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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. 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. The company was incorporated on March 5, 2013 and a patent application for the core technology filed on April 19, 2013.
In November 2013, what3words raised $500,000 of seed funding, and in March 2014 the company raised a second seed round of $1,000,000. 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. On June 29, 2016, what3words closed a $8.5 million Series B round led by Aramex. 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. The A-Class, launched in May 2018, became the first vehicle in the world with what3words on board.
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. Coast has since moved on.
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[update], 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. The company has also mentioned Chinese and various languages of Pakistan, including Urdu and Farsi.
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.
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.
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. what3words originally sold "OneWord" addresses, which were stored in a database for a yearly fee, but this feature has been canceled.
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.
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A number of parody sites have been created to satirize what3word's proprietary nature, including:
Alphanumeric competitors include: