and the ability for every triplet in this system to map somewhere is a flaw, not a feature.

Pop quiz, XKCD fans: is it "correct battery horse stable", "correct battery staple horse" or "correct horse battery staple"? If you are at all uncertain, your package just got delivered to a different continent.

Interesting idea. Needs some actual large-scale addressing, distributed computing and error correcting thinking but that may just be the stage that they're at. Good luck to them if they fix it up!
posted by nfalkner at 4:17 PM on June 13, 2016 [9 favorites]


rats.ended.finger
gross.
posted by heyho at 4:18 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


-There's NO bacon lettuce tomato, but there is beacon.lettuce.tomato

In addition to beacon.lettuce.tomato (which is in Australia), there are also beacons.lettuce.tomato (Peru), beacon.lettuces.tomato (Russia), and beacons.lettuces.tomato (Angola).

The decision to use both the plural and singular forms seems likely to lead to just a bit of confusion.
posted by dersins at 4:19 PM on June 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


Like maybe I would move to the middle of nowhere in Colorado to have purple.monkey.dishwasher or something?

Sorry, I claimed that three years ago
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 4:20 PM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Could I really be sitting on EXPOSE.MEMBER.REDUCE?
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:21 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Two of the points inside my garage, taken together, make a Game of Thrones reference.

I approve of this.
posted by Hatashran at 4:22 PM on June 13, 2016


I'm going to rag on this idea yet more:
Mongol Post is switching to the What3Words system because there are too few named streets in its territory. The mail network provides service over 1.5 million square km (580,000 square miles), an area that’s three times the size of Spain, though much of that area is uninhabited. Mongolia is among the world’s most sparsely populated countries, and about a quarter of its population is nomadic, according to the World Bank.
And every ten feet that one of those nomads moves their yurt, they get a brand new, completely different address. Not just a little bit different; all words different and unrelated.

I wonder why they rejected even the hint of a hierarchical system. They must've had some intelligent-sounding reason to do so.
posted by clawsoon at 4:23 PM on June 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


square.oath.melt
posted by jeffamaphone at 4:23 PM on June 13, 2016


That's probably true, but since my kitchen table in Austin is at closet.declares.tourist while closets.declares.tourist is somewhere along the border of Colombia and Venezuela, it seems like the downside of being easier to remember is that if you get the what3words sliiiiiiiightly wrong, you're not even close to where you should be.

Not to defend this system, but I understand this is deliberate. If your friend across town puts your kitchen table into her GPS, and it tells her that her driving time is 18 days 3 hours 20 minutes, she'll know she's got the wrong address.
posted by ejs at 4:25 PM on June 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


just learned about geohash at my new job...
posted by jcruelty at 4:30 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Too bad they don't use four words—then we could map out "Correct Horse Battery Staple."

I was involved in a project where we needed to assign ticket codes to customers. Those codes are normally represented as a 32-character alphanumeric. But we also wanted people to be able to read the codes to each other over the phone in a pinch. So we got a list of the 5000 most common English words, did a little sanitizing on it, reduced it to the 4192 most common words, and mapped the underlying binary value to eight words from that list. I'm not aware that anyone has actually used this feature, but it's there. It has the same potential problems with plurals/singulars, homophones, etc.
posted by adamrice at 4:30 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is a weird mixture of brilliant and awful. It seems to solve problems for Mongolia, which has a dearth of street names. The names themselves are kind of Pythonesque (my old house has among other IDs rent.bunny.rushed), but their complete inscrutability and confusability seem like a big minus.

Plus the idea of simply translating the words for non-English speakers is way more of a can of worms than perhaps the creators realize. (Just to begin with, not all languages have plurals.)
posted by zompist at 4:31 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


drank.goods.online or belly.squad.solid or worker.blog.enhancement

can't choose!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:35 PM on June 13, 2016


Looks like what2numbers.com is available for sale, if anyone wants to float a new startup that has all the benefits of this one but doesn't require a lookup table and custom software. (But, how can we monetize this if we can't charge people to use it? Don't be silly. We'll patent the idea and sue delivery companies for licensing fees. Sure, lat&long have a history of previous use, but lat&long separated by a dot? We'll see you in court.)

I'm sorry to see that ripoff.developing.countries is in the middle of the Atlantic. But, wasted.venture.capital is in western China and might be fun to visit. Handles.plurals.badly looks like a lovely patch of coast just north of Vancouver.

I'll be curious to see how often mail bound for astronauts.raising.sheep in northwest Canada winds up in the middle of the ocean at cosmonauts.raising.goats due to translation issues.

Then, of course, there are places like overthrown.elected.government, destroys.presidential.palace, and subvert.national.interests that make it clear we've already spent more time thinking about their word lists than the company itself has.

Anyone want to team up and buy some land at steam.powered.airship to launch our direct-to-consumer SF and geek memorabilia store? Looks like a good place from which to ship throughout the US, and I'll bet the land is cheap.
posted by eotvos at 4:36 PM on June 13, 2016 [9 favorites]


While there are lots of places without postal addresses, there are lots of w3w addresses that aren't useful places. For instance, while all of the following are valid, only a couple might be useful to people: ampere.shimmy.procure, foal.fission.waggle, fruited.pager.mailers, preheat.among.blooper, ragtag.honcho.bags, spoiler.negated.hula and vying.inapt.growls.

How to make a random w3w url:
echo 'https://map.what3words.com/'$(grep "^[^'A-Z]\{3,7\}$" /usr/share/dict/words|shuf -n3 | fmt | tr ' ' '.')
About 1:12 seems to be valid.
posted by scruss at 4:37 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Seems oddly english-centric for Mongolia. Open Location Codes seem better.
posted by GuyZero at 4:37 PM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


I can't figure this app out. So I presume I live in where.thefuck.ami
posted by jonmc at 4:39 PM on June 13, 2016


9/11 memorial: mash.wounds.using, or jelly.towers.finishing, or much.exchanges.mint, or stray.uses.ruins?
posted by clawsoon at 4:40 PM on June 13, 2016


Can I use this to send a letter to Jessamyn?
posted by matildaben at 4:48 PM on June 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


Sadly there is no Just.This.Guy, buy Just.This.Place is very close to my old house.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:54 PM on June 13, 2016


(it's not 3 square meters, but 3 meters by 3 meters, which is nine square meters.)

Which means that a modest half-acre property (like mine) would have some 225 different 'addresses' assigned to it? This seems counterproductive. (Also, what Emma May Smith said.)
posted by LeLiLo at 4:55 PM on June 13, 2016


(it's not 3 square meters, but 3 meters by 3 meters, which is nine square meters.)

Which means that a modest half-acre property (like mine) would have some 225 different 'addresses' assigned to it? This seems counterproductive


Well that's one way in which it's better than lat-lon anyway.
posted by aubilenon at 4:57 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


The mnemonic concept is sound but nobody figured out that the properties that make a good hash function are the opposite of the properties that make a good physical addressing system?
posted by atoxyl at 5:05 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


crazy.maps.idea
posted by clawsoon at 5:07 PM on June 13, 2016


And every ten feet that one of those nomads moves their yurt, they get a brand new, completely different address. Not just a little bit different; all words different and unrelated.

I wonder why they rejected even the hint of a hierarchical system. They must've had some intelligent-sounding reason to do so.


They don't usually move the yurt to completely different locations. People today have an address in the town for one place (sometimes yurt, sometimes not) and then the places they move through the course of the year. I'm sure there is some minor variation, but as it was explained to me there isn't much movement.

I get it. I spent a few weeks in the neighborhood of Ulaangom, and aside from one or two street streets with shops, the places where people live in the town is structured more like a beehive.

Side note: I found Mongolia really cool about being willing to think outside the box to solve the issues of nomadic people without making them non-nomadic. The solutions for schooling and medical care were really interesting. I was seriously impressed with the will to change.
posted by frumiousb at 5:08 PM on June 13, 2016 [10 favorites]


Also, it's worth noting that happy.happy.happy is in Pleasanton, and that cheeseburger.cheeseburger.cheeseburger exists, but it's rather a long hike from Krasnoyarsk. work.work.work and cukoo.cukoo.cukoo are both in the US, but unremarkable places otherwise.

Also, endangered.rhino.burger is in Antarctica, but it's in the middle of nowhere. cryostat.nothingness.automatons, however, is walking distance from McMurdo station. Lonely.empty.nothingness appears to be in the middle of the sea, which seems appropriate. wide.open.spaces, on the other hand, is in the middle of residential Long Island.

I think it's clear this is a terrible tool for the job for which it's been proposed, but it sure is a fun browser game.
posted by eotvos at 5:15 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Well, deep.dark.depression is in the middle of the Arabian Sea, and dark.dread.silence is deep in the hinterlands of Western Australia.

Perhaps it knows more than we think it does.
posted by eclectist at 5:22 PM on June 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Plus the idea of simply translating the words for non-English speakers is way more of a can of worms than perhaps the creators realize. (Just to begin with, not all languages have plurals.)

I don't know why but I read the entire about page and that's not actually how it works:

The 3 word address in one language is not a translation of the 3 words used in a different language version and you can use the language you are most comfortable with.
posted by great_radio at 5:24 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Okay, my actual residence is split between smugglers.trackers.dictating and ties.sloshed.toggle, with my storage shed next to the building at vinyl.pigpen.dared and my front porch and parking space at luxurious.hurls.lifts, which are all kind of fun, but within a few yards, in an empty space between buildings, is sprinkling.littler.overall, which considering my surname is one letter different from "littler", is just TOO weird.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:27 PM on June 13, 2016


At the risk of being obnoxious, be sure not to post triplets that are at or near your current residence. The Internet has some unsavory people on it.
posted by Hot Pastrami! at 5:48 PM on June 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


I found Mongolia really cool about being willing to think outside the box to solve the issues of nomadic people without making them non-nomadic.

Yeah. Like, maybe the system is flawed in some way, but I doubt there's any issue with it that us non-nomads can see in five minutes of beanplating that didn't come up and get resolved while actual Mongolians who live in Mongolia were deciding to implement it.

(Maybe it's a little goofy that plurals and non-plurals are so far apart from one another in English, but as long as the Mongolian version of "bean.plate.fork" is in Mongolia and "beans.plates.forks." is not in Mongolia, I don't think disambiguation is a problem. And that's assuming it's as easy to mistake plurals for non-plurals in Mongolian as it is in English, which is not a given.)
posted by tobascodagama at 5:49 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is the addressing system that our future computer overlords, wanting to please us but not quite understanding us, will come up with. They will see that we are happy, that we are laughing, and they will be content.
posted by clawsoon at 6:08 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


plays.piano.badly is in Flint, Michigan
plays.guitar.badly is in southern England
plays.keyboard.badly is in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil
plays.trombone.badly is near Surat, India
plays.harmonica.badly is near Trondheim, Norway
plays.flute.badly is in Canberra, Australia
plays.saxophone.badly is in western Australia
plays.trumpet.badly is in eastern China
plays.violin.badly is in Lowell, Michigan

I'll leave it as an exercise for those with even more time to waste to see how they all resolve with "play" instead of "plays."
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:09 PM on June 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


It's not a terrible idea, but the implementation is simple and I don't see why a national government wouldn't just roll out their own version rather than relying on a startup with dubious longevity.
posted by Pyry at 6:17 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]




Their explanation: "We have shuffled all of our similar sounding 3 word locations as far away from each other as possible, so we can use your location to intelligently guess where you meant."

And "one reason for not having this traditional structure of knowing what is nearby is to enable better validation and error correction. ... the device you enter the words into will...be able to (help a human) eliminate most possible alternatives as all possible corrections will be spread a long way around the world."

So it sounds like it'll be great for short journeys where you want to be completely dependent on a device to get you there.

Hmph. Kids these days.
posted by clawsoon at 6:26 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


eotvos, there's http://what2numbers.org/

God, this is a bad idea: most importantly, vendor lock-in: no one is able build upon this. Just one example: A local business wants a list of addresses in his area? I wouldn't be surprised if this cost $.
posted by fizzix at 6:31 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


What 3 Words is a bad idea. I've been ignoring it for a year+ now, but this sort of traction is dangerous.

The problem is it's proprietary. You have to go to their server to resolve the name. They used to sell special names too but now I think they are just selling the resolving service. In either event it's just unacceptable for a government to hand over control of its addressing system to a proprietary company. (See also the Eircode fiasco.) Government assigned addresses should be open data.

Besides, What 3 Emojis is way cooler. There are also many other non-proprietary systems that provide short names for locations, from old ones like Geohash to newer things like Google Plus Codes. The use of words has some nice affordances, but not enough to justify a proprietary system.

What3Words has filed the obligatory patents, of course, but there is almost certainly established prior art.
posted by Nelson at 6:32 PM on June 13, 2016 [14 favorites]


Holy crap, there are a bunch of people posting (presumably) where they live in this thread. Even with one level of indirection, that might not be the wisest choice.
posted by Aleyn at 6:33 PM on June 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


A government should publish the standard, Pyry.

This is basically the same technique used for bitcoin brain wallets, only with less information to encode, and so fewer words. Here's a standalone library implementing the electrum bitcoin wallet's version of it that I built a while ago: http://hackage.haskell.org/package/electrum-mnemonic

electrum's word list was extracted from a corupus of poetry, and this makes for phrases that are a bit more evocative.
posted by joeyh at 6:35 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


privileged.whites.busy is in Tanzania.
posted by ctmf at 6:38 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Is this an actual thing or an episode of Silicon Valley?

I really like What3Words! Too bad it’s proprietary, but a cool concept.

Besides, What 3 Emojis is way cooler.

This is garbage and should die in a fire with emoji dick.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:40 PM on June 13, 2016


Four words would have a very simple encoding, and if you had four word lists of the forms [noun][verb][adjective][noun] you could even have the four words make sentences. If each list had 1000 words, then it would be the same number of possibilities as three words out of 10,000.
posted by Pyry at 6:46 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


I second the concern over people posting their addresses down to that level of precision. For those who have done it, it might be time to contact a mod if you're not happy with all of us knowing exactly where you live to slightly more than the width of your outstretched arms.

I have no idea if this is something that is 'done' in terms of comment editing, my apologies, but my security radar won't stop pinging on this, having read more of the thread.
posted by nfalkner at 6:51 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nelson: You have to go to their server to resolve the name.

While I agree with your overall point, this part appears to be partially wrong given that you can download an offline version of the app.
posted by clawsoon at 6:51 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


concern over people posting their addresses

Sure - if anyone wants their address redacted, just let me know.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:54 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


I am prepared to declare this to be beyond the bogosity event horizon due to the fact that sigue.sigue.sputnik does not exist.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:21 PM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Trump.orange.loser is in Afghanistan.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 7:22 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


My wife teaches yoga classes in our home, and our address comes up as yoga.wage.tips

wooooo
posted by bgribble at 7:25 PM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Make it six words -- three for latitude and three for longitude -- and you get better resolution and a better wordlist by using the PGP word list. I think I'm doing that math right. I know the word list is better, at least in English.
posted by hades at 7:33 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


brunch.brunch.brunch does not appear to be a place that offers any sort of brunch.
posted by asperity at 7:40 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Surprise! Senator.Town.Sinkhole is not in Ottawa.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 8:03 PM on June 13, 2016


It's an address that tells you nothing about where it is, you need an app and a device for, and then what? It shows you where it is on a map? So you follow the map without street names or addresses, or coordinates? So this is for people who don't have street names, do have smartphones and access to apps, don't know the area well enough to give or follow directions, but can't use already available systems.

I can see how you can text the address, but telling someone in person or on the phone seems like it would be ridiculous. Many words sound alike, and since the word could literally be anything you have no frame of reference to help you guess what someone is saying.

Part of why it seems like a bad idea to me is I would have a hard time remembering 3 random words, despite the confidence of their web site, harder than a street address.

This is the new CueCat.
posted by bongo_x at 8:25 PM on June 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


too.many.cooks
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:27 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


In either event it's just unacceptable for a government to hand over control of its addressing system to a proprietary company.

You might be surprised how many countries have a system where vital data like this - whether postal code boundaries, suburb boundaries, basic cartographic data - are either in the hands of a private company, or are not available to the public without paying a significant fee.

This idea is interesting at first look, but dreadful when it comes to actually making use of it. I've been trying to remember my address all day and I still can't - has something to do with illegal dandelions. Plus.codes seems more logical and useful.
posted by Jimbob at 8:33 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


I see a lot of people citing Plus Codes as being better, but it definitely fails the "easy mnemonic" test.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:34 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


What if people live on different floors of the same building? Won't they all share the same address?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:37 PM on June 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


So... I'm to avoid the temptation to reply to the people who didn't carefully read the article and the companies FAQ, but seriously a lot of comments' gripes would are answered there.

This is actually brilliant idea for Mongolia. I feel like some readers are imagining people without addresses living on sparsley populated access-roads or unpaved paths that eventually connect to named roads. When I was there (admitedly 10 years ago now) its not that named roads are uncommon, permanent roads with clear hierarchical organization are just plain rare and almost NEVER named (or at least most Mongolians that don't live on the road know the name, or where to find the name). In Ulaan Bataar, a paved road about a km long just a few blocks NW of Peace Ave held scores of apartment bldgings and flats, several 1,000s of residents, but was virtually indistinguishable for a handful of other roads that branched off the main street leading to Ikh Delguur. Then to the Northwest side of the city there was a vertible metropolis of gers (i.e. yurts... sorry, yurt is the Turkish/Russian) that contained 100,000 people in semi-permanent locations but without any semblance of hierarchical organization. Literally everytime we wanted to meet someone outside central Ulaan Bataar we needed a host who spoke Mongolian because ultimately we stopped every so often to knock on someone's door to see if they had any idea which direction to go to find the person's house we headed towards.

What I'm saying is... I think if your choices are lat and long or three-words... then I can imagine the vast majority of people would use three-word addresses.

Anyways... it's not like a letter with anything other than a name and three-word addresses are shredded upon arrival to the Mongolian Post. I'd imagine post office boxes and existing geographical address will still be used on letters. But this is a pretty workable system and I'm glad someone's trying it out.
posted by midmarch snowman at 8:45 PM on June 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


only.flesh.wound is in the Lake District.

repressive.inherent.system is somewhere in Russia.

stolen.cables.free is a little north of St. Louis.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:45 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


whiskey.tango.foxtrot
posted by wats at 8:46 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Heh. My car is parked at booths.plots.overturned
posted by pjern at 8:51 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


As TheophileEscargot points out, this simply divides a sphere into a bunch of squares and assigns names to the squares. This is a two dimensional grid. I live on the third floor. What three words do I get? Imagine a fifty floor building. On the steppes of Mongolia it makes some sense. But those people move about. In a city? Ha! Really.Lame.Idea #256?
posted by njohnson23 at 9:24 PM on June 13, 2016


I recently moved from womanly.lunges.supplied, but as it was also a place where frequent gunfire and theft were also supplied, I'm happy with my new, more boring triad.
posted by thebrokedown at 9:31 PM on June 13, 2016


I think there's some western bias showing here*; I don't know that I agree with the use of a proprietary system, and I don't know that I'd make the tradeoff to have similar names at opposite ends of the world, preferring local navigability to error-correction.

But I've been stranded in Oman - just below Russia and 40 countries higher than Mongolia on the HDI development rankings - trying to get a delivery from my credit card company so I would have some way to pay for food. And I remember being asked for the address - on a shitty VOIP call to Mastercard back home, using up my limited funds - and replying "$hotel_name, near the fish roundabout, Mutrah" which is the only address that exists for that hotel to the best of my knowledge, and the nice person on the other end of the line not even having the foggiest clue what to do with this information. If something like this had existed and I could have gotten a delivery to tinkle.steaming.loved** instead, I'd have been pretty fucking grateful. The owner of the internet cafe I was using eventually felt so sorry for me that he lent me cash himself, which is only slightly shocking when you consider how Omanis are the most hospitable, generous people in the world.

*Yes, I complain about Western bias immediately before using a credit card cash advance as my use case; I see the irony.
**Turn on satellite imagery if you check it out to get a sense of the complexity of the area; Google doesn't have enough roads in its' database.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:51 PM on June 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


Just in case someone was scrolling down the comments hoping for someone had already done the math on using words to divide the globe... here you go.

To get 57,000,000,000,000 plots of 9 meters2, what3words uses a wordlist of "about 25,000 - 40,000 words" although math dictates covering the entire 500 million km2 of Earth's surface area would require 38,412 words.

But I'm not sure what benefit is acheived by covering the oceans and Antartica with what3words. Let's instead focuse on covering the land surface area of the islands and continents apart from Antartica. Secondly, 3x3 m is pretty memorable, but is it necessarily the optimal area of the designated parcels? To the chalkboard!

Let's use 134,940,000,000,000 meters2 as our area (land surface area of earth minus 14 million square kilometers for Antartica).

Words needed to divide into square meter parcels. -> 51,300

For 10 m2 parcels: 23,900 words.
For 20 m2 parcels: 18,900 words
For 40 m2 parcels: 15,000 words

(Just for referance, the median area of the footprint for a Brooklyn brownstone seems to be around 80 m2 and the area for recently built urban homes in China is has averaged around 60 m2, or 76 m2) in the UK. Typical footprint of a yurt in Mongolia is 15-30 m2, however as yurts are round, a 15 m2 yurt requires a 19 m2 square parcel of land.)**

According to the best source I have availible (previously), the average 8 year old native speaker (who takes online vocab quizes) knows 10,000 words. Since 8 years is the age we start to teach kids addresses, having that as a goal seems reasonable. Also, focusing on distinct, concrete words as opposed to more abstract words or words with many closely related synonyms seems useful. But to get the word list down to 10,000 you'd have to use parcels about 150 m2 in size (12.2 m across). Also, getting rid of verbs seems useful to avoid a lot of unfortunate word combos, but loading a 5,000 word frequency list into excel, it looks like that knocks out 1/5 of your options.

**All examples sourced from only the most reputable travel and real-estate websites that can be found with 5 minutes of extensive googling.
posted by midmarch snowman at 10:17 PM on June 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


@obscure simpsons reference
posted by anarch at 10:35 PM on June 13, 2016


So, uh...

The 3 word location for an area round-about our bathroom is... uh...

soon.potentials.unzips
posted by symbioid at 10:38 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


OK - I was wrong, that's our living room.

My roommates bedroom is: dreamy.landing.ideal.
Bathroom is undertone.concern.cupboards & slug.turning.boils -- both of which are slightly appropriate as well.
One part of my bedroom, however is: difficult.bonded.multiples.

Man so much of this works pretty damn well.
posted by symbioid at 10:41 PM on June 13, 2016


privileged.whites.relax seems to be off the map, FWIW. ;-)
posted by anarch at 10:45 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


You could include the entire surface of the earth (for 10m2 parcels) and cut it down to a list of 2,673 words if you went up to four-word addresses.
posted by hades at 10:54 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


symbioid I not only know exactly where you live, I now have a floorplan of your home.
posted by dersins at 10:57 PM on June 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


Too bad this is proprietary; it's otherwise really cool. One of the image hosting sites does this for web addresses instead of a gibberish string and it is so much nicer to use. Tumblr does it too for suggested account names and it is appeals more than Batman45_78.

threeants: "does anyone really think the US Embassy will ever advertise their location as constants.stuffy.activism"

The granularity and non hierarchical aspect of the system means that any entity large enough to actually care about what their 3Word is will have many sets to choose from guaranteeing at least one non offensive choice for all but those who are going to be offended no matter what.

Emma May Smith: "For the hassle of getting every Mongolian to remember a string of words, you might as well put up some street signs and hand out numbers--or whatever is culturally appropriate there"

A lot of these people have no streets.

23skidoo: "downside of being easier to remember is that if you get the what3words sliiiiiiiightly wrong, you're not even close to where you should be."

Which is no different than either lat/long or hierarchical street addressing. Surely I'm not the only one to get screwed by traveling to 4567 E Foo road when I really wanted 4567 W Foo Road. Or had the horror of not knowing whether I wanted Foo Road/Lane/Court/Wynd/Drive/Crescent/Hill/Street/Avenue/Way/Walk/Circle/Plaza/Boulevard/Crossing/Alley/Close/Cove/Loop/Diagonal/Square/Causeway/Park/Parkway/Promenade/Quay/Run/Terrace/Bay/Bend/Gardens/Gate/View/Vale/Trail/Pathway/Mews/Manor/Grove or Knoll.

PS: If you ever have the opportunity to live on a street whose name is a cardinal direction flee like you are being pursued by the bats of hell. I lived on West Rd (Not Something West Road; Just # West Road) for a while and it was a complete bitch. Would have been a lot easier to convey young.wool.kebabs or presses.beyond.destiny.

ejs: "Not to defend this system, but I understand this is deliberate. If your friend across town puts your kitchen table into her GPS, and it tells her that her driving time is 18 days 3 hours 20 minutes, she'll know she's got the wrong address."

As long as there are no close collisions in the same town people should be fine in general. And if you find that there is a common triplet of confusion just take three steps for eight other choices.

Aleyn: "Holy crap, there are a bunch of people posting (presumably) where they live in this thread. Even with one level of indirection, that might not be the wisest choice."

This is of course a concern but be aware that a significant number of users put their exact location in their profile. I'm not one of them but there are some.
posted by Mitheral at 11:30 PM on June 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


daring.lion.race is next to Trafalgar Square. On the subject of imperialism.
posted by plep at 11:50 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I really like this service - the lack of ambiguity (as long as you know which country, or county you are in) seems like a plus. For those of you comparing this to current street addresses, as well as the failings when streets are already not labelled, three words is so much shorter than Frog House, Badger Road, Weaseltown District, Goat City...

I am probably biased in that I was impressed enough to buy one of their single words, although I got an email last week saying that they were cancelling that part of the service.
posted by fizban at 12:10 AM on June 14, 2016


Perhaps this is, again, Western bias but this idea doesn't seem to make a lot of sense for regular mail, as opposed to parcel deliveries. If someone's delivering a package or visiting under.people.hood then that makes some modicum of sense, as long as it doesn't have a more logical address.

But for regular mail deliveries in a system with house and street numbers, the delivery person has the letters sorted in their bag - they go to High Street and deliver to number 3, number 5, number 7, number 9... in order. In this system, picking a random local street, neighbouring addresses are many.fires.cafe, risky.drum.debate and incomes.remind.trail. How is the postal delivery person supposed to sort the mail when those places are right next to one another, as opposed to a consecutive numbers system?

Maybe I'm just being closed-minded and too locked into my own system, but giving neighbouring houses numbers rather than totally unrelated groups of words seems logical to me. There are places in this country where houses are arranged randomly rather than on streets - crofting communities in remote parts of Scotland, for instance. In that case, they tend to give each croft a number before the village name, like 6 Breakish, so that there's some order for postal deliveries.
posted by winterhill at 12:21 AM on June 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


Welcome to beep.beep.beep, Alaska
posted by John Shaft at 12:29 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Somewhere near Brisbane is hunt.heaven.unkindly. if the Ozzies would let me in, I know where my next move would take me. (Too bad they won't)
posted by wierdo at 1:12 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


'We couldn't find any results for such.is.life'.
posted by plep at 3:44 AM on June 14, 2016


economies.hidden.weep is right in the heart of the City of London (and coincidentally next to UBS).
posted by plep at 4:21 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


( price.wage.above is next door).
posted by plep at 4:23 AM on June 14, 2016


I'm shocked that we've gone this long in a discussion concerning maps on Metafilter and nobody has complained about how they divide the earth on a 2D plane. Dividing the surface of a sphere (oblate spheroid) into equal squares is not a trivial task, and I'm sure this thing is using a lot of fudging and hiding the unpleasant reality behind their slick app. Clearly they don't just do a straight Lat/Long conversion given how longitude breaks down near the poles. It is amusing to think they've inadvertently stuffed the most remote locations on earth with extra three letter words each denoting a three meter by one centimeter parcel, however.

Personally, my issue with this is I find people whose answer to anything is "Let's throw computing power at it" are only slightly less odious than people who say "let's throw money at it" I love the idea of using an easy-to-remember string in place of almost worthless latitude and longitude, but if you can't sit down with a paper map and manually determine where a given string is it's worse than useless. I pity the individual that decides to go on a hike to pineapple.express.here and then their phone dies, or breaks, or any number of problems result.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:34 AM on June 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


I was also curious about the geometry behind this and did a little searching. I found this post by a what3words employee. As expected, the squares are not quite equal!
posted by panic at 4:52 AM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Quartz hosted a Q&A with this company. I liked some of the use cases such as telling a cab the exact spot to pick you up instead of a general address for a big office building. It doesn't seem like it would be a good replacement for all situations, but this scenario sounded helpful to me.
posted by missmerrymack at 5:58 AM on June 14, 2016


I love the idea of using an easy-to-remember string in place of almost worthless latitude and longitude, but if you can't sit down with a paper map and manually determine where a given string is it's worse than useless.

Is it? As a failsafe in an emergency, perhaps. But I know where my phone is at all times, while I'm not even sure that I own a printed map.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:29 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


If your friend across town puts your kitchen table into her GPS, and it tells her that her driving time is 18 days 3 hours 20 minutes, she'll know she's got the wrong address.

One would think so, but people are notoriously susceptible to slavishly following GPS and ignoring their common sense; drivers have on one occasion or another, following their GPS:

- driven from Belgium to Croatia when the intended destination was less than 2 hours away
- driven to Gibraltar Point (in Lincolnshire) instead of Gibraltar (1600 miles away)
- driven 250 miles from Reykjavik's large international airport to a small fishing village when they actual meant a hotel in, well, Reykjavik
- driven onto stairways (in Riverside Park in NYC and in an Austrian city)
- driven to the Italian city of Carpi instead of the island of Capri (crossing no bridge or water in the process)
- driven past a "Road Closed" sign and sadly died after plunging off a bridge
- driven straight into the Pacific Ocean

None of these are on the 18-day scale, but a lot of them defy common sense.

(NYT article; Gizmodo; Telegraph)
posted by andrewesque at 6:31 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I forgot to add that while I have not committed anything so egregious, I once put in directions to Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh, driving from DC and headed down a series of very picturesque but increasingly narrow western Pennsylvania roads for quite some time before realizing that, perhaps, I was not in fact headed to Pittsburgh.

(I'd unwittingly chosen a Primanti Bros not in Pittsburgh and blithely ignored common-sense signs like the fact that the most direct route from DC to Pittsburgh likely did not involve getting off the interstate an hour away from Pittsburgh and going down a series of country roads.)

I still laugh when I read those GPS stories, but not quite as hard as I used to.
posted by andrewesque at 6:35 AM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Combining a couple of the alternate ideas in this thread: Here's what you get with four words plus hierarchy:

The first word would represent a block of about 190,000km^2 - a bit bigger than New York State.
The second word would represent a subblock of about 70km^2 nested inside of the first block/word - between the size of Queens and the Bronx.
The third word would represent a subblock of about 160m x 160m nested inside the second block/word - about the size of a couple of city blocks in a dense downtown.
The final word would give you your 10m^2 pinpoint.

You'd maintain exactly the same final precision as what3words, but you'd have the following advantages:

You'd reduce the needed vocabulary to under 3,000 words. With a word list that small, you should be able to do the same kind of similar-sounding-word elimination that they've done, so that voice recognition would work well for your device and people you're talking to wouldn't get mixed up.

You'd be able to degrade gracefully to older technology: You could use this for paper maps. You could learn the general outline of a city or country in your head. In a place where the system was commonly used, you could ask the locals for directions. You wouldn't even need to speak the local language, as long as you could do a reasonable phonetic approximation.

It's not that one technology is better than the others, but being able to use all four technologies (phone+map+brain+asking directions) is definitely better than just being able to use one technology (phone).
posted by clawsoon at 6:43 AM on June 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


This doesn't strike me as a terrible idea when used in combination with latitude and longitude to provide a more human-memorizable referent to a set of coordinates, but the fact that the system is owned and controlled by a private company makes it a non-starter for anything serious, in my opinion. (Mongolia's decision notwithstanding.) If this were some kind of open standard with a free database that anyone can access and have in their GPS units and GIS packages, that would be great—you could use it like any other coordinate system, and it would be useful from time to time.

Putting a startup in charge of it totally ruins it for me. The only thing they are going to do is gatekeep the system and charge rent on it. They'll be accountable only to themselves if they decide they want to make changes or updates (which they'll no doubt charge users to keep on top of) and one day they may just vanish entirely, leaving the system orphaned. Who needs that kind of uncertainty in their global positioning? Nobody, that's who.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:08 AM on June 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


And with 12,000 words in a four-word hierarchical system - 3,000 words in four groups - you wouldn't even have to remember the order of words. You could say one of the words, or two of the words, and your phone would be able to use your current location to find the nearest match. If you're looking for pogo.stick.bounce.up, and you're already in pogo.stick, you could just say "bounce" and it would know that "bounce" is always a third-level word and direct you to the nearest "bounce" block. Or you could stay "up bounce" and it could direct you to the nearest bounce.up pinpoint, since "bounce" is always third-level and "up" is always fourth level.

(Problem to be solved: What if you're near a boundary, and you're saying words that are far away in your current block but close to you in the next block over?)

Make it a five word hierarchical system with a different group of words for each level - similar in memorization difficulty to number, street, city, state, country - and you could do 3,000 words for the whole thing, 600 words in each level.

If only I cared enough to make this happen instead of just talking about it on Metafilter. Maybe somebody can put together Open4Words or Open5Words overlayed on OpenStreetMaps.
posted by clawsoon at 7:50 AM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


spinach.eggplant.eliminates: beware.of.dog

Nah. Use the street and number; don't forget the zip. Even so, GPS sometimes has surprises in store. (BTW, they already know, but I guess it's a good idea to not be blatant. If you find me, do a google drive by and get a load of our old cat, Bubba, now deceased, sitting under the apple tree in our front yard.)

I'm thinking rural Mongolians might like this. Let them work it out with Amazon themselves.
posted by mule98J at 8:15 AM on June 14, 2016


Would this be that great for emergency dispatch? Seems like you need to take an extra step to translate to the drivers exactly where to go and in the case of an emergency that knocks out power/network you're kind of screwed.
posted by ODiV at 8:20 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


For those who have been to Mongolia or are familiar with Mongolian politics: Is the culture of the civil service reasonably professional, hardworking and immune to corruption? What are the chances they would've been swayed by kickbacks or sales presentations in extremely pleasant settings? How hard would they have worked to find and compare alternate systems? (Not that anyone or anyplace is free of corruption - I know I've been take to my share of pleasant lunches by salesguys, and I'm only a lowly sysadmin, and it has doubtless swayed my recommendations in ways that I both do and don't realize.)
posted by clawsoon at 8:27 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm finding it funny how some of you think that this is a good idea for when visiting another country where you don't speak the language. Knowing the 3 words in English won't help since the 3 word address for the location in the local language is going to be totally different. And if you can't read or write the local alphabet then this is not going to be of much help.
posted by I-baLL at 8:28 AM on June 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is quite a good post critiquing the idea, mainly on the basis of the proprietary nature of the system.

It sounds nuts to me for a country to hand over its addressing system to a private company. It sounds nuts to me now, never mind when it's been rolled out and adopted, and the country is reliant on it.

What happens if the company goes bust? What happens if whatever-contract-is-in-place ends and prices double? Or multiply by ten? Or 100? What happens if the business "pivots," or gets bought, and decides its actual business is something other than providing this system? The terms and conditions (quoted in that post) prevent you fetching or caching the data so you wouldn't be able to keep using it without lawsuits. You now have a nationwide addressing system reliant entirely on human memory.

The cynical part of me thinks this is merely a publicity stunt and it won't actually be used across the country by all the real services. The hopeful part of me hopes the cynical part of me is right.
posted by fabius at 9:00 AM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I-baLL, I'd suggest that that's one place where having an app is a big win, since it can translate your English combo into the local language and then into a phonetic pronunciation of the local combo - or even speak/display the location for you itself in the local language.
posted by clawsoon at 9:00 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]




I feel like a combination of a Hilbert curve and word2vec-style word embedding could help improve the what3words concept by creating a continuous, locality-preserving encoding on the semantic level: red.zero.big would be geographically close to pink.one.huge, and cat.love.loud would be on the other side of the world.
posted by jjwiseman at 9:55 AM on June 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


You know that 4th and Elm is only a short distance from 7th and Elm, or that 14 York Road isn't too far away from 201 York Road. fuzz.bang.wotsits and tinny.jack.waffleiron could be neighbours or antipodes.

Not necessarily. There are like 400 "Maple Road"s in Michigan alone. If I know both addresses are in Michigan, can I say if 3435 Maple Road and 3500 Maple Road are nearby? The numbers seem similar but I still need a database to figure out where they are exactly. Those street numbers may as well be arbitrary symbols; if the symbols are easier to remember, it seems like a win.

The US has been standardizing addresses from rual route to city format with "real" street names for a long time. Before Rural Free Delivery was implemented in 1896, you had to travel to the nearest post office (probably in the nearest city) or pay someone to bring your mail to you if you lived too far away.
posted by Foolhardy at 10:15 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Why is there no bees.panic.screaming, that's where I want to live.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:36 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


What happens if the company goes bust? What happens if whatever-contract-is-in-place ends and prices double? Or multiply by ten? Or 100? What happens if the business "pivots," or gets bought, and decides its actual business is something other than providing this system?

What if you just use Open Location Code which is all open-sourced on GitHub?
posted by GuyZero at 10:38 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]




This reminds me a bit of Bubble Babble, albeit in a more compact form.

Sadly, no trout.mask.replica or bat.chain.puller.
posted by foonly at 11:39 AM on June 14, 2016


Wow, as I was just deciding whether or not to keep a Facebook argument going, I found out that I live at "fled.mental.debate".
posted by pinothefrog at 12:19 PM on June 14, 2016


ctrl-F "maidenhead"

No matches found.

For a fairly similar but free-as-in-speech version that has been proven to work extremely well and retains human-friendly hierarchy and adjacency clues, see the Maidenhead grid square system. It would be trivial to build a free system on top of it (e.g. using the digraphs to encode to ordered familiar words) that still retained its human-friendly features.

Making a system like what3words and not open-sourcing it is more than shady, it's foolish and greedy. I encourage you to go read what3word's license agreement page.

73 from EM97tg (echo mike ninety-seven tango golf) -- last two extended location chars omitted because it's already easy enough to find where I live. :D
posted by introp at 12:25 PM on June 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


> This is garbage and should die in a fire with emoji dick

My town is represented by a single firetruck emoji, so, we'll be right there to put that out.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:48 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


The problem with phone keyboards is typos and the problem with time is forgetting, so I have no idea what I mean instead of “emoji dick”. Not eggplant, I can tell you that. Eggplant is delicious.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:54 PM on June 14, 2016


Or Natural Area Code.
posted by wobh at 4:08 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Heh. My kind of place.
posted by pjern at 5:33 PM on June 14, 2016


wobh: Or Natural Area Code.

Waitaminute:
February 16, 2009 - Government of Mongolia Adopts the Universal Address System
NAC Geographic Products Inc. proudly announced that the Government of Mongolia has passed an important resolution to adopt the revolutionary technology of NAC Geographic Products Inc.
I wonder whatever happened to that. Was it just some subcommittee resolution that didn't go anywhere? Or is Mongolia jumping around between ideas? (Not sure how seriously to take the press release, given, "March 1, 2016 - The Special Theory of Relativity Has Been Disproved Theoretically".)
posted by clawsoon at 7:00 PM on June 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


I’ve been hearing hype about the What3Words system, but it has a major flaw.

It is good for one thing and one thing only: taking the three words and punching them into an electronic device. Now to be fair, it may be pretty good at this, but it’s entirely useless in any other scenario.

Contrast What3Words with traditional street addresses. If you are familiar with the area, you may recognise the street and immediately be able to navigate to it without help. If the street is a minor one or you’re less familiar with the area, asking for the nearest major cross‐streets is often enough. That’s essentially three words right there—no harder to remember or input faithfully.

Or contrast with lat/long coordinates. Lat/long coordinates seem cryptic, but they’re far less cryptic than What3Words. I can’t navigate to them unaided, but I can at least relate them to other known coordinates or locate them on a physical map.

What I will say in favour of the What3Words system is, that while manual data entry is becoming increasingly uncommon, What3Words are harder to misread, mishear, or fat‐finger than lat/long numbers. Add checksums to lat/long helps, but W3W maintains some advantages.

I can see how the system might be useful in places like Mongolia that lack good existing address systems, but it’s not going to take over the developed world any time soon, as some have predicted.
posted by Fongotskilernie at 7:10 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Regardless of the merits (or lack thereof) of the system, I am delighted to know that my two favorite prior apartments are over.robots.congratulations and under.magical.reason, respectively. I think this may actually be an SF writing prompt generator disguised as a mapping scheme.
posted by karayel at 8:21 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


okhi is doing physical addressing in Kenya. The solution is basically GPS plus a photo of the entry/gate/door.
posted by rh at 9:27 PM on June 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


twin.stroke.pirates. Welp, I'm sold!
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 10:59 PM on June 14, 2016


Every time someone posts one of these addresses I imagine someone trying to tell it to me on the phone. More than half I'm sure I'd have to have them spell to be sure what they said. At that point they could have just read coordinates.
posted by bongo_x at 11:06 PM on June 14, 2016


Fongotskilernie: Now to be fair, it may be pretty good at this, but it’s entirely useless in any other scenario.

Agreed, that's definitely the biggest problem - it doesn't degrade gracefully to older technologies. With a few tweaks they could've kept what's good about it and added the ability to use it for paper maps, for easy memorization, for asking directions from strangers, etc. But that wouldn't have allowed them to keep a proprietary lock on the market they create.
posted by clawsoon at 5:23 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


What3Words have fantastic PR, I'll give them that. If you look back in Google, you'll notice these guys have launched and relaunched every few months, garnering a bunch of press each time.
posted by adrianhon at 6:21 AM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


The best place to open a business? Depends.
posted by Fezboy! at 8:28 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


The App That Wants to Simplify Postal Addresses: excellent Atlantic article about What3Words, both what it does and the risks of using a proprietary system as public infrastructure.
posted by Nelson at 8:54 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


  Or Natural Area Code.

No, not that. Its Legal and Licensing requirements are very unclear, and it may be impossible to use commercially with no licence. NAC also seem to claim IP rights to the fundamental ideas of alphanumeric grid systems, so the OSGB and many other mapping agencies might want to have a word about prior art.

Also, it uses both S and F. Not much cop for radio vox transmission, then.
posted by scruss at 12:03 PM on June 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


What 3 Fucks: "the more fucks you give, the more precision you get!". Caution, contains hilarious but offensive potty language. Also has a neat triangle UI demonstrating a generalization of the technology idea.

If you're in San Francisco, visit crack humping dill shit
posted by Nelson at 8:20 AM on July 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


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