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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

what3words Adopted in Côte d’Ivoire to Improve National Infrastructure

January 19th, 2017 by Susan Smith

Chris Sheldrick, CEO and Co-Founder of what3words, spoke with GISCafe Voice recently about the multi-award winning addressing system’s recent adoption as an addressing standard for La Poste, the Côte d’Ivoire’s national postal system. Côte d’Ivoire is the first African nation – and second country in the world (Mongolia is the first) – to adopt 3 word addresses to improve its national infrastructure.

Officially 22.7 million people live in Côte d’Ivoire, and both the population and cities are growing rapidly. However, the country has only a few street addresses and many informal settlements with no addressing system at all. The current postal system does not deliver to home addresses and instead relies on Post Office boxes and descriptive directions (for example, “opposite the gas station, near the Internet Cafe”). With few street names, many informal settlements and largely description based addressing, La Poste will use 3 word addresses to unlock the region’s economic growth and social development, making home deliveries a reality for millions.

According to company materials, every citizen now has an address, whether they live in rural areas such as opera.cellblock.limb (in English) or espadon.chaleur.éventail (in French), a village near the town of Anoumaba, or hurry.bonds.midwinter (in English) or modeste.déjeunant.enlever (in French) – an unaddressed street junction in a crowded area of Abidjan. what3words will be integrated across La Poste’s internal systems, while postal workers will use a 3 word address to navigate directly to the 3m x 3m square to find a customer’s front door.

3 word addresses will also support La Poste in a significant deal with OCP Africa, the African arm of OCP Group, the world’s largest producer and distributor of fertiliser and other farming products. More than half of Côte d’Ivoire’s land is used for agriculture and La Poste will be using what3words to deliver OCP’s products to farmers across the country.

GISCafe Voice: How many people in the Ivory Coast are technologically enabled with cell phones, computers, etc. to take advantage of this offering?

Chris Sheldrick: Everyone in Cote d’Ivoire can use the system. The system doesn’t require everyone to have cell phones for it to function. People can simply be told their 3 word address to remember or write down. They can then use them when reporting their address in person or over a basic phone via voice or SMS.

For example, in South Africa, Gateway Health is working with previously unemployed youth to go into the townships, give people their 3 word address and educate them on how to use it. Women keep a sticker with their 3 word address in their Bible, as they never lose it. Many women die annually due to complications in child birth. Now if they need to call the emergency services they can specify the exact spot they need help.

Farmstrong, an NGO in Cote d’Ivoire are planning a similar process for the smallholder farmers it serves.

GISCafe Voice: What kind of infrastructure does Cote d’Ivoire have in terms of ownership of land, etc.? How do you see the 3 word addresses impacting the organization of property ownership, land boundaries, etc.?

Chris Sheldrick: what3words certainly has application for landownership and we are being used around the world to specify land parcels. In particular, the Department for Land Reform is piloting the use of 3 word addresses to identify the centre point of each of the land parcels for their one hectare for one household program in South Africa. The 3 word addresses will be added onto the certificates, which will allow individuals and communities to talk about the location of their particular plot. It will also allow government workers to identify and navigate to these plots when they are in the field administering the programme.

GISCafe Voice: How are the three words determined to describe location? Has the choice of words relied on the way people in the various geographic areas think of address?

Chris Sheldrick: The 3 word combinations are broadly random and do not describe or have any relation to the place they reference. We have placed shorter more memorable words in places that speak that language – in Cote d’Ivoire they have relatively short and more common French words. It is a point reference system rather than a navigation system. As such we have distributed similar sounding words far apart, so tiny error in communicating them are very obvious. The system is also fixed, unchanging and every square is already pre-allocated. We have addressed every 3m x 3m square on the planet with 3 words in 13 languages.

GISCafe Voice: How are citizens receiving mail currently?

Chris Sheldrick: Currently most mail is delivered to post-boxes at centralised locations.

GISCafe Voice: You mentioned online shopping. Will this type of address code be able to be used in place of the typical “12 John Street” approach?

Chris Sheldrick: Online retailers are adding a 3 word address field in online check-outs. In places where there is a functioning street addressing system or a passable landmark based system people will add the 3 words to the end of an address to provide a level of specificity that is not currently provided. what3words does not replace but complement existing addressing systems. Where there is a well-established, unambiguous address, we expect that it will continue to be used. However, in Cote d’Ivoire – as in many other places around the world – most locations and houses and businesses don’t have such an address, and that’s where what3words will prove its immense value 

GISCafe Voice: Do you foresee a global shift in the way we express address in the future? What might that look like?

Chris Sheldrick: We believe that word.word.word will become globally recognised on devices, maps, GPS apps, travel guides and social platforms as a way to refer to a location. We are already being used by governments, delivery companies, NGOs and have been built into search engines, drone software and wearables. Adoption of the system will accelerate through next year.

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Categories: Big Data, climate change, cloud network analytics, crowd source, data, emergency response, geospatial, GIS, government, historical topography maps, iPhone, location intelligence, mapping, OGC, Open Source, smartphones, what3words

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