FEATURE20 November 2018

Three little words

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One start-up is rethinking the way that addresses work, with data potentially simplifying navigation in hard-to-reach, remote parts of the world. By Katie McQuater


Geo-location platform what3words is on a mission to change the world. Literally. The company wants to rethink an infrastructure so ingrained that we barely stop to question it any more – addressing. 

Street addresses are a relatively recent invention, emerging across Europe in the 18th century. They are not universal, however – and, in many parts of the developing world, a lack of addresses can deny people a legal identity, participation in democracy and access to public services.

In addition, addresses and GPS can only take us so far: if you’ve ever attempted to find your way to a sprawling festival site using sat nav, typed in an address only to find there are 34 Victoria Roads in London, or tried to locate the correct entrance to a large office complex, you’ve probably experienced the frustration uniquely associated with navigational systems’ limitations. 

According to a