[okfn-labs] opening up what3words

Ingmar Schlecht ingmar.schlecht at unibas.ch
Fri May 15 10:26:27 UTC 2015

Hi list,

I have to say I find the basic idea of what3words rather pointless. Why 
would you want an address scheme from which you can't draw any 
conclusion at all regarding its location by just looking at it.

While the Maidenhead scheme seems pretty useful to me in "narrowing 
things down" by address, the what3words scheme to me rather obscures 
than helps addressing things in real life.

I mean: Wouldn't it be much more useful if neighbours had similar 
addresses to my house? With what3words mind.tree.water could be right 
next to pillow.chair.tablet - with no obvious connection, as far as I 
see. It might make sense from a company perspective where you want 
people to be forced to accessing your data to find out the actual 
location. But for the user an address that helps "narrowing down" seems 
by far more useful to me.

Am I missing something?

But yeah, the bottom line might actually be: If you get this open 
alternative roling, you might have an additional selling point if you 
have the additional feature of "narrowing down" like Maidenhead does. So 
mind.tree.water would be right next to mind.tree.wanted.


Ps.: Since I haven't introduced myself yet: I'm working at the 
Unviersity of Basel as PhD student researcher in energy economics and am 
generally interested in open stuff: From open source (TYPO3 CMS core 
development) to open science/open data (together with some like-minded 
researchers I recently founded the http://openmod-initiative.org 
fostering open data and open models in our domain of energy modelling).

Am 15.05.15 um 12:05 schrieb Friedrich Lindenberg:
> Ok, great to hear that it's not a very big technical challenge. Would
> you be able to whip up an algorithm that, given a word list of length N
> and with a steady sorting, would transform a lat/lon into three of these
> words and back? I like the idea of basing it off the mechanism
> Maidenhead seems to use, but extending that with the word list.
> Cheers,
> - Friedrich
> On Fri, May 15, 2015 at 1:15 AM, willi uebelherr
> <willi.uebelherr at gmail.com <mailto:willi.uebelherr at gmail.com>> wrote:
>     Dear Friedrich,
>     in the FAQ i have read:
>     http://what3words.com/faq/#toggle-id-15
>     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 words.
>     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
>     Cordoba
>     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/
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