Giving Everyone in the World an Address

Monday, May 4, 2015

“Where the streets have no name,” sang rock frontman Bono on one of U2’s biggest hits.

“It must be hell being a postman, then,” came the sarcastic rejoinder from the music press.

But out in the real world, about four billion people on the planet actually live in places that have no street names, no house numbers – in fact, nothing that constitutes a proper address.

And without that, they’re off the map. They can’t get a bank loan, they can’t run a business, they have no voting rights or access to public utility services.

And, in fact, they have no postmen.

“Most of Africa, Asia and South America have this problem,” says Chris Sheldrick, 33, founder and chief executive of what3words, a small UK-based company that has come up with a radical new approach to the addressing system.

“Trying to do a census with addresses like ’fourth lamp-post down the road’ is really very inefficient, and we’re coming in to say, ’No, you can do this differently’.”

New code

In the past, countries without a proper set of addresses have tried to change facts on the ground by mapping out the area, and copying the developed world’s way of doing things, such as adding street names and numbers.

However, as Mr Sheldrick says, that can take a decade: “Places like Ghana have tried that unsuccessfully. Some properties have five different addresses stamped on them.”

Of course, existing co-ordinates of latitude and longitude, and the Global Positioning System used by sat-nav technology, already provide a way of pinning down any location in the world.

Source: BBC (link opens in a new window)