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What3words: The app that can save your life

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What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby maj. tom » August 15th, 2019, 8:42 am

Police have urged everyone to download a smartphone app they say has already saved several lives. What is it and how does it work?
https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-49319760

Kicked. Converged. Soccer.

These three randomly chosen words saved Jess Tinsley and her friends after they got lost in a forest on a dark, wet night.

They had planned a five-mile circular stroll through the 4,900 acre (2,000 hectare) woodland Hamsterley Forest, in County Durham, on Sunday evening, but after three hours they were hopelessly lost.

"We were in a field and had no idea where we were," the 24-year-old care worker from Newton Aycliffe said.

"It was absolutely horrendous. I was joking about it and trying to laugh because I knew if I didn't laugh I would cry."
At 22:30 BST they found a spot with phone signal and dialled 999.

"One of the first things the call-handler told us to do was download the what3words app," Ms Tinsley said.


"I had never heard of it."

Within a minute of its download, the police said they knew where the group was and the soaked and freezing walkers were swiftly found by the Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team.
"I have told everyone I know to download this app," Ms Tinsley said.

"You never know when you are going to get lost and need it."

What3words essentially points to a very specific location.

Its developers divided the world into 57 trillion squares, each measuring 3m by 3m (10ft by 10ft) and each having a unique, randomly assigned three-word address.

For example, the door of 10 Downing Street is slurs.this.shark, while the area across the road where the press congregate is stage.pushy.nuns.

It was born out of company founder Chris Sheldrick's postal-related problems growing up in rural Hertfordshire.

"Our postcode did not point to our house," he said.

"We got used to getting post meant for other people, or having to stand in the road to flag down delivery drivers."
Ten years in the music industry, which involved trying to get bands to meet at specific entrances to their venues, also fuelled his frustration.

"I tried to get people to use longitude and latitude but that never caught on," Mr Sheldrick said.

"It got me thinking, how can you compress 16 digits into something much more user friendly?

"I was speaking to a mathematician and we found there were enough combinations of three words for every location in the world."

In fact, 40,000 words was enough.

The company started in 2013 and now employs more than 100 people at its base in Royal Oak, west London.

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.

But still, not enough people know about it according to Lee Wilkes, a crew manager for Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, one of 35 English and Welsh emergency services to have signed up to the system.

"It cuts out all ambiguity about where we need to be," he said.

Tackling fires in large rural expanses, for example on moors, will be helped by the system, Mr Wilkes said.
South Yorkshire Police used it to find a 65-year-old man who became trapped after falling down a railway embankment in Sheffield.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service found a woman who had crashed her car but was unsure where she was.

And Humberside Police were able to quickly resolve a hostage situation after the victim was able to tell officers exactly where she was being held.

"That was a time critical situation and being able to use a three word address meant officers could get there much quicker, rescue the hostage and arrest a man," Mr Sheldrick said.

"That made us understand how the work we are doing is so important."
https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-49319760

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby VexXx Dogg » August 15th, 2019, 9:53 am

Just saw this on FB and it's a great idea. It's nothing for regular people to install, and emergency services should at least be aware of it.

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby j.o.e » August 15th, 2019, 10:10 am

Interesting

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby redmanjp » August 15th, 2019, 10:13 am

i take it it's just a fancy gps app that translates your latitude & longitude coordinates to 3 words?

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby maj. tom » August 15th, 2019, 10:35 am

They took the earth world map and divided it into 57 trillion squares, each 3 meters x 3 meters (10x10ft).
Then they used 40,000 words to create a permutation of (40,000 x 39,999 x 39998) to relate to a specific square, which will be a unique combination in a certain order. The app makes it easy for humans to communicate location with just a unique 3 word combination which will be translated by the app anywhere in the world to give you location. It is simply a way for humans to communicate co-ordinates easier on our level because we use speech and words to communicate, instead of numbers like a computer.

Therefore lat+long is still a thing which the app and computers use, but very difficult for humans to share accurately. All you need to do is share 3 unique words in a certain order and your location is known. Very helpful for emergency services, and well as new GPS navigation services. Mercedes Benz is now using this system in all their cars. UK emergency services are already officially using it. So that's an idea of where this app is going.

The thread is about spreading the word and getting everyone to use the app universally just like how Whatsapp has now become the universal communication platform for the entire world. Share the app on Whatsapp when you install it. You never know how and when you will need to use it. This likely will be a set standard for location services within a few years.

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby redmanjp » August 15th, 2019, 10:51 am

hmm, might replace waze eventually

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby adnj » August 15th, 2019, 2:24 pm

W3W is a closed product. It is a for-profit company masquerading as an open standard. And that annoys me.

A brief primer.

The world is a sphere.

We can reference any point on the surface of Earth using two co-ordinates, Longitude and Latitude.

Long/Lat are numbers. They can be as precise or as vague as needed.

Humans can't remember long strings of numbers, and reading them out is difficult.

W3W aims to solve this. It splits the world into a grid, and gives every square a unique three-word phrase.

So the location 51.50799,-0.12803 becomes ///mile.crazy.shade

Brilliant, right?

No.

Here's all the problems I have with W3W.

It isn't open

The algorithm used to generate the words is proprietary. You are not allowed to see it. You cannot find out your location without asking W3W for permission.

If you want permission, you have to agree to some pretty long terms and conditions. And understand their privacy policy. Oh, and an API agreement. And then make sure you don't infringe their patents.

You cannot store locations. You have to let them analyse the locations you look up. Want to use more than 10,000 addresses? Contact them for prices!

It is the antithesis of open.

Cost

W3W refuses to publish their prices. You have to contact their sales team if you want to know what it will cost your organisation.

Open standards are free to use.

Earthquakes

When an earthquake struck Japan, street addresses didn't change but that their physical location did.

That is, a street address is still 42 Acacia Avenue - but the Longitude and Latitude has changed.

Perhaps you think this is an edge case? It isn't. Australia is drifting so fast that GPS can't keep up.

How does W3W deal with this? Their grid is static, so any tectonic activity means your W3W changes.

Internationalisation

Numbers are fairly universal. Lots of countries use 0-9. English words are not universal. How does W3W deal with this?

Is "cat.dog.goose" straight translated into French? No! Each language has its own word list.

There is no way to translate between languages. You have to beg W3W for permission for access to their API. They do not publish their word lists or the mappings between them.

So, if I want to tell a French speaker where ///mile.crazy.shadeis, I have to use ///embouchure.adjuger.saladier

Loosely translated back as ///mouth.award.bowl an entirely different location!

You're not allowed to know what word lists W3W use. They take a paternalistic attitude to creating their lists - they know best. You cannot propose changes.

Anecdotally, their non-English word lists are confusing even for native speakers.

Cultural Respect

Numbers are (mostly) culturally neutral. Words are not. Is "mile.crazy.shade" a respectful name for a war memorial? How about ///tribes.hurt.stumpy for a temple?

How do you feel about ///weepy.lulls.emerge and ///grouchy.hormone.elevating both being at Auschwitz? Or ///klartext.bestückt.vermuten - "cleartext stocked suspect"?

This is a classic computer science problem. Every sufficiently long word list can eventually be recombined into a potentially offensive phrase.

Open Washing

W3W know that the majority of technical people are not fooledby their attempts to lock down addressing.

They include this paragraph to attempt to prove their openness:

If we, what3words ltd, are ever unable to maintain the what3words technology or make arrangements for it to be maintained by a third-party (with that third-party being willing to make this same commitment), then we will release our source code into the public domain. We will do this in such a way and with suitable licences and documentation to ensure that any and all users of what3words, whether they are individuals, businesses, charitable organisations, aid agencies, governments or anyone else can continue to rely on the what3words system.

I don't know how they propose to bind a successor organisation. They don't say what licences they will use. If they go bust, there's no guarantee they'll be legally able to release this code, nor may they have the time to do so.

There's nothing stopping W3W from releasing their algorithms now, subjecting them to scrutiny by the standards community. They could build up a community of experts to help improve the system, they could work with existing mapping efforts, they could help build a useful and open standard.

But they don't. They guard their secrets and actively promote their proprietary product in the hope it will become widely accepted and then they can engage in rent-seeking behaviour.

This is not a new argument

My mate Leigh wrote about this three years ago. Lots of peoplehave criticised W3W.

[https://pbs]

Andy Allan@gravitystorm

.@what3words is bad technical idea, and ethically terrible too. But all VCs like patented economic rents so the juggernaut rolls on. #geomob

19

14:14 - 14 Jul 2016



18 people are talking about this

But W3W have a great PR team - pushing press releases which are then reported as uncritical news.

The most recent press release contains a ludicrous example:

Person dials the emergency services

Person doesn't know their location

Emergency services sends the person a link

Person clicks on link, opens web page

Web page geolocates user and displays their W3W location

Person reads out their W3W phrase to the emergency services

Here's the thing... If the person's phone has a data connection - the web page can just send the geolocation directly back to the emergency services! No need to get a human to read it out, then another human to listen and type it in to a different system.

There is literally no need for W3W in this scenario. If you have a data connection, you can send your precise location without an intermediary.

What Next?

W3W succeeds because it has a superficially simple solution to a complex problems. It is a brilliant lesson in how marketing and PR can help a technologically inferior project look like it is a global open solution.

I'm not joking. Their branding firm says:

Edelman helped what3words frame their story to be compelling by tapping into human emotion.
We also created a story for CEO Chris Sheldrick about how having an address can drive social transformation and business efficiency, securing profiling and speaker opportunities.
Through paid social campaigns we re-targeted these stories, getting through to the decision makers that mattered most.
We articulated their purpose narrative and refined their strategy to engage investors and excite the media.

It takes too much time to refute all their claims - but we must. Whenever you see people mentioning What3Words, politely remind them that it is not an open standard and should be avoided.

[URL]https://shkspr.mobi/blog/2019/03/why-bother-with-what-three-words/
[/URL]

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby VexXx Dogg » August 15th, 2019, 10:13 pm

^ wow, excellent perspective.
Very well laid out points, not the typical countergarbage argument

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby MaxPower » August 16th, 2019, 8:25 am

The app can save your life, but a samsung phone can kill you.

#ios

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby maj. tom » August 16th, 2019, 8:41 am

The same arguments can be made about the propriety software of Whatsapp, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, etc. concerning privacy. I don't think that stops people from using a convenient app that helps them do their tasks. I see from a developer's/security perspective how Terence Eden and Andy Allan are concerned, but those writings are esoteric babble on a random blog to the general public. People used to say the same thing about Whatsapp and the way they handled messages from the start, then they introduced proprietary encryption. Whatsapp should be open-source because of that?
Did you know what Whatsapp also has a paid business client program only available on subscription that most of the public knows nothing about? Why should this new program be open-source? I fail to see any valid arguments set out above for having open-source code available on this program that was privately conceived and developed. So why aren't they asking Apple and Facebook to release their source code too, or Google Maps? TriniTuner should be open-source?

Here is another genius blog excerpt quoted above :"Here's the thing... If the person's phone has a data connection - the web page can just send the geolocation directly back to the emergency services! No need to get a human to read it out, then another human to listen and type it in to a different system."

... and if it doesn't? Like most emergency case scenarios? But your phone can easily generate co-ordinates without internet right? How do you transmit them by speech to someone else? 911 is officially using Whatsapp? But you don't have a data connection... // stupid blogger thoughts//

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby adnj » August 16th, 2019, 5:04 pm

I would stick to GPS coordinates if my life depended on it.

You can use GPS on almost any GPS-enabled device with no web connection necessary. Even Google Maps has an offline mode.

10.424,-61.417

Those ten digits will put you within 100m of Ato Boldon Stadium. I believe that most people would be able to clearly communicate a similar string of numbers. That's plenty close for search and rescue.

Since most telephone numbers are ten digits or more, it shouldn't be too hard to memorize either.

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby paid_influencer » August 16th, 2019, 9:24 pm

^i searched those co-ordinates in google maps and it look me to the ocean. you forgot the W and N co-ordinates, which brings it to 12 characters total. in Trinidad we would just need to communicate 3x3 characters, which is nice and something the ODPM should look at.

most of these startup apps are not trying to become successful on their own. they are hoping their company gets bought out by facebook, google or microsoft. the founders get a big payday and the technology goes into a already established platform.

i would also say for every life threatening emergency, there are a thousand not-so-serious events that need location data communicated.

eg very soon once the annual flooding starts again, odpm would need to know where to send the case of waters/food/clothes via pirogue. when all the landmarks and roads are underwater, simple numbers or words generated via ODPM app and communicated by word of mouth would be useful for coordination.

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby redmanjp » August 16th, 2019, 9:34 pm

In the US they have E911 which mandates by law that all phones automatically send their location when 911 is dialed. In a life and death emergency who has time to open an app and send their location? If someone break into your house or someone getting a heart attack you barely have time to pick up the phone to make the call.

Perhaps each provider have an app that detects if an emergency number is dialed and sends this information to the 911/999 call centre. If the phone has no data connection it can be sent by text.

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby ProtonPowder » August 16th, 2019, 11:15 pm

Cant go wrong with UTM coordinates, it is what most government agencies in trinidad use and is actually taught in schools in TnT.

Anybody remember 4 & 6 figure grid references from form 1 geography? Is that self. No hassle with using degress/minutes/seconds or decimal degrees or minutes conversions. The numbers are also more intuitive to use and if you use it often enough, you have a general idea of where in TnT it falling from simply watching the numbers.

A lot of locally used mapping tools already integrate W3W though, a decent one that comes to mind is
http://www.kmsland.com/bmaps/bmaps.htm

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby adnj » August 17th, 2019, 9:15 am

paid_influencer wrote:^i searched those co-ordinates in google maps and it look me to the ocean. you forgot the W and N co-ordinates, which brings it to 12 characters total.
...


Try searching for the coordinates with the dash.

A negative latitude means South of the Equator, and a negative longitude means West of the Prime Meridian.

Location pairs.

+ + : North and East 
+ -  : North and West 
- -   : South and West 
- +  : South and East


redmanjp wrote:in the US they have E911 which mandates by law that all phones automatically send their location when 911 is dialed. ...

Perhaps each provider have an app that detects if an emergency number is dialed and sends this information to the 911/999 call centre. If the phone has no data connection it can be sent by text.


E911 routes the emergency call to the nearest call center based on the cell tower that receives that call.

Dialing an emergency call causes the phone to turn on GPS and embed the GPS information into the call itself. No data connection. No text message. No W3W. No errors.

By law, all US mobiles have E911 auto-location built-in.

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Re: What3words: The app that can save your life

Postby j.o.e » August 17th, 2019, 12:40 pm

Btw guys. This isn’t only about life and death situations. Also conveniently locating locations whether it’s vacations or a project.

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