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location.location.location

Most of the time when services want to know your location, a post code and house number will suffice. For others, your longitude and latitude are necessary. From online shopping to GPS, so much depends on letting others know where you are.

Knowing where you are these days is, for the most part, very simple. Most of us carry a smartphone. GPS has been part of smartphones since the days of the Nokia N95, but it’s far more accurate these days and the software has come on leaps and bounds. While Google Latitude is no longer an option, others have stepped in. Glympse is by far my favourite for sharing my location on the fly. It tracks the phone or tablet and shares your location using a one-off web address to whoever you want to share it with, and only them. It automatically terminates the web page when you reach your destination, after a preset time, or by both (whichever comes first). When it comes to sharing your location it’s great, assuming you’re on the move.

When you’re not on the move and want to share a specific place, you’ll likely fall back to either an address, or longitude and latitude. I could say I’m at Tower Knowe Visitors Centre, Kielder, NE48 1BX and you could find me fairly easily. If I said I was parked at 55.1739, -2.4746 then you’d have a more accurate position, but postcodes only work if there’s a building nearby and long/lat can be easily mistaken or forgotten. What we need is a more elegant, simpler approach. Thankfully someone’s already solved that problem.

Imagine if everywhere on the planet, city, homes, seas or deserts could be found using just three words. Everywhere. Three words to describe every three by three metre square. Texting someone would be far simpler. Calling 999 for emergency services, or roadside assistance (AA, RAC, Green Flag etc) could be far less stressful by giving them positions.dreaming.nipping rather than spelling out Knowe and Kielder. It’s not hard to get the location from the three words either. Prefix the three words with what3words.com/ or easier still, w3w.co/ and you have your location. w3w.co/positions.dreaming.nipping will take you to the Tower Knowe car park at Kielder Forest.

With a range of map overlay options compatible with various browsers and apps for Android and iOS, it strikes me that the obvious choice for sharing your location is no longer street names or the more traditional “turn left at the Red Lion”. The app doesn’t even need an internet connection, it can provide your three word location and can even show direction and distance to a three word pin or waymarker (think geocaching). I’ve been using What3Words for a few years now, and we still add it for delivery instructions to indicate the right house, or for the front or back door. I’ve converted w3w addresses to QR codes and João Dias has added W3W’s Developer’s API to AutoTools so now a secret phrase can be sent to my phone and it will automatically reply with a link to my location. To date we’ve used W3W for everything from ‘additional instructions for the driver’ to the traditional treasure hunt for our son at Christmas and even our wedding invitations.

One thing is for certain, Ozero Kovdozero, Republic of Karelia, Russia or 63.1539N, 32.1040E aren’t remotely as easy to remember as w3w.co/location.location.location.