Nice new address - how did you get it?

David Reed, knowledge and strategy director, DataIQ

Memory.caring.else. That’s one way of describing DataIQ. Another is 51.513385, -0.124353. Or if you want to be traditional about it, Neal Street, London WC2H 9QL. All three are ways of describing our office address. Two of them you will no doubt recognise - the latitude and longitude expressed in degrees which can be readily found on a map, plus the postal address which will allow deliveries to reach the business.

Mapping in this way has been happening since 1884 when 22 countries recognised the meridian line at Greenwich in the UK as the zero point of east-west longitudes. As a system of measuring the earth, its survival is remarkable and its accuracy continues to evolve, hence the six decimal places to which you can now place any location. 

Postcodes started being used by the then-GPO from 1959 for delivery purposes, with a big push for nation-wide adoption in 1974. Since then, they have become common currency for any service that needs to find a physical location with PAF providing a dynamic database which is extensively used by commercial organisations.

Other systems also exist, such as the National Address Gazetteer which is used by emergency services and blends Ordnance Survey, National Valuation Office and Royal Mail data. Each of these serves a specific purposes and has developed to meet the needs of organisations who support their development commercially.

Saying, "meet me at ‘memory.caring.else’” gives an aura of cool.

But what about the description with which this article started? It comes from a new system called what3words, the first algorithm-driven way of assigning a unique reference to a specific physical area, in its case a 3m by 3m space. Having been assigned, these words will never change - something the system has in common with OS co-ordinates and unlike PAF which can be altered and updated as locations undergo redevelopment, change of use, demolition, etc.

It is easy to see how a three-word location is going to appeal to the Millennial audience for whom saying, “meet me at ‘memory.caring.else’” gives an aura of cool, since the other party needs to go to an app to find out where they mean. And once you have an app, you are part of the digital economy.

Postcodes and maps have themselves become embedded into digital and mobile services, of course, so the issue for what3words is what need it is meeting that is not already satisfied? Just being cool or different may get some traction - finding widespread adoption among both companies and customers is what will give it longevity.

In a battle against a mapping business founded in 1791 and a delivery business with its origins as far back as 1660, it is clearly going to be a long campaign. Yet disruptive technologies have shown themselves capable of unseating even the largest incumbents (think mobile phones against landlines) and digitally-native services have an audience that is hungry for novelty and social media-friendly content. So don’t discount the possibility that you will soon be adding a three-word description to your address book.

Please note that blogs are the sole view of the author and that they are not neccesarily the view of IQ ddg Ltd and should not be interpreted as advice. Please read our full disclaimer

Knowledge and strategy director, DataIQ
David is developing the framework for soft skills and career development among data and analytics practitioners. He continues to be editor-in-chief and research director for DataIQ.