Have you ever struggled to explain where you are, get a package delivered to a wrong address, or have a taxi taken you to the wrong address? This is an occurrence in everyone’s daily lives. How do you describe where you are, or how do you explain it when the addresses are unclear? What3Words aligns with your struggles and believes that the addressing system can be, and should be better.
How does it work?
What3Words found that the current addressing system isn’t suitable for everyday needs. Street addresses can be incorrect, ambiguous, or even non-existent. Businesses and homes are located nowhere near a zip code. And a large chunk of the world doesn’t even have an address. What3Words came up with a solution to this problem by dividing the world in a grid of thee square meters, each with its own unique three word address. If you need a package delivered in the slums, you’re looking for your friends at a festival, or you need medical aid in the middle of the Sahara, What3Words can guide you there. With worldwide partners as UNICEF (medical aid), Mercedes (navigation), and Domino’s (off the grid pizza delivery) is What3Words becoming ready to conquer the world. The below video shows what it’s all about.
What3Words believes in a better addressing system worldwide, and therefore provides its algorithm through an API to everyone that is willing to use it. However, how does this provide joint profitability? What3Words mainly acts as a service provider, a platform where businesses and non-profit organizations can utilize their API to provide a better service to individuals. Lives can be saved by locating people faster, but also businesses experience an increase in value through this new addressing system. One example is a pilot study at global logistics and transportation company Aramex who tested the system with 100 deliveries in Dubai, comparing both the old system and the 3 word addresses. They found that the deliveries with 3 word addresses were 42% faster and reduced the total distance travelled by 22%, proving the profitability of the system in this segment (What3Words n.d.). However, how is What3Words profiting as their API is up for grasps? Firstly, What3Words basically crowdsources the application of its system, lowering its own innovation costs (Bockstedt et al. 2016). Governments, organizations, individuals, everyone can contribute to the application of 3 word addresses. Secondly, What3Words generates revenue by offering its API for free but charging for high volume usage (Henderson 2017).
The switching costs of the 3 word addressing system are currently influenced by only two alternatives. Individuals either return to their old addressing system, or secondly, switch to regular GPS coordinates. However, does What3Words suffer from these alternatives when its addressing system is already adopted? This system is developed as such to be comprehensive, easy to use, and to fill the gaps that other systems leave. The old addressing systems are incomplete, ambiguous, or even non-existent, and GPS coordinates are difficult to communicate. Once adopted it is expected that the switching costs of this system are high as alternatives cannot live up to the same standard.
When evaluating the institutional arrangements it can be seen that What3Words adopted cleaver restrictions. By providing an open API it can limit the customization possibilities of its technology to such extend that users act within boundaries that not harm the purpose, or the company. Furthermore, What3Words provides flexibilities to organizations by providing personalized pricing mechanisms that never transfer any ownership of the technology. As discussed earlier there is a free tier for low volume use of the API, and a payed tier for high volume usage, but on top of that offers the organization also special arrangements for qualifying non-profit organizations Henderson (2017). The institutional environment, on the other hand, does not has an answer to this system, as there are no restrictions being placed nation – or worldwide yet.
Great stuff! Why not use it?
Saving lives, never missing out on a delivery, and always getting where you want to be. Is this reality, or is this too good to be true? Although many practical implications already have proven its value (e.g. Aramex delivery pilot) and many businesses started leveraging 3 word addresses, there still are some concerns to the applicability of the system. One of the main concerns is that the 3 word addresses only provide you with an horizontal location, but does not specify the height at for example a multi-storey building. Another downside is the randomness of the word combination. Knowing where you are now doesn’t help you in getting somewhere else.
To conclude it seems that What3Words has a system in hand that could truly benefit the world. Those locations that lack reliable addressing systems, possess remote locations, or encounter a natural hazard seem to be well suited, however, the system may not be as applicable to all.
Bockstedt, J., Druehl, C. and Mishra, A. (2016) ‘Heterogeneous Submission Behavior and its Implications for Success in Innovation Contests with Public Submissions’. Production and Operations Management, 25(7): 1157-1176.
Carson S. J., D. T. (1999). Understanding Institutional Designs Within Marketing Value Systems. Journal of Marketing Vol 63, 115-130.
Henderson (2017) ‘ How does what3words create revenue?’ Accessed on 10 March 2018 on https://support.what3words.com/hc/en-us/articles/207065989-How-does-what3words-create-revenue-
What3Words (n.d.) ‘ Simpler, faster, better: 3 word addresses take on Dubai’s street addresses in Aramex delivery challenge’. Accessed on 10 March 2018 on https://what3words.com/partner/aramex-delivery-challenge/
What3Words (n.d.) ‘About’. Accessed on 10 March 2018 on https://what3words.com/about/.