Feb
04

Tonga adopts what3words as national postal addressing system

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Source: Tonga adopts what3words as national postal addressing system

This is perhaps the fourth recent announcement of a post, generally in a smaller, often developing, nation, adopting what3words.  St. Maarten and Mongolia and Cote d’Ivoire are additional examples. This series of adoptions is leading to the conclusion that this system is not a flash in the pan; some serious professionals charged with the very serious matter of delivering letters and parcels to citizens, and  fulfilling other important government functions, have been convinced that the system is satisfactory.

We are still dubious.  Giving every 3-square meter piece of the earth’s surface a 3-word name is a remarkable achievement, especially when done in more than a dozen languages and with sensitivity for “offensive” words!

But this old letter carrier wonders what the postman does when walking her route. There is no continuity from building to building…no 201, 203, 205.  The old pros memorize their routes in short order, to be sure. But what about the parcel carriers who literally drive a different route every delivery day?

It seems delivery must be accomplished with the aid of some digital tools, like a mobile phone. This may prove to be a major problem in the developing world.

On the other hand, as one looks at an overhead photo of the streets of many of the adopting countries, there is a commonality. The “streets” sometimes are dirt paths, some wider, some narrower. The streets are often twisty and complex. One historian of London noted that many of its oldest streets follow the paths created by browsing cows, and British cows never walked a straight line. Cows share this proclivity world-wide.  This is not 2,4,6 territory.

What this suggests for the exercise of postal responsibilities is that the best one can do is to identify delivery points, make the mapping of those points universally accessible, and let the public and the posts and delivery agents accommodate themselves to creating their own logical ordering or data systems.

The “address” data implicit in “one.two.three” (author’s creation, by the way) is quite spare. This designation actually says nothing at all about its location or that of its neighbors in the way that “132 W. 16th St” does.  It identifies only this one small spot in its lonely glory somewhere on Earth.

BUT, and this is where “system” comes in,  when connected to the main database and a “translation facility” (read – “map on my mobile phone”) every square can be pictorially presented. Your address becomes what it is in any system – an identity point with neighbors. Presuming the website from which you are ordering a Valentine’s Day gift supports it, you can provide your loved one’s what3words address, and it will identify both the location and the person.  She might have to visit the local post office responsible for her address, and she would identify herself with her name and her new “geographical id”, her address. (And you will be a hero!)

All of which makes perfect sense and provides the individual with an “address identity” which is necessary for many things in the nation – open a bank account, buy an air ticket, apply to university, obtain government benefits, send children to school, vote…..  This alone justifies this exercise. An address validates an individual as properly existing and entitled to exercise the rights recognized by the country.  But, unlike traditional addressing systems, the address does not have as its primary purpose the identification of a building, nor does it fulfill the other traditional goal – identify the parcel for taxation purposes!

So what3words is a child of the digital era. Each of these three-somes is a lonely construct within a massive database awaiting the touch of clever people to manipulate and render it useful for human purposes, as can be seen at the company’s website. It’s worth a visit.

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