The Volokh ConspiracyOpinion
Mapping the world, three words at a time
By David Post January 12
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Here’s the problem: hundreds of millions, and more likely several billion, of the world’s people live in a world in which few or none of the places that are important in their lives — where they live, where they work, where they catch the bus, where their kids go to school, where they go for a drink or to watch the movies — has an “address,” a unique and commonly understood designator indicating their actual physical location. Think of just the inhabitants of the slums and favelas in and around the great world mega-cities — Sao Paolo, Brazil; Mexico City; Shanghai; Istanbul; Mumbai; Jakarta, Indonesia … and multiply that many times over.
And think of what it would be like to live in a world without addresses and how difficult (or impossible) it would be to get utility service or request an ambulance or report a crime or obtain public services or get a product delivered or start a business or open a school or call a meeting of your neighbors or find the voting booth you’re supposed to go to … without the ability to refer to precisely where any of that is supposed to happen.
Of course, it’s true that any point on the Earth’s surface can be identified uniquely by its latitude and longitude — at least if you include enough significant digits to make the reference sufficiently precise — and there are lots of places on the Internet where you can convert latitude and longitude parameters into specific locations (and vice versa) (such as the GPS Coordinate Tracker). Monticello, for instance, is at 38.0086043 North latitude and 78.45319940000002 West longitude; and if I ask you to meet me at 34.1016357 North and 118.3266744 West, we’ll end up right at the corner of Hollywood and Vine.
But long strings of digits are very difficult to remember and to use when communicating with others. It is as difficult to imagine a usable universal location scheme that requires people to talk to one another in latitude and longitude references as it is to imagine the Internet becoming the Internet without the domain name system, which eliminates the need to refer to the unique number — the hexadecimal “IP Address” (e.g., 22.214.171.124 for washingtonpost.com) — assigned to every website or other Internet location.
A London start-up, What3Words, has come up with what looks, to me, like it could be a truly transformative resolution to the problem.
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It will be immediately useful when Amazon, Google, FedEx, UPS, Uber, and etc etc get board.
Maybe even the USPS and the Gooferment might catch up to lead the parade.
When I first moved to Virginia, continuous roads would change names with no warning. Or numbers would just reset at the city or county line.
And, let’s not forget how many Broadways, Second Streets, or such we have.
This seem like a simple way to pinpoint anywhere in the globe.
So maybe I’ll see you at “joke.crab.arch”. Funny how once you hear it, it’s funny and memorable.
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