My ///what3words journey (so far)

apps, Life, Travel

“Helping everyone talk about everywhere”

At this time in my life and career, I can’t NOT write a blog post about my employer, my saviour, and one of the most awesome ideas I’ve ever heard of – The wonderful what3words.

I have worked as Office Manager for w3w now since early January. I originally applied for the same job over 2 years ago, but had to go for a different role elsewhere due to financial security at the time (Boring). I had always regretted the decision I made and wondered what it would have been like if I’d opted for the role that appealed to my interests and passions rather than my wallet.

After 2 years, I’d become very unhappy in my last role and things weren’t improving for me there, so I felt it was time to move on. With the support of my family, friends and therapist, I started to apply for other roles. I am so glad I had inadvertently waited until the Office Manager role at w3w came up again – I applied instantly and was contacted by the Talent Acquisition team within 20 minutes. After a week of interviews and chats with the team, I was offered the job. I was over the moon! It felt so serendipitous, especially as Chris, the CEO of what3words knew my brother from the time he worked as a band manager (which was his inspiration for coming up the what3words concept after finding it hard to locate people and gig locations using just the address info that was available at the time).

What is what3words all about?

You may have heard about the what3words app on TV, radio, the printed press, billboards or social media, especially if you’re friends with me! It is a revolutionary idea to locate people, things or more precise destinations using a simple 3-word address rather than long-winded GPS coordinates. What3words created a grid of 57 trillion (That’s right… TRILLION) 3x3m squares across the whole world (land and sea and everything in between), and gave each square its own unique 3-word address. For an example, see the image below:

The entrance to Wembley Stadium

The what3words app, or a tailored version thereof, is already being used by the emergency services in the UK to locate people more quickly, meaning a more efficient, and often critically life-saving, emergency call-out. Delivery companies like DPD have now given people the option to provide a 3-word address in order to find their front doors more effectively (which is particularly good for people who have problems with drivers finding their homes via postcodes or normal addresses).

The app is free to download and is available to use offline. It uses GPS tracking even when you have no mobile data or wifi. So, if you’re ever lost in a forest or up a mountain with no signal, you can find your way back to safety at the touch of a button. Just don’t run out of battery, of course! Please see this video of the w3w CEO, Chris Sheldrick, explaining how the app works offline.

It’s not only the UK who are using the services provided by what3words. The app has been developed into over 50 languages (and counting), which takes a lot of work and time to get right. Languages all work so differently, and have a different amount of words available to make up the amount needed for all of these 3-word addresses across the world. The addresses in English are not just directly translated into other languages, mainly because that is impossible, so the word list is started from scratch in each and every language. Careful work has to be done to make sure that the app is user-friendly in all of these languages, and the w3w Languages and Localisation team work with locals and translators to discuss the whole catalogue of words that are to be used. I am so intrigued and fascinated by the work of this team, which must be so interesting and fulfilling.

There have been some publicised misconceptions or criticisms of the app, the system and the concept of what3words. The common issues are addressed on the w3w website, though, such as what about different levels of a building? Or, the use of words (or not) that sound the same but are spelled differently (homophones). You can find the answer, plus many others here.

What does what3words mean to me?

I have been fascinated by what3words for a few years now, ever since I read about it on Facebook. I told my family and friends about it and I had the app ready to go whenever I might need it. Over time, I discovered more of what the app could offer, such as Photo Mode. Photo Mode allows you to link your device’s photos to the app and find the 3-word addresses of the exact place where you took the photo. This was really useful when we were trying to find Sibu’s aunt (Mam’khulu)’s house in Lobamba, Eswatini, on a map. I had spent ages trying to retrace our car journeys to her home and figuring out which side roads we turned into to get there. When in Photo Mode on the what3words app, I found a photo on my phone of our youngest son (then a newborn) just after we brought him back to Mam’khulu’s house from the hospital in Manzini. When I linked it to the photo mode on the app, it found the 3-word address of the very room we were in when I took the photo of him. Amazing! I have since managed to pinpoint the exact location of both sons’ births, as well as key spots on our travels which brought back fond memories. All of these can be saved on your w3w account to be shared or used again if you ever go back to those favourite spots. It’s like a life story in 3-word addresses!

Eswatini is a perfect example of a place where what3words would be life-changing for its people. There are minimal road names and addresses in Lobamba, for example, and a lot of residents use PO box numbers to receive their post which they collect from their local post office. In order to find your way to someone’s house in the more rural areas, you have to use visual clues like ‘Pass the corner shop on your left, then turn first left, then second right by the massive jacaranda tree’. Even on a detailed map, it’s hard to find an exact location with no other information to go on other than your memory of the journey to it. Having an exact 3x3m square with an easy 3-word address to remember and relay to others is going to make it so much easier for people to arrive without getting lost on the way and it could shave valuable minutes off an emergency call-out. What3words is already available in Zulu, and I’m going to speak to my colleagues about their plans to provide the people of Eswatini with the app in siSwati, which would be so useful to them.

With what3words, there’s security in knowing that you have a way for the emergency services to find you quickly, that deliveries could actually finally be delivered to your door, and that you can help others find you (or you find others) quickly and easily. We just need to make sure that everyone knows about how useful, vital and life-altering this one app could be for them. Plus, you can have merchandise made up to include your 3-word address – like house signs, keyrings and even dog collars (which could be super-useful if your pooch gets lost). It’s free and it could change your life – What are you waiting for?! Download the app for iPhone or Android now!

Here are some of my Photo Mode pics from the app


NSG xxx

P.S. Please do share your own what3words stories with me on the blog or via social media – I’d love to feed back your experiences to the team :).