Does anyone here use what3words?

They have a really cool map solution where each 3x3m square in the world is assigned a unique three word address. This allows locations to be pinpointed much more accurately, especially if you don’t have a physical address.

They are used by the UN, car manufacturers and rescue organisations which I find is super cool. I’m creating this thread as I saw they’ll be crowdfunding soon and wanted to see what other people think.


I’ve got it on my phone and people in my cycling club use it.

Edit - in case of an accident I should have added.


I got it when I first heard about it but haven’t used it for anything. Cool idea but waiting for something to use it with.


Had it for a couple years. Used it with friends to share where we camped at a festival and was v helpful.

1 Like

The fundamental issue with what3words for me is the fact that it’s not open, and because of that it’ll never really get any bigger or more common than it is now.


What do you mean by that?

It’s pretty useless in the sense that they are trying to seek rent on the basic concept of location; per their ToS you are not allowed to cache lookups (so every lookup must go through them), not allowed to reverse-engineer the mapping (not sure if that would hold up in court; software patents aren’t a thing in the EU as far as I know) and their business model is to drum up PR and get mass adoption before starting to charge for lookups. It also has some technical shortcomings like not accounting for continental drift, so in certain locations your W3W will change over time which is not ideal for something that wants to become a better address system.

Their PR attempts are all terrible, they rely on sob stories where someone is injured/in an emergency, has access to a phone, GPS signal, the app and a network connection but somehow needs W3W to figure out where they are. If you have GPS and network why not just use GPS coordinates, or even just click a link provided by the emergency department that would automatically send them your position (if it hasn’t done so already - I believe phones have an out of band way to automatically send their GPS location when making an emergency call, at least in the US).

Here’s a blog post explaining this terrible idea in more detail.


It’s not Open-Source, they’re a for profit company that try very hard to represent their product as an open standard. From stuff I’ve read prior they’re not a nice company

Edit: @Rjevski goes into more detail than me but along the same lines :point_up: :point_up: The blog at the bottom is a great read about it


I’ve never really seen the point of this either. Coordinates, and Google Maps Plus Codes, make this seem pretty pointless.

Granted coordinates are long and unwieldy but there are better ways to provide someone with your location than having to download a specific app.

1 Like

Damn. That was a good read. Bye what3words then.


There is already a thread on the concept of what3words and Google’s Plus Codes.

There is also a member here who works at what3words (or did when they posted in the introduction thread).

It’s actually integrated into my car but:

a. I’ve never been able to get it to work.
b. 95% of the time I’m using Waze to navigate so I have no need for it :man_shrugging:t5:

Interesting read, makes it go from “huh that’s neat” to “huh that has a very limited use case when other technology does not beat it”.

I think the factor where it may become useful is if I’m trying to pinpoint someone at a festival, beach, or other open space.

But then if you’re reliant on say finding your location on their map, then tools like ‘send current location’ in ios or whatsapp are equally accurate without the spy code.

But if nothing else… you can have the novelty of looking up things like this… https://what3words.com/plus.account.party

See you in, whatever that location is it doesn’t really tell me…


Rocky Creek Conservation Area, Winona, MO 65588, USA

Bit far for me, i’ll have to skip that party

1 Like

Anecdotally, despite the pushing of it in the media, I have heard that many emergency service workers are unaware of this and are confused if people start saying a random three words to them.

OS grid references are universally recognised in the UK, are more precise, and also have a freely downloadable app to provide your location grid reference. I understand that three words, Google plus codes etc have a use in parts of the world that are poorly mapped, but in the UK grid references are much better IMO


You mean that not only are their PR attempts absurd and not representative of the real world, but that they actively increase risk by making people waste time by confusing emergency workers? Who would’ve thought. :joy:


I work in construction and I use it all the time as do a lot of our suppliers and contractors. A lot easier to specify an access point using what3words than to say “go to this postcode but actually drive 3 miles down the road, take a left at the cottage and you should see a gap in the hedge half a mile down…)


I agree with the concerns but working for Search and Rescue I can say that we have found two lost people as a result of W3W.

I’ve also used W3W twice to direct ambulances to casualties.

I have it on my phone for these reasons and my children have it on there’s in case they ever get lost.

It’s not perfect but when out in the open it’s a quick and easy solution that almost anyone can use.


It always seems like a narrow use case… if you have working GPS you have maps (even if no data you’ll have low resolution mapping… I navigated across europe with no mobile data), so you have landmarks, directions and a way to navigate towards somewhere you know. Your phone will geolocate itself if you call 999 so not needed in that case. If your battery is dead you’re hosed anyway - hence walkers carrying things like emergency flares if they’re going out in the hills.

All of which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t trying to profit out of essentially a dictionary…

Plus codes seem the same without the baggage but again limited use case… alternative coordinate systems have been around for decades, and they never get traction. I still have my maidenhead locator code written down somewhere…

1 Like

A problem that will come home to roost in 120 years time.

You make a good point.

The answer is that a control room conveying three words, over air, to first responders is more reliable than reading out 12 digits for a GPS position. (In the same way that a domain name is easier for humans to understand than an IP address)

When it’s a matter of life and death, an accurate location is much easy to convey with W3W.

I’ll have a read of your link though.

[edit] I’ve read it. Interesting post.

1 Like