Short answer:

Addressing is a key piece of infrastructure, and building a global, multilingual address system tackles huge economic and social problems. However, to create and maintain such an addressing solution takes a lot of resources and money.

It has to be easy to use and work straight out of the box, but an even bigger challenge is to ensure its widespread adoption.

We have developed a business model that works for everybody. what3words is not open source and our focus is on having the right commercial solutions for different users: the system is free to use for most people, while companies that use the service to make money pay a fee. This approach ensures both the scalability and sustainability of the what3words solution.

More detailed answer:

what3words gives every person and every place an address, and helps people communicate and find any location worldwide. what3words provides an addressing infrastructure that works globally, straight out of the box.

It is a solution that can be as fundamental a part of public infrastructure as maps or GPS signals. For some, however, this raises the question whether such an infrastructure solution can be – or should be - underpinned by a commercial business model.

It’s a valid question, and to answer it, we need to look at the challenge involved. Any infrastructure-grade addressing solution has to be:

  • widely used
  • truly global
  • always-on
  • sustainable
  • work both online and offline
  • and it needs to work in many different languages

This is not a mere technical challenge or intellectual exercise. As our friend Steve Coast, the founder of OpenStreetMap, puts it, the value of an addressing solution is “much less in just making any old algorithm and declaring the problem solved. The actual value here is first, to build a great algorithm for people, not just for PhDs in Mathematics. Second to market it.”

Any modern addressing infrastructure has to be 100 per cent built around the ease of use of consumers, not the elegance of the technical solution. That’s why we have chosen 3 word addresses, because they are easier to remember than strings of letters and numbers.

As Steve points out, building the solution can only be the first step. For an addressing solution to become part of the infrastructure, it has to be adopted on a large scale. “Build it and they will come” simply does not work in the world of Geo-referencing solutions.

To create and maintain such a solution, and ensure its widespread adoption - not just by companies and organisations, but also by consumers - takes resources and money. Creating an infrastructure solution is not about taking sides in the often academic debates about open vs closed, commercial vs not-for-profit, free vs fee, or proprietary vs public domain. Declaring a project “open” is not the secret ingredient that guarantees adoption or makes it enterprise-ready.

At what3words, we have created a model that is usable, scalable and sustainable. Using the service is free for end-users, just like – for example – GPS signals, Google or Facebook. Businesses that use our service to make money at scale pay a fee. Take logistics companies, who know all too well that the “last mile” to the consumer’s house door is the most costly part of a parcel’s journey: with what3words they can reduce the number of wrong deliveries, because consumers can pinpoint drop-off locations. Or think of tour operators, who now can direct tourists with precision to their travel destinations.

We are currently working hard to take what3words global, developing solutions for many new languages. To ensure that each of these infrastructure solutions works just as it should - accommodating language-specific rules, without offensive words or homophones, and underpinned by our unique input error correction - requires a lot of resources. We can deliver, because we have a business model that supports us.

what3words is built for survivability. Our solution can outlast our company – what3words Ltd – because our offline tools work regardless of whether our company exists or our own technical infrastructure is down or not. We have a range of provisions, including escrow, so that organisations who integrate what3words can be confident in the long-term viability of the technology.

We developed the what3words solution because we ourselves encountered a very real problem: making sure people can safely find and communicate a location wherever existing addressing systems are not up to the job.

We want to help other people and organisations to achieve the same. As a business, we have a clear goal: to make the world a less frustrating, more efficient and safer place. Our business model ensures both the scalability and sustainability of what3words as a global addressing infrastructure.

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