According to Merriam Webster address:

the words and numbers that are used to describe the location of a building and that are written on letters, envelopes, and packages so that they can be mailed to that location

Now that is a simple statement but first lets look at examples of common address around the world entering address found on their website to Google Earth (could use Google Maps same thing)

United States

Disneyworld
3111 World Dr. Lake Buena Vista,Florida 32830
disneyland orlando

United Kingdom

McDonald’s Restaurant

113 Glasgow Road Wishaw Motherwell,

North Lanarkshire ML2 7QJ

mcdonalds-uk

Honduras

Farmacia El Ahorro (Pharmacy)

Carretera al Batallón, Comayaguela

 No image

(no geocoding possible)

Honduras

Hospital San Jorge (Hospital)

Barrio La Bolsa Contiguo a SOPTRAVI

Comayaguela, Honduras

(SOPTRAVI doesn’t exist anymore its called now INSEP, but people know if as SOPTRAVI so it’s called that way)

 No image

(no geocoding possible)

Honduras

Home (Residential Address)

Col. Res. Las Hadas

2da Avenida entre 4ta y 5ta Calle

a media cuadra de pulperia America

Casa Verde Portones Negros

(Rough translation is Col. Res. Las Hadas,

2nd Avenue between 4th and 5th Street,

half a block from convenience store ‘America’

painted in green with black gates)

 No image

(no geocoding possible)

As seen above the addresses in my country (Honduras) doesn’t display an image when entered in Google Earth. This is no only the case for Honduras but unfortunately for many parts of the world (don’t know exact numbers but should be high), most places don’t have an address system, no street names, no street signs, no way to geocode or reverse geocode. If you think about it, having an address is something that is taken for granted. Many different things depend on having an accurate address yet I would say most of the world do not have a way to get to a location which isn’t by reference to something else or by local knowledge.

Here are just a few things that rely on addresses

  • Food Delivery (For your home, your office)
  • Bank Statements (For your home, your office)
  • Logistics (business)
  • Emergency Services (Very important!!!)
  • Meeting Locations (Nothing worst than lost guests right?)

I wont enter the technical aspects of what Location Based Services (LBS) are but I think you can get a point on why having an address where you are able to navigate to is important.

Now having an “appropriate” address systems means having street names (preferable that streets don’t repeat within a city if not you will need a way to distinguish them – postcodes maybe), you need street signs (no point in having named the streets if you can’t find them), you need to add building numbers..well it is quite expensive specially if you need to do it from scratch and you got more urgent needs like security issues, health, economic problems, etc. So what is the alternative?

Recently I came to know about a few ones including

mapcode – “Mapcodes are a free, open way to make every house or location on Earth addressable by a short code. With nothing else except your mapcode, for instance, a navigation system will bring someone to within meters of your front door.”

Basically it’s an alphanumeric code that is given to any place on earth

West Bay Beach, Roatan can be represented as

Y5.J9RJ

or

CJMJ.M59

yeah there may be more than one mapcode but it points to the same place

roatan

There are several other alternatives with similar nature like loc8 for example which is widely used in Ireland and even included in Garmin Sat Nav

eircode – System to be implemented in Ireland, and its composed of a routing key for logistics and a Unique identifier, so its basically an unique identifier for each address A65 F4E2, it would be appended to addresses.

what3words – “what3words is a global grid of 57 trillion 3mx3m squares. Each square has a 3 word address that can be communicated quickly, easily and with no ambiguity.”

So the same beach in Roatan, Honduras in what3words would be

deviance.slug.paperless (in English)
creativa.migaja.conos (In Spanish)
vendange.optique.amiralat (in French)

Now all of these systems try to solve the big issue of not having addresses in most parts of the world, however how good is a solution is only assessed when put in the real world. Initially I was going to try mapcode and what3words but honestly it’s basically the same idea one uses alphanumeric codes the other uses just words, so using either one would be enough. Since what3words seems to be the newer and more radical approach one I decided to try it out.

Last Saturday I had to go to the bank for some reason and decided it was a good opportunity to try alternative addressing solution what3words,  for context I live in a city (Tegucigalpa, Honduras) where has very few street name signs but most important I would say above 90% of people wouldn’t give you an address using traditional addressing because let’s face it there is no way you can get to any place here like that.

Tegucigalpa-Honduras

I downloaded the app from Google Play Store to my LG Phone (specs here if someone wants them)  after a few hours fiddling with my storage space which was solved by uninstalling the twitter client and reinstalling afterwards. So the first thing I needed to do is get the what3words for the bank parking lot using Google Maps I got the coordinates and put that into what3words map (http://map.what3words.com) to get the 3 words that describe it deuda.nasa.ameno

honduras-banco-promerica-google-earth

what3words-banco-promerica-tegucigalpa

So I started the app, changed the language to Spanish and used compass mode

what3words-spanish-menuwhat3words-compass-spanish

Compass mode indeed works offline but it only gives you a rough indication (distance,bearing). I say rough because if you are in a country you don’t know you will need apart from that a route to get to a destination specially if you are driving. I say the compass mode is more useful if you are on foot and doing the last mile navigation with it. That’s the part the works with no mobile plan. The map part uses Google Map to do the routing but it needs internet connection. There may be apps out there that could be completely offline and use what3words but didn’t use one for this.

While switching between compass mode and map my GPS seem to reset itself and started looking for connection again, this made the overall experience a little bit less than expected. This might be due to my phone which isn’t low end nor high end.

I decided to just drive to the bank and drop off a few blocks before to try compass mode for the last mile. I just started following it but then I started walking in circles, so then I realized something….there’s no point in having a 3 m x 3 m tile precision if your GPS accuracy is way off, in my case 32 m. As seen in the image I was already at promedio.rinde.sufra however the app kept telling me I was still 33 m away from it. This position is pretty close to deuda.nasa.ameno (the bank). At this point I just gave up and went to the bank.

what3words-gps-accuracy

So after trying it I still think what3words and mapcode by themselves have a few things that make them less than perfect. I will try to list a few

1. For one you need an app to get where you want to get, the solution is meant for places with no addresses which means places with less disposable income for gadgets. With traditional addresses I could get very close to a place and start asking locals.

2. There is no sense of adjacency, so you are at one place and don’t know really how close you are from another. If I am looking for 321 Easter Road and I am at 1 Easter Road I know I keep walking on the road to get to a place. Also if I know Easter Road is 10 streets from Mile Avenue, I just keep walking 10 streets, but with mapcode or what3words if you are at promedio.rinde.sufra and want to go to deuda.nasa.ameno there is no indication how to get there without the app.

3. The mapcode and what3words location depend on the gps accuracy, mine was off as much as 60 m, let’s consider many apps don’t show the gps accuracy so people are just shown the dot moving on the map, this would have many frustrated people in circle trying to get to some place.

4. I don’t know I think I personally prefer alphanumeric than words to describe location, I think it looks better on formal addresses, either way I think the adoption of mapcode or what3words will depend on a hybrid strategy similar to what eircode is doing in Ireland, add the code to what people are used to giving as an address. I made up an address with both schemes and why I prefer mapcode

Antonio Locandro

4150 m sur de la posta Toncontin

Col. Buena Vida, Comayagua

b4.FRG

or

Antonio Locandro

4150 m sur de la posta Toncontin

Col. Buena Vida, Comayagua

jamones.viveres.tomates

Overall it is a nice concept, specially in places with no addresses. It may revolutionize the way we locate things but like many startup things I think its not quite there for showtime. Many business logistics will prefer lat,lon to describe places they want to go, I mean there’s practically no difference it is just a way to pin point a location you can use lat,lon ; alphanumeric codes; words at the end you will use what’s easier and/or becomes popular. I say the only way this alternative address schemes will work is by a nation implementing them officially let’s say Honduras would adopt either mapcode or what3words, massive campaigns done in the media, people knowing the system and using it….but personally I would say countries are still better served by traditional street named based systems not dependent on apps or gadgets, or at the least by a hybrid system consisting of street names and codes for things. You know a mix of the best part of each.

Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert in the topic, just writing about my experience while making these tests.

Categories: GIS

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