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‘What3words will boost Nigeria’s addressing system’

By Adeyemi Adepetun
16 August 2017   |   3:48 am
The clearest benefit is this: absolutely everybody in Nigeria will have an address by using this system. This is because at the moment, many streets are not named in Nigeria.

Chris Sheldrick is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of what3words

Chris Sheldrick is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of what3words, the simplest way to communicate locations. The UK-based company solves the problem that roughly 75 per cent of the world faces: inconsistent, complicated, poor, or no addressing. By carving the global map up into 57 trillion 3mx3m squares, what3words created a universal addressing system that uses a unique string of three words to specify any location. The new solution is to be adopted in Nigeria through NIPOST partnership. Sheldrick, in a telephone interview with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, spoke on how the new solution would aid Nigeria’s addressing system, eCommerce services, among others. Excerpts:

Can you shed more light on what what3words is all about in “lay man’s language” that the average Nigerian can understand?
Around the world, 75 per cent of the countries have insufficient, complicated or even no addressing systems at all. That means four billion people do not have an address. This hampers economic and social growth; businesses can’t be found, individuals don’t receive urgent medical attention in time, remote assets are difficult to manage, lands titles are sometimes hard to administer, among others. While there are other alternatives in place, they are not good enough for today’s needs; street addressing is very costly, landmark addressing is frustrating and not scalable, and GPS coordinates are nearly impossible to communicate without mistakes. So what3words is a global address system, describing any location in Nigeria, or the world using just three words. We have divided the whole world into 3m x 3m squares. There are 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares in the world, and we’ve named every square with three words. For example, if I say to you “table.chair.spoon”, that is the name of a 3m square. And you can use the free app to discover your three word address; you can give it to somebody else, they will type in the three word address, and they would find your house.

What benefit does it bring to the current addressing system in Nigeria?
The clearest benefit is this: absolutely everybody in Nigeria will have an address by using this system. This is because at the moment, many streets are not named in Nigeria. And even the streets that are named, the house numbers are inconsistent or perhaps don’t exist. When people type in a street address into a map app on their phone, it often doesn’t take them to the right place. So the big benefit is that from today, everybody in Nigeria can just use a three word address to describe where they live, which is enormously valuable. We currently have it in Djibouti, Cote D’Ivoire. Nigeria is the third.

Have you considered those in the very remote parts of Nigeria?
NIPOST will shortly start an education campaign around the whole country, by using their network of post offices, workers, communication channels through TV, radio, to encourage everybody to find their three word addresses. Now perhaps in the villages, it will take a little bit longer for the message to reach them, but with the assistance of NIPOST and family members, they too will be able to discover and use their three word address.

What triggered the partnership between your company and NIPOST in Nigeria?
Whilst many letters are now replaced by emails, there is still no other solution for parcels than to be physically delivered. And there as well, NIPOST is determined to improve its quality of service and the number of people it delivers to. Today, NIPOST only delivers to 20 per cent of households. In two years, through the Mail for Every House Initiative (MEHI), it hopes to reach 70 per cent, and even 90 per cent in 2020.

Implementing the what3words addressing system will help achieve these targets. They are looking for an address solution that works today, without having to wait for all of the street naming and numbering to be sorted out, which could take decades. We supply NIPOST with software so they will be able to use three word addresses at scale. The people of Nigeria can access the free app called what3words that is in the app store. And for anyone in Nigeria, it is free to use this app to find their own address and to use it.

Looking at the booming e-commerce sector in Nigeria, how will this add up for the players?
It will boost the sector because the e-commerce stores and the courier services become more efficient. That means they can lower the price of delivery for people, and that means people are going to be keener to have things delivered to their homes or offices, and they will trust the service. So, we will be reducing costs for the key businesses involved, improving the customer experience for the consumers themselves, and lowering the prices for the consumers so they can make more purchases. It is a whole ecosystem improvement.

The what3words ecosystem, is there any link between it and Google map system?
What3words works with any map on the what3words app, it works with Google maps, but we also display 3-word addresses on top of many other maps including “Esri” and OpenStreetMap. We can work with any Nigerian mapping providers too. Whilst we choose to use Google Maps for our apps, we can work with any mapping provider.

You say the app is free, what then is the bottom-line for your company?
We have a licence with National Post Services in countries, including NIPOST. It’s the businesses we charge and we will be charging any other courier providers in Nigeria, but for consumers, it is entirely free. All you have to do is to download the what3words app, and find your 3-word address, share it with people, and they can use it to find you.

Does the app work offline?
Yes it does. Once you have downloaded the app, you can use it offline as well. Also what3words is integrated in a number of offline map apps too, like Navmii, the world’s biggest offline mapping app. It’s a big benefit even for people in rural villages – what3words works offline, even if you have no data connection at all.