[okfn-labs] opening up what3words

Friedrich Lindenberg friedrich at pudo.org
Thu May 14 18:01:43 UTC 2015

Hey all,

during the OKFNlabs hangout I just mentioned what3words [1], a hip new
startup that has developed a geographic grid system which turns the entire
globe into 3x3m boxes that can be addressed through sets of three words
(e.g. what.the.fuck).

It's a nifty idea, and they're pitching it as a solution for developing
countries where many settlements don't have well-defined addresses.

Unfortunately, it's a closed platform: instead of publishing the mechanism
so that it can be widely adopted, all conversion to and from w3w must
happen via their API. While they are offering some NGO pricing, this leaves
me concerned that development organisations might actually adopt this and
produce datasets with copyrighted location names in it. Basically, it's Dun
& Bradstreet D-U-N-S for places [2], and it will create a licensing
disaster if left untreated.

Since the idea is good, though, and there is not yet an "installed base", I
would like to propose we pre-empt this disaster by creating an openly
licensed clone of the mechanism. (I also hope this might exert enough
pressure on them to reconsider their approach). Unfortunately, I don't know
very much about GIS and geospatial reference systems, so this is a call for

## Who can help come up with a word-based geospatial grid system?

A lot of the necessary components seem to be available in places: making
word lists of 3-5 character words should be easy, and there's already some
existing grid systems like MGRS [3] - and making an API to wrap this once
an implementation of the core mechanism is there shouldn't be too hard,
either [4].

Who could help this? Post your ideas at
https://github.com/pudo/open3words/issues :)


- Friedrich

[1] http://what3words.com/
[2] https://twitter.com/pudo/status/598884980182413312
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_grid_reference_system
[4] http://developer.what3words.com/api/
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