Find Yourself With Just Three Words

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Photo via what3words

What is the best way to know where you are? Bruce Gulland and Katy Blake look at an app that uses an interesting way to give people exact addresses. It has surprising helpful results!

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

Voice 2 

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where is the world they live.

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Voice 1 

Imagine these situations. A young man is walking in the hills. But he is lost. It is getting dark. The man cannot see anything. He falls and hurts his leg. Now he cannot walk and needs help immediately. But he does not know where he is. He cannot ask anyone to come and help him. He does not know how to tell anyone where to find him.

Voice 2 

A young woman is at an outdoor music event. During the event, she is planning to stay in a tent with her friends. She knows which field they are in. So, she walks around the field looking for them. But she cannot find their tent. She does not know how to find the exact position of her friends.

A person hiking in the woods
Image by Leni_und_Tom from Pixabay
Voice 1 

Have you ever been in a situation like this? We do not always know where we are — even with modern technology. This can be annoying in some situations. But it can be very dangerous in other situations. Chris Sheldrick has created something that helps people when they face a problem like this. It helps people all over the world who cannot give an address or say where they are. It is called what3words. Today’s Spotlight is on Chris Sheldrick and his app what3words.

Voice 2 

Chris Sheldrick lives in the United Kingdom. He worked in the music industry for ten years. He organised music events around the world. But every day he had problems with addresses. Musicians and people bringing their equipment often got lost when they tried to find an event. One day in Italy, a driver unloaded equipment at a place one hour north of Rome. But he should have unloaded it one hour south of Rome.

Voice 1 

Sheldrick tried to get the people he worked with to use longitude and latitude to find where to meet. Marking places like this is exact. But it creates a line of 16 numbers to mark the place. It is too difficult to use. Sheldrick wondered if he could change these numbers into something easier.

Voice 2 

Sheldrick had a friend who worked with mathematics. The two men worked together on this problem for six months. They found a simple way to talk about where a person was – their location. In a TED talk, Sheldrick explained what they did:

Voice 3 

‘We divided the world into three-meter squares. We found that we could name every three-meter square in the world separately with just three words. We used 40,000 words which is more than enough for the trillions of squares.’

Voice 1 

So the men gave every square or place a separate three-word address. For example, their company building in London has the address ‘filled.count.soap’. And the door of the UK Prime Minister is ‘slurs.this.shark.’

website screen capture of slurs.this.shark
Website screen capture
Voice 2 

Sheldrick called this new system what3words. He built an app people can use to find places this way. He knew that it could do much more than get musicians to the right place. He believed that what3words could help billions of people in the world who still live without an address. He told the Guardian,

Voice 3 

‘If you think about addresses, some are from centuries ago. Some are from last week. But there is so much of the world that does not use them. Complete countries, like Mongolia or Saudi Arabia, have only ever used directions.’

Voice 1 

Sheldrick knew that people without an address sometimes struggle to get the same services as people who do have an address. For example, if you do not have an address you will find it hard to get a bank account, be listed to vote or receive a letter. So his company built what3words into many languages from Arabic to Urdu. This means what3words can help people in countries that do not have a good address system. It can help people in life or death situations. It can even help businesses work better.

South African what3words
Image via
Voice 2 

In his TED talk, Sheldrick explained some of the ways that what3words has already been used.

Voice 3 

‘In Durban, South Africa, an organisation called Gateway Health provided 11,000 three word address signs in their community. Pregnant mothers can call the emergency services and use the signs to explain exactly where to find them. In the past, the ambulances have often taken hours to find the pregnant mothers. In Mongolia, the National Post Service uses the system. They are now taking mail to many people for the first time. The United Nations are using it to mark photos or pictures in disaster or trouble areas. They can then take aid to exactly the right place. Even Domino’s Pizza use it in the Caribbean. They want to get their food to people while it is still hot.’

Image via
Voice 1 

People all over the world use the what3words app. It is free to emergency services and individuals. In the United Kingdom, Jess Tinsley and her friends went for a walk. But they got lost. It was dark and wet, and Tinsley was near to tears. She said,

Voice 4 

‘We were in a field and had no idea where we were.’

Voice 2 

She got a phone signal and called the emergency services. They told her to use the what3words app.  She quickly did this. The emergency services knew where she was in less than a minute. Soon they found and rescued Tinsley and her friends.

Voice 1 

In Uganda, what3words worked with the Community Development Centre to bring 3word addresses to refugee camps in the area of Arua. The Centre will discover and record 3word addresses for every home and important building in the camp. This means health workers will be able to find people who need medical services. But it means much more than this. Sebit Martin is a leader at the Community Development Centre. On the what3words website, Martin explained why it was important for refugees to have an address.

Voice 5 

‘We want to give refugees the self-respect they deserve. We can improve their living conditions. 3word addresses will give everyone an easy way of talking about places. But these addresses are also a better language of hope in the refugee camp.’

Voice 2 

Do you have an address? Have you ever had problems finding a place? Would this app help you? Tell us about it. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at You can also comment on Facebook at Visit us on YouTube at

Voice 1 

The writer of this programme was Katy Blake. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for the programme and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this programme again, and read it, on the internet at This programme is called ‘Find Yourself With Just Three Words’

Voice 2 

Visit our website to download our free official App for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight programme. Goodbye.

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Have you ever been lost before? How did you find your way to safety?

Join the discussion

  • I have never heard about this app. It’s interesting and useful, because address means independence and indentify into society. It’s really good, after all it gives life’s quality.

  • – Ummm no
    – actually I’ve never faced a situation like that , so I can’t say anything about that .
    I think if i get lost one day , I’ll use this app automatically

  • No, thank God I haven’t but if I get lost I will try to ask anyone around me or I would use google map to find my location and finally if none of the methods I mentioned before work I’ll call the emergency and tell them where I am by using what3words app.

  • Before, i ever been lost. That is my first time to the city, where i was study university. I found my way to school by myself and i lost. because there are many roads and they are almost similar. Innitial, i used google map to find the way but i can’t find my school. then i asked the people on the streets. Fortunately they are very friendly. i can find my school with their guidance.

  • What3words is the good idea app. But, if the lost person do not have the internet, the address can not do anything. And, we must use internet to direct to exact 3words adress. Therefore, we can use google map or microsoft map.

  • I have ever been lost before when I go out to meet my friends. It is a waste of time to find out way home. I was lost in the alley. There are many alleys on one street, so I decided wrong It made me lost.

  • I’ve never been lost before, and now I’m sometimes just lost in the city, not much difficult to find the right way to go home, but I’m still wondering how what3words app will help me because I already use Google Maps, which is also very convenient; perhaps what3words app could be easier to use than Google Maps.

  • Yes i did, i ask the policeman and i told him my father’s number and he told my father where was i.

  • Omg that’s amazing it’s my first time listens abou that I’m actually know download this app and create an account at it.

  • I’m not good at remember addresses. Sometimes I lost way when go to HCM city, I try to ask anyone around me for help. Now you can search google map how to go where you need. This way is really useful and convenient for us when looking for new addresses.

  • When I was seven years old, my mother and I went to visit relatives because I was bored, so I found my way home first and I was lost in the end. When I discovered I was lost, I promptly followed the old road to get back to my relative’s house and they drove me home.

  • Yes , i had before lost during i was in the shopping.
    I just used the GPS system to find the right way.

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