what3words revolutionises street addresses in Mongolia


What in the world: what3words revolutionises street addresses in Mongolia

In a country where many live without a defined street address, the national postal service – Mongol Post – has adopted the what3words system of global addressing.

what3words addresses turn the world into a series of 3x3-metre squares with random but fixed three-word names. The results look like this: apple.waltz.decimal, which happens to be at the front of the Tsim Sha Tsui Centre on Kowloon’s Salisbury Road. Squares close by all have totally different names, partly to make errors obvious.

The square just east of apple.waltz.decimal is repeating.cabinet.bubbles, while the similar-sounding apples.waltzes.decimal is in Alaska. Meanwhile, latitude 53.96616N, longitude 1.09871W, found in a corner of a playing field in York, England, is much more easily remembered as funny.happy.dogs. 

The system aims to be “the simplest way to communicate location”. Launched in 2013 with backers including Intel Capital, it won the Grand Prix for Innovation at the 2015 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. 

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It’s particularly useful for addressing places that don’t have a street address, whether they be the Mongolian steppe, the Australian outback or a forest in Sumatra. The system is also multilingual; each location can be expressed in English, French, Spanish and several other tongues, so funny.happy.dogs is also kusura.kapanir.kariyer in Turkish. 

Addresses can be poetic, as with live.work.dream in the backstreets of the US town of Lebanon, Indiana. Or they can be, well, undignified. For example, just south of Jamyan Street in central Ulan Baator, Mongolia, some residents will soon be able to have their mail sent to the memorable English-language address of snacking.ooze.thigh.
In such places, at least, the habit of using a street address is likely to hang on for a while yet.

Read next: What the future of global postal services looks like

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