Rebecca Bernard
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Why Do I Need What3words?

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The free app could be key in emergency situations

I’m always really cautious when social media or the news tells me to download an app. I mean, remember when everyone was all about FaceApp and its aging filter until we learned the Russian developer was selling the pictures? Every couple of months I hear about What3words, and after a bit of research, I think it might make my list of essential downloads.

What is it?

It’s no secret that the world is a big place. While we might always assume everywhere is an address on a map, that’s simply not true. The park you go for a hike in might technically have an address, but your specific location does not. If something happens and you need help, being able to give authorities your exact location will get them to you faster.

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That’s where What3words comes in. The company, founded by U.K. native Chris Sheldrick, divides the whole world into three-meter squares. Each square is then assigned a unique three-word combination that other app users can use to pinpoint an exact location. Besides being great for remote rescues, Sheldrick developed the app to make finding rural addresses and indicating precise meeting points easier than vague instructions.

I work in a big office, and if this app catches on I know I will certainly appreciate being able to tell a delivery driver to meet me at a door with a specific three-word label. It sounds much better than trying to convey that they need to turn left in our office park and use the third door on the right, which is actually kinda hidden by the bigger fourth door.*

Already in use

Back in August, the BBC wrote an investigation into the app. Several emergency service providers use the app to find people in danger, with some going so far as texting a download code to callers. While you do need internet service to download the app, once it’s on your phone it can give your location’s three words without the web. You just need enough service to get a phone call out.

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In one case search-and-rescue teams used What3words to find lost hikers in a natural area. In another, trapped refugees used the app to help paramedics find them and a woman in labor among 20,000 shipping containers at a port.

If you’re looking for a celebrity endorsement (because of course, we all are), this week author Neil Gaiman credited the app with helping a tow truck find him when he had tire troubles in the remote Scottish highlands.

The What3words app is free to download, so I think I’ll take the leap. How about you?

*This is a pain point every time I try ordering Panera. Why are the delivery instruction characters so limited?!