[okfn-labs] opening up what3words

willi uebelherr willi.uebelherr at gmail.com
Thu May 14 23:15:20 UTC 2015

Dear Friedrich,

in the FAQ i have read:

Q: What about latitude & longitude (GPS coordinats)?

A: We love latitude & longitude and have based what3words on it. We take 
those long strings of numbers & letters and convert them to three simple 

You need 16 digits, 2 characters (+/-/N/S/E/W), 2 decimal points, and a 
space/comma/new line to specify a location to an accuracy of 3 metres 
using GPS co-ordinates. That’s great for computers and devices when 
humans don’t get involved, but humans actually do get involved. 
what3words is a human interface for latitude & longitude.

Q: Why did you use 3 words rather than 2 words or 4 words?

A: Dividing the world into 3m x 3m squares (which is small enough to be 
useful for almost all practical purposes) gives you 57 trillion squares so…

– With 1 word you can uniquely name 40,000 3m x 3m squares, so that’s 
every 3m x 3m square in a small village. But the world is bigger than 
this so it would be useless system.

– With a sequence of 2 words you can uniquely name 1,600,000,000 3m x 3m 
squares, so that’s every 3m x 3m square in an area the size of Hawaii. 
But the world is bigger than this so it would be a useless system.

– With a sequence of 3 words you can uniquely name 64,000,000,000,000 3m 
x 3m squares, so that’s every 3m x 3m square in the world (actually we 
have a few combinations spare).

– With a sequence of 4 words, we could uniquely identify every 3m x 3m 
square in an area in 40,000 times the size of the world, but there would 
be no point. If mankind inhabits the sun anytime soon, we’ll be all over 
it, literally, with a minor branding adjustment.


With that, we see, its not a new algorithm. Its only a mapping for a 
linguistic projection system. It is helpful, of course. And based on the 
WC-numvers we can use it directly in any world map system.

My question is different. The WC84 system is asymmetrically. On the 
equator, we have big distances based on degrees. On the poles, the 
distances goes to zero. We have triangles. Technicaly not a real 
problem. But not elegant.

many greetings, willi

Am 14-May-15 um 18:47 schrieb willi uebelherr:
> Dear Friedrich,
> yes, the idea is good and we need the free algorithm for that.
> Therefore, we have to make some inside looks. I am very interested for
> that and for this cooperation.
> For me, i am working for the real interNet, the interconnection of local
> networks. It is based on local autonomous networks with the connection
> to neighbor local network. The result is a meshnet on all continents.
> The global part of the IP address is derived from the geographical
> position from the local network. And this have always his singularity.
> For that, we can use the WC84 (world coordinate system 1984) or any
> other coordinate system like this.
> With this method of creating IP addresses we don't need any "Internet
> Governance" and all this stupid organisations like IANA, ICANN, ISOC or
> IGF. Also not any NIC organisation. The people can organize it all self.
> I have included some persons with english (not member on this list):
> Quiliro Ordonez Baca, Software Libre y FSFLA, Ecuador
> Diego Saravia, Software Libre, Argentina
> Reanata Aquino, proyecto de investigación IGF en LA, Brasil
> Jose Felix Arias Ynche, IGF, Peru
> many greetings, willi
> Cordoba, Argentina
> Am 14-May-15 um 15:01 schrieb Friedrich Lindenberg:
>> 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
>> help:
>> ## 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 :)
>> Cheers,
>> - 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/
>> _______________________________________________
>> okfn-labs mailing list
>> okfn-labs at lists.okfn.org
>> https://lists.okfn.org/mailman/listinfo/okfn-labs
>> Unsubscribe: https://lists.okfn.org/mailman/options/okfn-labs

More information about the okfn-labs mailing list