News & Politics

A New App Gives an Address for Every Three-Meter-Square Spot in DC

Your desk. The side door of your building. And, of course, the rest of the world. Meet What3words.

A British company has developed a system for identifying locations across the globe. Its app, What3words, divides the globe in 57 trillion three-meter squares, each identifiable by a unique three-word code. The algorithm that selects the words excludes offensive words or homophones and uses short, convenient words in metropolitan and densely packed areas. Other areas get longer, less-catchy words, and similar combinations of words are spread out across different continents with the idea that one may not notice their address is a block off, but they will probably notice if the package meant for Chicago looks to be headed to Kazakhstan. Oh, and as opposed to phone calls, it’s way easier to remember three words than country codes.

The app has sparked controversy among people in geo-mapping communities, because its data is controlled by a private company. But in developing countries where there are vast areas without a functional address system (roughly 75 percent of the world’s population reside in those, What3Words says), you could use the app to locate a drinking well or send mail to a remote village. Mongolia has already adopted What3words as a mailing system.

Even in urban settings, the app’s convenience is immediately apparent. For example, if you are meeting someone at the National Mall, instead of saying “You know, I’m in front of that big museum,” you can say “I’m at sage.happy.found.” The app does not require a data connection to function.

But probably the most fun you’ll have with this app? Your cubicle now has a personalized global code. (My desk appears to be sheep.locals.names.) It turns the location of many other spots around town into poetic little gems:

The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House: Update.tamed.sunk

Big Cats exhibit at Smithsonian’s National Zoo: Cliff.vets.scars

Dupont Circle Fountain: Global.mixer.junior

The Vietnam Memorial:

My favorite table at Le Diplomate: Cakes.boss.enjoy

A reading nook in the Library of Congress: Sentences.gallons.lately

A front-row seat at the Verizon Center: Slick.smiles.nights

Assistant Editor

Hayley is an Associate Editor at Washingtonian Weddings. Previously she was the the Style Editor at The Local Palate, a Southern food culture magazine based out of Charleston, South Carolina. You can follow her on instagram @wandertaste.