GREAT BAY – The postal services have revolutionized their capability of pinpointing addresses on the island through a deal with what3words, a British company that has divided the globe in 57 trillion 3×3 meter squares, attributing a unique combination of three words to each square. The system leaps over the traditional area code system by being not only much more accurate, but also accessible from any smart phone. The digital era has definitely arrived at the post office. St. Maarten is the third country in the world to go for the what3words system.
British app revolutionizes addressing systems
What3words founder Chris Sheldrick used to be a musician and a tour-organizer. He soon became frustrated with musicians who were unable to find their venue, or the side entrance of the venue where they were supposed to be. From that frustration, what3words was born on the back of an envelope by converting complex GPS coordinates into user-friendly words.
“We first delivered our services to Mongolia, a country with 3 million inhabitants,” says what3words-representative Tom Blaksley. “Our second customer was Cote d’Ivoire, a country with 25 million inhabitants, on the African continent and St. Maarten is the third country to join.”
The Vromi-department somehow discovered the existence of what3words and set up contacts with the company. The department intends to imbed the technology in its system to define plots of land on the island.
While the technology behind it might come across as baffling to people – how do you divide the world in 57 trillion squares of 3×3 meter? –the application itself is surprisingly easy to use.
Download the what3words app on your iOS or android smart phone and you’re in business. The app will pinpoint the location of the one holding the phone.
Activating the map on the app will show not only where you are, but also what the three-word code for that particular location is. Standing in front of your door, or in front of your letter box, the app will display the three words that apply to that particular location.
The idea is that people start using these three words as part of the address, similar to the by now outdated area code.
What3words is currently developed for fourteen different languages, but the company’s ambition is to develop it for all languages in the long term. Currently, Dutch is not part of the group of fourteen, but it will come, Blaksley told this newspaper yesterday.
For the English version, the system needs 40,000 words to be able to generate – through an algorithm – 57 trillion unique three word-combinations. For other languages, the system requires 25,000 words. It takes three months to develop the system for a new language, so there is still a lot of work to be done.
For St. Maarten, what3words functions in the English language.
Rutherford Reed, the marketing and sales manager for the postal services said that the post office gets a lot of backlash from people who did not receive their mail. “We lost a lot of business because we were unable to find certain addresses. With what3words this should go faster and it should help us.”
What3words is useful for postal services all over the world, but also for humanitarian organizations, the International Red Cross, enterprises and emergency services.
The what3words app is downloadable for free for private citizens; this way they are able to find their own 3-words address on the map. Humanitarian organizations pay the company a nominal fee. Blaksley declined to reveal details of the commercial agreement with the postal services in St. Maarten.
One of the biggest clients of what3words is Aramex, an international logistics company that serves customers in places like the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia. It uses the system to optimize “the last mile to the customer” – in other words, to prevent drivers from getting lost.
“If such companies save 5 to 10 percent using our system, they save hundreds of millions of dollars,” Blaksley says.
There are also applications that are closer to common people, like travel guides. They can use what3words to guide their clients to the front door of their accommodation, anywhere in the world. “British tourists spend 22 million hours a year being lost,” Blaksley says drily.
Closer to home, what3words could also become popular for friends to find each other – for instance in the Carnival Village, or on a beach.
Furthermore, it’s a big world out there that must have been waiting for a system like what3words to materialize. According to the World Bank 75 percent of all countries on our globe do have a (sufficiently precise) address system. “There are 1 billion people on earth without a formal address,” Blaksley says.
The post office has now initiated an awareness campaign, designed to encourage people to use the system, by adding the three words of the addressee to the traditional address (like: Mrs. Leidy de Rijk, 442 Narrow Road, Cole Bay St Maarten; installer.urging.voice).
The 3word-address for the Today newspaper for instance, is: camps.disarmingly.handles. The one for the new Government Administration Building holds some promise: computed.restoring.refunds; and the university across the road goes by barman.discotheque.phony. It goes to show that not every address gets the 3word-address it might think it deserves.