• This topic has 171 replies, 57 voices, and was last updated 4 days ago by kelvin.
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  • What3words…
  • Premier Icon boblo
    Free Member

    Not sure if I’ve seen anything on here about this.

    What3words is a phone or Edge app that identifies any location in the world by 3 words. This is being used more and more by the emergency services and I can attest to its usefulness having been ambulanced (is that a new verb?) off somewhere reasonably remote recently after a ‘coming together’. I was not making any sense but one of my friends called 999 and identified the What3words location with the call handler. 15 minutes later, the ambulance was on scene. I’m not suggesting this is a panacea but it just might make a difference…

    https://what3words.com

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-49319760

    Premier Icon ElShalimo
    Free Member

    This has been around for a few years now (started as a website). They started marketing it for other purposes but for emergency services it’s  really useful.

    Premier Icon NewRetroTom
    Full Member

    It comes in for a bit of stick from some quarters:

    Why bother with What Three Words?

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

    Premier Icon CraigW
    Free Member

    Great advertising by the BBC. Have they just published the entire press release?

    Why not use OS grid references? A much better solution for emergencies etc.

    Premier Icon boblo
    Free Member

    Well fair enough, use it or don’t – it’s your choice.

    As an individual end user, the price model or ‘secrecy’ around the algorithm etc makes zero difference. All I can say is, in a real situation it aided identifying my location. Yes there are alternatives which we may well have access to and understand how to use, for the general population, the simpler the better…

    Premier Icon andytherocketeer
    Full Member

    Cos W3W would work anywhere in the world, but OS grid ref only on mainland UK?
    Been around a while, and an interesting concept. Google made up it’s own similar reference system to identify locations using a random grouping of letters and numbers. No idea to what level of accuracy a reference would cover. Spose I could check, but I don’t have an app to do them.

    Premier Icon ElShalimo
    Free Member

    Not everyone has a map to hand, even then you need to be able to read it and work out your location. W3W is<span style=”font-size: 0.8rem;”> useful in those circumstance.</span>

    When they stated off in the so-called location intelligence market they didn’t get a good response so diversifying to consumers is one way to increase their profile. I wonder who is bank rolling them?

    Premier Icon CraigW
    Free Member

    You can use a free app on your phone to give you a grid ref. eg the OS Locate app. Or loads the other apps. That’s the good thing about an open standard, you are not reliant on a particular app/website. Which may stop working or become more expensive in the future.

    Or the same with Plus codes etc, which is Google’s system. Already built into the Google Maps app, or OsmAnd, or Alpinequest etc.

    Premier Icon mrmoofo
    Full Member

    Like anyone else who ride an MTB, I have been getting the W3W viral marketing posts all over FaceBook.
    It sound like a good idea … but is it that widely used…
    TBH, I thought if you had a mobile phone , they will know where you are …

    But the constant promotion this am is getting my back up …

    Premier Icon NewRetroTom
    Full Member

    Cos W3W would work anywhere in the world, but OS grid ref only on mainland UK?

    Although W3W has a different set of words for each language, and you can’t translate without using their database. So if you tell the W3W English version to the French emergency services it will be pretty useless.

    There are better solutions for finding people who don’t know their location:
    https://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/skills/using_sarloc_for_rescue_on_your_smartphone-10917

    Premier Icon whitestone
    Free Member

    In the UK we’ve SARLoc and OSLocate but any phone app obviously depends on being able to get a phone signal as does W3W and that location may not be where the casualty is situated nor the most suitable access point. I’ve had occasion to use SARLoc but haven’t used OSLocate.

    My GPS (Garmin Oregon) can display a ten figure OS grid reference as one of its fields. Outside the UK I could set the field up to display Lat-Long figures.

    As above, it’s a closed product from which the company wishes to make money.

    Premier Icon ajaj
    Full Member

    Google’s plus codes (Open Location Code) are better in almost every respect – hierarchical, open, shorter, more accurate, easier to communicate, case insensitive and more widely available.

    What3words’s business model is to get emergency services to pay for something they could get free elsewhere.

    Unfortunately what3words have an active marketing department that spread the misinformation above.

    Premier Icon wwaswas
    Full Member

    any phone app obviously depends on being able to get a phone signal as does W3W

    What3Words works offline so yes, you need a phone signal (or someone to carry a message) to report your location but not to actually use the app to find where you are.

    Looks like my local HARTS team use it so I’ve downloaded it.

    https://twitter.com/SCAS_HART/status/1159941044559122432

    Premier Icon boblo
    Free Member

    It works without phone signal off the phones GPS which is a moot point as you’ll need signal to phone 999…

    I don’t really care about their business model or the inner workings of their marketing Dept or app. If it improves response times – all good.

    Who would have thought this subject would be so contentious….

    Premier Icon wwaswas
    Full Member

    It works without phone signal off the phones GPS which is a moot point as you’ll need signal to phone 999…

    I can make a phone call with no data connection. Equally if I’m witha group someone can walk/ride to a place where a signal is availabel and report the location.

    Don;t like a busniess model then don’t use it but it’s beign used for real casualties…

    Premier Icon funkmasterp
    Full Member

    To be fair any subject becomes contentious on here. If it helps emergency services get to where they need to be then it’s all good.

    Premier Icon boblo
    Free Member

    @wwaswas Real casualties? Yep that was sorta my point: me in the last couple of weeks. If only I’d considered their business ethics before calling the ambulance…

    Premier Icon NewRetroTom
    Full Member

    Who would have thought this subject would be so contentious….

    Are you new here?

    Premier Icon CraigW
    Free Member

    How much are the emergency services paying to use it? What if what3words start charging 10 times as much next year, when they are more reliant on it?

    Premier Icon whitestone
    Free Member

    I don’t really care about their business model or the inner workings of their marketing Dept or app.

    Which is what they are relying on. Why should our cash strapped emergency services use money for a service for which there are free and better alternatives?

    As above I’ve used SARLoc: Mountain rescue send a text, you open that text and your location is automatically texted back to them. If you’ve moved to get a signal then obviously you have to provide further information but you’ll be providing casualty info anyway.

    Premier Icon Houns
    Full Member

    As someone who has taken emergency phone calls all I can say is you try getting a grid ref, or even a street name from someone who has taken a massive overdose and can barely talk

    Premier Icon dissonance
    Full Member

    As someone who has taken emergency phone calls all I can say is you try getting a grid ref, or even a street name

    If you have problems getting the street name then wont you have equally hard time getting three random words out of them. Assuming they have the app.
    I sort of see the idea behind it but seems pretty limited. SARLoc seems a better approach.

    Premier Icon poly
    Free Member

    So to be clear W3W works without data connection. It also makes it particularly easy to send the three words by text as well as other means (text being more likely to work in poor signal areas). IMHO three words are likely to be more robust than an inexperienced person in a stressful situation reading out a long string of numbers, then someone else typing them in. You might be able to get a 10digit grid ref out your gps but does the recipient know what to do with it. The google solution has a lot going for it (but still involves inexperienced people reading weird jumbles of characters) but I’m not convinced that business ethics is a strong argument to use them instead.

    Premier Icon nickc
    Full Member

    Looks like my local HARTS team use it

    This is the point really, if the emergency services are using it, then it makes it a no-brainer really. It’s fine to complain about debatable business practices sat behind a computer screen but are you really going to have a conversation with the operator about it when they ask if you can give them a what3words location…

    Operator: Do you have what3words installed, I can find you v quickly and get help to come to you.

    Broken person on a hill: well, no I don’t as I think their ethics are a bit shady, so I’ve downloaded this random piece of free tech ware I found from a climbing website forum, hang on…

    Operator: right…

    Premier Icon MrSparkle
    Free Member

    I work for a Sound Insulation company and our 3 words ref incudes the word ‘Sound’. My home address 3 words ref includes the word ‘Sparks’. (Given my user name it’s near enough). Makes you think…

    Premier Icon whitestone
    Free Member

    A couple of technical problems with W3W:

    ” What3words reserves the right to change their list of words and will not be responsible for the consequences” (Their T&Cs)

    There’s no logic to the assignment of the words so “one two three” is nowhere near “one two four”

    Also what if you don’t have a smart phone? How do you download the app? That applies to SARLoc and OSLocate as well BTW.

    Premier Icon whitestone
    Free Member

    This is from W3W’s “branding firm”:

    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.

    Taken from the link @NewRetroTom posted – https://shkspr.mobi/blog/2019/03/why-bother-with-what-three-words/

    Premier Icon dissonance
    Full Member

    Also what if you don’t have a smart phone?

    I am not sure that really counts as a technical issue. No one is suggesting that any of these apps become the one and only source of info. They just make things, in theory easier. Although in this case I am not overly convinced.

    Premier Icon nickc
    Full Member

    Also what if you don’t have a smart phone?

    Can't tell if you're being serious or just trolling - Can't tell if you're being serious or just trolling  Unsure Fry

    Premier Icon ajaj
    Full Member

    “Who would have thought this subject would be so contentious….”

    People got really upset about Martin Shkreli charging inflated rates for drugs, this is no different.

    Any money that the NHS wastes on this – and all the money they spend on this is wasted because there are free alternatives – is money that doesn’t go on making patients better.

    Premier Icon CraigW
    Free Member

    If you don’t have a smartphone, you can still get a grid ref from your paper map. You can’t use a paper map for What3words.
    Which is why the emergency services need to be trained to know about grid references, and what to do with them.

    Premier Icon wors
    Full Member

    Hmm According to their website the earth is covered in 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares yet uses a word database of 25000 words. How does that compute?

    Premier Icon whitestone
    Free Member

    @nickc – not every does have a smartphone though they are becoming ubiquitous mainly because no-one seems to make anything else, but you can’t (yet) rely on it.

    Again from the Terence Eden blog link:

    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.

    So while W3W (I keep hitting shift on the ‘3’ which appropriately gives W£W!) seems like a solution to locating someone it’s actually adding an unnecessary layer of complexity for which W3W charge.

    SARLoc is free and does pretty much exactly what is quoted above:

    uses functions of the web browser available on many mobiles. Once the missing person makes the distress call to 999 and the Mountain Rescue Team has been engaged by the Police, the Rescue Team Search Manager sends a SARLOC text to the phone of the missing person. The caller then just clicks on the link in the text, the webpage asks the phone for it’s location, which is displayed on the Rescue Team’s map. At the same time the caller sees a page reassuring them that the team know where they are, and help is on it’s way. Don’t worry, the caller doesn’t need to do anything more technical than simply clicking on a link in a standard text message! It’s an interesting and very useful bit of kit, but has limitations in that the lost person needs to have a phone which has an internet connection and location services enabled hence it can’t be used for all missing person searches.

    It’s not limited to the UK either.

    Premier Icon joeydeacon
    Free Member

    Hmm According to their website the earth is covered in 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares yet uses a word database of 25000 words. How does that compute?

    May have misunderstood the question, but 25000^3 equals 390625000000000000 unique word combinations

    Premier Icon nickc
    Full Member

    @whitestone, yeah I know not everyone has a smart phone, but this IS specifically a smart phone solution, so what’s you point?

    Me: I’ve thought of a great idea for a business; make shoes…

    whitestone: Not everyone has feet you know…

    Premier Icon TiRed
    Full Member

    People got really upset about Martin Shkreli charging inflated rates for drugs, this is no different.

    Sorry but that is nonsense. Shkreli obtained marketing rights to a medicine already in common use, filed for its use in a specific indication, then upped the price as it was an indication, not the previous off-label use. Reimbursement rules in the US allowed this once an approved medicine for an indication is available – their hands were basically tied by their own rules.

    W3W have used innovation to develop a product that they wish to market. That is perfectly acceptable behaviour from any company. Like so many things, software included, you get what you pay for. It is up to the market to decide whether the innovation is worth the investment. It is also up to the market to determine whether a competitor might want to produce a competitor product.

    From what I see, it looks pretty reasonable. I’ve given a few emergency calls, I typically know where I am, but Houns is right. Everyone is calm and collected behins their keyboard. Out in the field it’s a different story.

    EDIT: Actualy it’s 3 Choose 25000 = 25000!/3!24997! which is 25000x24999x2499824997/6 = 65,088,542,812,475,000 – plenty to go around (about 1,000 per square)!

    Premier Icon whitestone
    Free Member

    @nickc – just come across another couple of problems. I’ve just been up the lane to put the rubbish out and it’s blowing a hoolie – what’s the guarantee that the operator correctly hears the three words at the other end? Plus you’ve got accents to deal with. With SARLOC I’d just click on a link in a text and it works.

    Since W3W can change the mapping (sic) between the three words and the referenced location that means everyone must use the same dictionary otherwise you’ll be sending the emergency services goodness knows where.

    I’m not against anyone coming up with a business plan and making money from it, but in this instance it’s more complicated and less resilient than the free alternatives.

    Premier Icon boblo
    Free Member

    in this instance it’s more complicated and less resilient than the free alternatives

    Yeah but it really isn’t is it? The dictionary is online so everyone will always be using the same one as they’re all on line. Shouting out 3 random words is not really any more complex or error prone than shouting out random numbers is it? Really? <sigh>

    There’s no need for anyone to agonise over this. Don’t use it if you don’t want to. AFAIK they haven’t made it mandatory so use whatever you need or have to hand. I used to carry a SPOT when waddling about solo and now carry an EPIRB as I don’t want to rely on phones but this struck me as something simple for simple folks and having very recent first hand experience of it, thought some of the simple folk on here might find it useful.

    Premier Icon whitestone
    Free Member

    @boblo – but they’ve said in their T&Cs that they can change the dictionary, in fact I’d expect them to so that it doesn’t get pirated. From reading around, the app and dictionary are 50Mb so if you’ve an old one you’d have to download it before being able to give your position. And before you start with: “well do that at home”, there’s no guarantee that the update is available when you are home or in signal, there’s a window of uncertainty.

    It’s not about me or you using it, it’s about emergency services using public money on it when there are better alternatives that are simpler to use. As I noted before I’ve used SARLOC as a 999 caller (I was calling on behalf of a Saudi couple): get text from MRT, click on link in text, job done, they knew where I was. There was no “could you repeat that please?” etc. it was as error free as could be.

    The BBC article you linked to is all but an advert for W3W, all the photos are supplied by them, there’s no discussion of anything else that MRT or emergency services use.

    Yes it’s a solution but it’s by no means the best one available, they just have a very active PR and legal department.

    Premier Icon deadkenny
    Free Member

    It’s a solution. It’s not going to be universal without an open platform which isn’t going to happen if they want to make money given it’s a product with no other value than a co-ordinate system. If it restricts integration into other apps and web sites then less people are going to use it.

    Though OS stuff is licensed also to integrate with, but they do have open platforms to access basic data for free. Plus printed maps to get grid reference off (but you’re shelving out money for those too). Is of course, UK only.

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