At some point, your map app has probably let you down: Either it drops a pin on the wrong location, or it guides you to a nearly identical address halfway across town.
London-based startup what3words is trying to solve that problem--and much more. The company has broken the entire world into a grid of 3-meter-by 3-meter squares and assigned each square a unique three-word name. The entrance to the Empire State Building, for example, is "echo.twin.papers," while the end of your driveway might be "jet.waffle.freedom" or some equally random-sounding phrase.
According to Fast Company, co-founder Chris Sheldrick conceived the idea during his time in the music industry booking venues and contacting bands, when minor errors or faulty maps meant big problems. Universal adoption might sound far-fetched, as might the idea of replacing your beloved address with mumbo-jumbo. But some of the earliest users suggest this isn't a gimmick: The UN already uses what3words during disaster recovery, and it's been adopted by the Mongolian postal service to facilitate mail delivery. The startup has raised $5 million since its 2013 founding, including a $3.5 million Series A round in November led by by Intel Capital.
The company's service could have big implications for other startups, too. Here are a few industries that could benefit from an address system overhaul.
1. Ride-hailing and taxi services.
Uber design director Ethan Eismann pointed out in May that many areas in the 70 countries where the app operates don't use addresses. This creates obvious difficulties--especially in areas where cell phone networks aren't fast enough to support maps. For customers of Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing services, getting picked up or dropped off at a particular location could become as simple as memorizing a three-word phrase.
Amazon has been fighting for its right to deliver packages via drones for years, and it seems like it's only a matter of time before it becomes a reality. But as Sheldrick tells Fast Company, providing an address to a drone delivery service could mean the package ends up getting dropped on your roof. It's easy to imagine other disaster scenarios, like a parcel ending up in a swimming pool, tree, or your dog's designated relief area. Providing the name of a 9-square-meter patch at checkout could pinpoint the delivery to your front steps, walkway, or some other safe haven.
3. Food delivery.
It's happened to you: The delivery guy says he's on your block but he can't find your place--and you realize he's on the other Park Street a few miles away. Or, he's bringing it to your place of work, but managed to find a hidden entrance even you didn't know about. In both cases, the food arrives cold and with a half-apologetic shrug. Apps like Grubhub and Seamless could simplify things for delivery people with a more specific delivery location, which means a faster, smoother experience for customers.
4. On-demand jobs.
Apps like TaskRabbit that allow people to perform odd jobs for others, such as folding laundry or building a treehouse, usually require a meeting place. Another interesting use case might be something like, SOLD Inc. (short for "Same Old Line Dudes") which lets people take your place in a queue for tickets, cronuts, or any other high-demand items. Finding those locations--and each other--could become a whole lot easier for both parties.
Whether you're meeting new people who share your passion for league tennis or your Tindr match for the first time, it's always awkward trying to find someone you've never met before in a public setting. "I'm in delta.pie.firehouse, and I have a Radiohead shirt on." Problem solved.