What3Words Is a Mess w3w.me.ss

The promise of What3Words is appealing. Sometimes, you need to reference a location, but you might not know the address or it may not have one. GPS coordinates are precise, but long strings of numbers are cumbersome to read aloud. Would it not be great if you could just read three English-language words to someone, like an emergency operator? I thought so.

But I stumbled across this amazing catalogue of how What3Words is insufficient for emergency use. This comes by way of a Twitter thread where the queue to see Queen Elizabeth’s coffin has apparently stretched as far away as North Carolina and California.

The website documents the kind of problems which, in hindsight, are pretty obvious for a location service built around English-language words. There are homophones that point to wildly different locations — a big problem if you are reading a location over a phone or radio. There are issues with text-based modes, too, like a subtle spelling change in a text message, perhaps a result of an automatic correction, pointing emergency services to a different place. Plurals are a problem in either application.