Mapping the world in three words

Aramex to invest $3million in UK's what3words, which offers precise locations in countries like the UAE.

An employee walks at the distribution warehouse unit at the Aramex Emirates head offices in Jebel Ali April 10, 2012.

An employee walks at the distribution warehouse unit at the Aramex Emirates head offices in Jebel Ali April 10, 2012.

REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh

Wednesday, Jul 06, 2016

Dubai: It can be difficult finding an address in the UAE. Home addresses and office blocks are often identified by their nearest landmark, a hotel or neighbouring branded tower. This can be confusing even for the most seasoned resident especially when there are similarly named buildings or landmarks in the same area. Abu Dhabi and Dubai have moved to introduce new address systems but some say they still use the old names. Sudden changes such as Dubai’s Tecom area recently being rebranded to Barsha Heights can add to the confusion.

But this is all going to change if Middle East parcel delivery company Aramex has anything to do with it. Last week, Aramex announced it would invest nearly $3 million (Dh11 million) in British company what3words who have mapped out the entire planet into 57 trillion three-metre squares and each with its own unique three-word label. what3words says it can offer more precise locations particular in countries like the UAE, where home delivery is still a relatively new concept. For example, Gulf News’ visitor entrance is magma.diplomat.royally. The main entrance to the Dubai Mall is steamed.arching.shrimps. Entering these three word, each separated with a “.”, into the what3words app or website will give you an exact location within three-metres of the desired address.

Consumer psyche

“We want to be a global standard,” what3words co-founder and chief executive Chris Sheldrick tells Gulf News by phone. “Everywhere that you would be used to seeing an address, so on your business card, your contact us page, we want this to become part of consumer psyche and three-word addresses to be global”

“You should be able to put them into any navigation app, into any eCommerce checkout page.”

The United Nation’s Development Programme is using the technology in Turkey, the Irish government has incorporated the maps into its new postcodes and a delivery company in Brazil uses it.

“For us, getting into these apps and corporations is a way to reach consumers so that the consumers can do things they want to do with a three-word address,” Sheldrick said.

The company, headquartered in London at index.home.raft, started three years ago after Sheldrick spent a decade in the music industry frustrated with people not turning up where they had to be because of navigation problems.

“You give an address to 40 people and people generally show up in 40 different places,” Sheldrick said, lamenting how various apps can give different locations for the same address.

“It was just a constant daily frustration,” he said.

Tied to its investment, Aramex will incorporate what3words’ technology into its delivery system, which Sheldrick said would cut down on call centre and driver expenses generated from delivery delays caused by problems in locating addresses. He said what3words would work “very closely” with Aramex.

Reaching more consumers

No one from Aramex was available for this article but in a statement last week, chief executive Hussain Hachem said it would introduce the maps to its e-commerce operations across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

“We are now better able to reach more consumers worldwide, even those in difficult to access locations,” he said in the statement.

The what3words map and technology is available in 170 countries and 10 languages. By the end of summer, they will add Arabic, Sheldrick said, and they are looking at Farsi, Urdu, and Hindi among other Indian languages.

The locations, named almost at random by an algorithm, exclude homophones such as “son” and “sun” and words that could be insulting or spelt differently in the United Kingdom and the United States. Popular areas use short, common words and more remote locations use longer words.

“When you’re scrolling round the map in Dubai you will find very straight forward words whereas in the northern forests of Russia you would probably find more complicated ... words,” Sheldrick said.

Factbox: Ten well-known landmarks around the world

what3words have carved up the world into 57 trillion million three metre squares each identified by a unique three word name. Gulf News has looked up a list of ten well-known landmarks around the world on the what3words mobile app. Below is a list of their unique three word name.

Buckingham Palace: fence.gross.bats

Burj Khalifa: similar.sediment.slider

Dubai Mall: steamed.arching.shrimps

Eiffel Tower: graphics.dads.inched

Great Pyramid of Giza: revolts.stubble.commuting

Kingdom Tower: ghost.tallest.skydiver

Red Fort (Delhi): limo.snowy.universes

The White House: sulk.held.raves

Statue of Liberty: planet.inches.most

Sydney Harbour Bridge: mercy.home.meal

By Alexander Cornwell Staff Reporter

Gulf News 2016. All rights reserved.

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