The Nominet Trust 100 celebrates the people and organisations who are using digital technology to change the world for the better. Giles Rhys Jones, CMO of 2015 NT100 project what3words, shares his reflections on the NT100 in this Q&A:
1.In your own words, please give an overview of what3words
Featured in the 2015 NT100, what3words is a location reference system based on a global grid of 57 trillion 3mx3m squares; each has been pre-assigned a unique 3-word address.
Around 75 per cent of the countries in the world suffer from inconsistent, complicated or no addressing systems. This means billions are invisible to the state, unable to get aid, vote or get finance. In the other 25 per cent of countries, packages get lost, friends are not met and businesses don't get found.
Street addressing is often inadequate and it is costly to build from scratch, dropping a digital pin is not flexible across channels or offline and whilst GPS coordinates are accurate they are prone to errors in transcription and communication.
At best, poor addressing is costly and annoying, at worst it hampers the growth and development of nations around the world.
2.What is the main purpose of what3words?
what3words is on a mission to help others make the world a less frustrating, more efficient and safer place with simpler addressing.
what3words is being used in over 170 countries to improve customer experiences, drive business efficiencies and save lives. A few examples are detailed below.
The system is being used to report disasters by the United Nations, The World Bank to monitor cholera outbreaks and the International Red Cross to address every health centre in the world. what3words was also used by security services at Super Bowl 50 and has been built into a number of wildfire and emergency response tools. The UNDP used the system to keep Prime Ministers, celebrities and other attendees safe at the World Humanitarian Summit.
Glastonbury Festival and Farnborough AirShow used the system for first aid response and The Hedonist's Guide have addressed the coolest bars, restaurants, shops and hotels in over 50 cities with 3-word addresses. In Rio this summer you can find the 3-word address of your rental on brazilrentmyhouse.com and easily get there with RioGo, the official Olympics transport app. Or you can navigate to any 3-word address on the planet with Navmii, the largest offline driving navigation app in the world.
It is being used to deliver medicine in the townships, by Carteiro Amigo to deliver post in the favelas and a delivery company in the UK has reduced their 1st time delivery failure rate by 83 per cent. The Mongolian Post have just signed to use the system to address the whole country.
3.What inspired you or the founders to start what3words?
Having spent 10 years organising live music events around the world, I was constantly facing the huge logistical frustrations that came with poor addressing.
I resorted to using the latitude and longitude coordinate system to be precise but realized that human beings aren’t designed to input 18 numbers without errors. Every event, without fail, trucks carrying equipment and musicians themselves simply didn't arrive where they were supposed to be.
A particular low point was a phone call from a keyboard player who said “it appears we may have sound checked at the wrong wedding in Birmingham”.
I discussed the idea of a more usable and less error-prone version of the latitude and longitude coordinate system with a mathematician friend, who subsequently wrote an early version of the what3words algorithm on the back on an envelope.
And the cogs turned in our heads as we realised that this idea can do so much more than making sure that my bands arrive for their gig on time.
4.How has the NT100 helped your organisation progress?
Being recognised by NT100 and an independent group of judges has added to our credibility as a world-changing solution. We secured coverage in the FT and a number of other publications and overall it helped us get in front of the people who can help us address the people who need it most.
5.What is the added value of tech when addressing social challenges?
Technology has a huge role to play in addressing social challenges. For example an address is the first step on a social and economic development ladder and, according to Hernando de Soto, the development economist, “without an address, you are invisible”. We have a simple technology solution for this. We got lost in music and ended up addressing the world.
6.Who is your ‘Everyday Tech Hero’?
Not quite tech but Margaret Mead "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world..." -
7.What are your plans for the future?
We are adding more languages to the system - we are in 10 and about to launch Arabic and Mongolian. We are also adding functionality including voice recognition. Our goal is to become a globally accepted standard for communicating a location, so word.word.word is recognised on your device, in your social network, on a business card or a parcel as a way of simply referring to a location.