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Founded2013; 6 years ago (2013)
HeadquartersWestbourne Studios,

what3words is a geocoding system for the communication of locations with a resolution of three metres. What3words encodes geographic coordinates into three dictionary words. For example, the torch of the Statue of Liberty is located at "toned.melt.ship". This differs from most other location encoding systems in that it displays three words rather than long strings of numbers or letters. What3words has a website, apps for iOS and Android, and an API that enables bidirectional conversion of what3words address and latitude/longitude coordinates. As the system relies on a fixed algorithm, not a large database of every location on earth, it works on devices with limited storage and no internet connection, and the encoding is permanently fixed and unchangeable.


Founded by Chris Sheldrick, Jack Waley-Cohen, Mohan Ganesalingam, and Michael Dent, what3words launched in July 2013.[1][2][3] Sheldrick and Ganesalingam originally conceived the idea after Sheldrick struggled to get equipment and bands to event locations on time due to inadequate addressing while working as a concert organizer.[4] The company was incorporated on March 5, 2013[5] and a patent application for the core technology filed on April 19, 2013.[6]

In November 2013, what3words raised $500,000 of seed funding,[7] and in March 2014 the company raised a second seed round of $1,000,000.[8][9][10] On November 3, 2015, what3words closed a $3.5 million Series A funding round led by Intel Capital, with Li Ka-shing's Horizons Ventures participating.[11] On June 29, 2016, what3words closed a $8.5 million Series B round led by Aramex.[12] On January 10, 2018, Mercedes-Benz bought approximately 10% of the company and announced what3words support in future versions of the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment and navigation system.[13] The A-Class, launched in May 2018, became the first vehicle in the world with what3words on board.[14]

In March 2016, the company announced that Colorado-based Steve Coast, founder of OpenStreetMap, joined the team as Chief Evangelist, charged with developing and strengthening partnerships in North America.[15][16] Coast has since moved on.

Design principles

what3words uses a grid of the world made up of 57 trillion squares of 3 metres by 3 metres. Each square has been given a three-word English address. What3words has named the world's landmass with three words in various other languages. As of December 2016, what3words addresses (as well as web and iOS app user interface) are available in Arabic, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Mongolian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish; the iOS app also supports Swahili. What3words launched 12 more languages at the start of 2018: Indonesian, Zulu, Japanese, Korean, and Hindi.[17] The company has also mentioned Chinese and various languages of Pakistan, including Urdu and Farsi.[18][19][20][21]

Each what3words language uses a wordlist of 25,000 words (40,000 in English, as it covers the sea as well as land). The lists go through multiple automated and human processes before being sorted by an algorithm that takes into account word length, distinctiveness, frequency, and ease of spelling and pronunciation. Homophones and variant spellings are treated to minimize any potential for confusion, and offensive words are removed.[18]

The what3words algorithm actively shuffles similar-sounding three-word combinations around the world to enable both human and automated error-checking. The result is that if a three-word combination is entered slightly incorrectly and the result is still a valid what3words reference, the location will usually be so far away from the user's intended area that it will be immediately obvious to both a user and an intelligent error-checking system.[18]

The what3words system uses a proprietary algorithm in combination with a limited database, meaning that the core technology is contained within a file around 10 MB in size. The database is used to assign more memorable words to locations in urban areas.[6] what3words originally sold "OneWord" addresses, which were stored in a database for a yearly fee,[22] but this feature has been canceled.[23]

The main claimed advantages of what3words are memorability, error-detection, unambiguous nature of words for most everyday and non-technical uses and voice input.[24][25]


Supporters of open standards denounce the what3words system for being controlled by a private business and the software for being copyrighted and thus not freely usable. The fact that similar addresses are purposely far away from each other is also seen by some as a disadvantage.[26][27][28]



Aid and humanitarian


Delivery & logistics

  • Aramex – global delivery and logistics [12]
  • Ivory Coast uses this system for mail deliveries.[35]
  • Mongol Post adopted what3words for postal deliveries throughout the country.[36]
  • airbnb - directing vacation visitors to nomad reindeer herder host's camp location[37][38]

Festivals and events

Asset management

  • Pollinate – energy solar lighting installation in the slums of India
  • Videre – solar lighting installations in Botswana



A number of parody sites have been created to satirize what3word's proprietary nature, including:


Alphanumeric competitors include:


  1. ^ "'What3Words' Wants To Replace Postcodes With Words – For The Entire Globe". 2 Jul 2013.
  2. ^ "Location-Pinpointing Startup what3words Sells 10,000+ OneWord Map-Pins In First Week". 8 Jul 2016.
  3. ^ "what3words team". Retrieved 9 Dec 2016.
  4. ^ "This App Gives Even the Most Remote Spots on the Planet an Address".
  5. ^ "what3words limited".
  7. ^ "Startup what3words gets USD 500,000 in seed round". Venture Capital Post.
  8. ^ "Location Pinpointing Startup what3words Adds $1M More To Its Seed To Flog More Map Labels". TechCrunch. AOL.
  9. ^ "what3words closes $1m to expand 'alternative to postcodes' mapping service". Starting a business advice and business ideas.
  10. ^ "What3words adds $1M more to seed round". Venture Capital Post.
  11. ^ "what3words Gets $3.5M Led by Intel Capital To Simplify Location Sharing".
  12. ^ a b "Addressing platform what3words closes $8.5M Series B led by logistics firm Aramex".
  13. ^ "Why Daimler Invested in a Startup That Has Labeled the World With Unique Three-Word Addresses".
  14. ^ Brecht, Michael (5 April 2018). "What3words: Diese Ortungssoftware gibt es bald serienmäßig in Daimlers A-Klasse" – via
  15. ^ Wallace, Anthony (30 March 2016). "Founder of OpenStreetMap joins what3words". Spatial Source. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  16. ^ "what3words hires Steve Coast, founder of OpenStreetMap | GeoConnexion". Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  17. ^ Feng, Rebecca. "Startup What3words Aims To Give Billions Of People One Thing They Don't Have: An Address".
  18. ^ a b c "About". what3words.
  19. ^ Green, Harriet (19 September 2016). "Meet What3Words: The London startup changing our understanding of location".
  20. ^ "Mapping the world in three words".
  21. ^ Phillips, Erica E. (15 July 2016). "Startups Try to Put Remote E-Commerce Customers on the Map" – via
  22. ^ Lomas, Natasha (8 Jul 2013). "Location-Pinpointing Startup what3words Sells 10,000+ OneWord Map-Pins In First Week". TechCrunch.
  23. ^ "what3words on Twitter: "we did charge for that functionality but no longer offer it."". 1 May 2015.
  24. ^ "The best navigation idea I've seen since the Tube map". The Spectator. 25 October 2014.
  25. ^ Crannell, C. W.; Parrish, J. M. (1957). "A comparison of immediate memory span for digits, letters, and words". The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied. 44: 319–327.
  26. ^ "What3Words is quite a find". The Boston Globe. 1 Jul 2016.
  27. ^ Dodds, Leigh (14 Jun 2016). "What 3 Words? Jog on mate!".
  28. ^ "What3words". OpenStreetMap wiki. 20 Jan 2017.
  29. ^ Lyon, Peter. "You Have A New 3 Word Address: Find It At What3words".
  30. ^ "what3words Extends Middle East Presence with the Launch of Addressing System in Arabic".
  31. ^ "2017 Mongol Rally: Nissan's electric Leaf to take on 16 000km race".
  32. ^ "Technology for social good -  what3words and international relief efforts - diginomica government". 21 July 2017.
  33. ^ "UN disaster app includes three word addresses". EE Publishers.
  34. ^ "Quiqup shaves 30 per cent off delivery time with 3 word addresses".
  35. ^ "Ivory Coast post office adopts three-word system". BBC. 2016-12-09.
  36. ^ "Mongol Post adopts what3words as national addressing system". Mongol Post. 23 May 2016. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  37. ^ "Airbnb is using what3words to list stays with Mongolian nomads". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2018-11-21.
  38. ^ what3words (2018-11-19), The Reindeer Tribe Airbnb | Airbnb and what3words, retrieved 2018-11-21
  39. ^ []
  40. ^ Mathieson, S. A. (21 June 2016). "Injured at Glastonbury? Three little words will help medics find you". the Guardian.
  41. ^ Diaz, Ann-Christine (26 June 2015). "What3Words Innovation Grand Prix Cannes – Special: Cannes Lions – Advertising Age".
  42. ^ "San Jose: Tech awards honor an array of laureates". 12 November 2015.
  43. ^ "The World Addressed - what3words - what3words - D&AD Awards 2016 Pencil Winner - Service Innovations - D&AD".
  44. ^ "FT/IFC Transformational Business Awards 2016".
  45. ^ []
  46. ^ PricewaterhouseCoopers. "About us".
  47. ^ "Accenture Consumer Innovation Award Winners Announced - Accenture Newsroom".
  48. ^ "what3words - BT Ingenious Award - Global Innovation".
  49. ^ "WHAT3WORDS: 2017 HOME WINNER - INDEX: Design to Improve Life®". 1 September 2017.

External links