Updated: Aug 17, 2019
Recently, I was sent a message by a colleague containing three words. After being held in a state of perplexion for a few moments, a helpful link soon followed – What3Words.
What3Words is an app, and offers a very simple medium with which to talk about exact locations. The clever technobods at What3Words have divided the world up into 3 metre squares, and assigned each square a unique set of three words that will never change.
Postcodes do not always align precisely with where one should think that they should, and three words are arguably easier to share and retain than grid coordinates (for example: 51.520847-0.19552100 becomes filled.count.soap). As it turns out, compressing 16 digits into three words only needs a combination pool of 40,000 words – luckily, the English language has over 170,000 words from which to select.
Mongolia has adopted What3Words for its postal service, while Lonely Planet's guide for the country gives three word addresses for its points of interest. Mercedes Benz has also included its system in its cars and What3Words is now being used in 35 languages around the world. Local to us in the South West, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service utilise the app to tackle fires in large rural expanses.
Perhaps most significantly, the app can alert emergency services to a user’s location – the three words can even be generated without the need for a phone signal. This has led to the rescues of lost woodland hikers, stranded drivers, and even a person locked inside one shipping container amongst 20,000.
Practical applications for my work here at Skern Lodge are obvious. I am visited by hundreds of Geographers every year who can now successfully geolocate their fieldwork data using the app in their pocket: transect lines for beach profiles at Pebble Ridge, tree carbon content estimation at Brownsham woods, vegetation quadrat placement at Braunton Burrows sand dunes, questionnaire and environmental quality analysis locations along the high streets of Bideford and Barnstaple...
With our adventurous activity groups, Orienteering around Northam Burrows nature reserve or up over the hills and valleys at Torrington Common can take on a whole new level of engagement with students attempting to find the precise location of strange word combinations.
Vanilla.Steady.Unrated is the location of the front gate at Skern Lodge – don't get lost on your next visit, tell your coach driver!