Dividing the World into 3-Metre Squares with Unique Names: what3words Launches in Germany

By David Knight |

Giving directions can be easy – the Brandenburg Gate? Follow Unter den Linden till you see it – but it can also be ore complicated, if a full and accurate address is needed to pinpoint the destination. One British startup is hoping to change how we look up directions online by splitting the world up into almost 57 trillion 3-metre-by-3-metre squares and giving each one a unique combination of three words.

And what3words has now launched its mapping tool in Germany, with the words themselves in German. So, for example, the spot on the Berlin Wall where David Hasselhoff gave his famous concert in 1989 to celebrate its fall is dubbed ‘kreis.träume.gesten’ (‘circle.dreams.gestures’), while further afield, Cologne Cathedral is ‘reist.angelegt.gehobene’ (‘travels.invested.upscale’), the beginning of the infamous Herbert Street in Hamburg’s red-light district is ‘forschte.seil.berichten’ (‘research.rope.reports’) and Frankfurt’s city hall, the Römer, is ‘vieler.dampf.wange’ (‘many.steam.cheek’).

Thus, by entering any of these three-word combinations into the what3words app or website, you will be presented with a specific location for the three-metre square rather than an address centre point as on most mapping platforms.

This means you can specify a particular entrance rather than just a postal address, and it makes explaining and memorising addresses much easier. Chris Sheldrick is CEO of what3words, and he said: “Telling people three simple words is much easier than giving a full address and a long explanation of how to find a precise location.” Music lovers at festivals this summer, for example, will be able to pinpoint the exact location of their tent, and those of their friends.

At first glance, this idea sounds a bit mad, but the company has a clear monetisation policy – you can buy what are called OneWords, which the startup has dubbed “domain names for location.” The words are chosen by the user and are assigned as an additional label to a what3words location, preceded by an asterisk.

The time they are left in place depends on the amount paid – €1.79 for one year, €3.59 for three years, €5.49 for five years or €9.99 for ten years. OneWords can also be moved to new locations as often as the user likes.

“Chancellor Merkel might be tempted to name the Reichstag *Reichstagbaby or *Angiesreign,” Sheldrick said. “But perhaps if Chancellor Schröder had the chance, he might have opted for *Medienliebling [*media darling] instead.”

The London-based company was founded in 2013 by Jack Waley-Cohen and Michael Dent as well as Sheldrick, and its app is available on iOS and Android – and will soon be released on the Pebble smartwatch.

To find the right three-word address, you still need to go onto the what3words map and get the exact location, something which you might be wont to do for certain things – your apartment, maybe, if it’s awkward to find – but maybe not for less frequent locations. For example, directing someone to a bar you once went to, you probably would have to find it on the map anyway.

But the service does make sense as a way to simplify the process, even if it remains to be seen whether people will be willing to pay to personalise their locations. As with many user-driven platforms, it will work better the more people use it – now the challenge is to get over that user hump. Undoubtedly, the creators of what3words will believe they know the way already.