10 votes

The ‘Amazon of Africa’ faces a big challenge: No addresses

8 comments

  1. [8]
    onyxleopard Link
    The lack of postal addresses is what what3words was invented to solve. I’m surprised that hasn’t seen more adoption. Personally, I like the idea of a shared global address space more than...

    The lack of postal addresses is what what3words was invented to solve. I’m surprised that hasn’t seen more adoption. Personally, I like the idea of a shared global address space more than traditional street addresses.

    It must be hard to do business in areas where there is so little trust, though. Even using Amazon in the US, I don’t have complete trust in the organizations fulfilling orders. I ordered an external hard drive last year where someone had put a label for a higher capacity over the original label (as if I wouldn’t notice). The difference in the high and low capacity was significant and I’m sure Amazon has to write this kind of fraud off. I even had one order one time where I received an empty, yet unopened package! At least I have trust that Amazon would not screw me over (and they did send me the corrected orders eventually, but it might have been problematic if these were items that I needed for something time sensitive).

    5 votes
    1. [2]
      burkaman Link Parent
      The idea of a global address space is good, but it shouldn't be administered by a for-profit company. what3words has a lot of issues and isn't a great solution for the problem they claim to be...

      The idea of a global address space is good, but it shouldn't be administered by a for-profit company. what3words has a lot of issues and isn't a great solution for the problem they claim to be solving: https://shkspr.mobi/blog/2019/03/why-bother-with-what-three-words/

      Simple latitude/longitude coordinates are already universally adopted, intuitive to use, completely decentralized, require almost zero dependencies, free, internationalized, etc.

      9 votes
      1. onyxleopard Link Parent
        As someone who recently looked into ISO standards for lat/long, it’s actually a mess. You basically have to rely on an existing geo system and hope that the data you receive is in a supported format.

        As someone who recently looked into ISO standards for lat/long, it’s actually a mess. You basically have to rely on an existing geo system and hope that the data you receive is in a supported format.

    2. [5]
      imperialismus Link Parent
      I don’t see why what3words would be preferable to traditional street addresses in places that actually have them. Street addresses are how people navigate and talk about places locally; I see no...

      I don’t see why what3words would be preferable to traditional street addresses in places that actually have them. Street addresses are how people navigate and talk about places locally; I see no reason to use some odd third-party system except in places that do not have actual addresses. And even then, wouldn’t GPS coordinates be easier? Those, at least, a courier can plug into any number of satnav systems that already exist.

      Where I live, in Northern Europe, many rural areas got street addresses for the first time a couple of years ago. Before that, if you were to send something to them, you’d list the name and post code, and rely on local post delivery people to know who lives in which house. The thing that finally prompted the government to assign mandatory street addresses to every residence was centralization of emergency services. You call for an ambulance and someone 500km away may answer, suddenly ‘so-and-so’s house 100m north of the community hall by the bend in the river’ becomes a problem. I guess that is not really an issue (unfortunately) in most of Africa, since emergency services are run on prayer and a shoestring budget if they exist at all.

      3 votes
      1. [4]
        onyxleopard Link Parent
        It may be traditional, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. If you’ve ever had to try to learn the conventions of street addresses in a country you’re not familiar with, you’ll quickly realize how...

        I don’t see why what3words would be preferable to traditional street addresses in places that actually have them. Street addresses are how people navigate and talk about places locally; I see no reason to use some odd third-party system except in places that do not have actual addresses.

        It may be traditional, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. If you’ve ever had to try to learn the conventions of street addresses in a country you’re not familiar with, you’ll quickly realize how arbitrary and even downright ambiguous street addresses can be. On top of that, street addresses can change over time (as new roads are built, removed, or renamed).

        what3words (or some other global address space) makes a lot of sense from a practical perspective. It may not be ideal in that it removes the advantage of local ordinality and continuity in numbering systems, but that convention is so often violated that I’m not sure that it’s a good reason to prefer it.

        1. [3]
          imperialismus (edited ) Link Parent
          The argument isn’t ‘it’s traditional, therefore it’s good.’ It is the fact that street addresses are heavily integrated into the social fabric, laws and public infrastructure. It’s how people...

          The argument isn’t ‘it’s traditional, therefore it’s good.’ It is the fact that street addresses are heavily integrated into the social fabric, laws and public infrastructure. It’s how people think and speak about localities. If you go to an unfamiliar city and ask somebody for directions, they’re not gonna be able to spout some random three-word sequence of English words, nor is that gonna help you navigate anywhere. They will speak in terms of street addresses and local landmarks. Street addresses are an integral part of mail delivery, censuses, emergency services, public transport, every map in existence whether on paper or electronic, and the consciousness of local residents. It’s neither realistic nor in my opinion particularly pressing to replace that with some entirely new, grid-based system.

          As both I and @burkaman mentioned, there already exists a free, internationally standardized, noncommercial global address space: latitude/longitude coordinates. It’s also both more and less granular than a fixed grid system, adaptable to context. If ever there were a need for a global address space, that would be it.

          3 votes
          1. [2]
            onyxleopard Link Parent
            Latitude/longitude is not an address system. And, if you actually look into it, you’ll realize that global geolocation standards (of which there are far too many) are equally as messy as different...

            Latitude/longitude is not an address system. And, if you actually look into it, you’ll realize that global geolocation standards (of which there are far too many) are equally as messy as different countries’ postal address systems.

            1. imperialismus Link Parent
              It’s as much of an address system as what3words. It allows you to assign an identifier to a spot on the Earth’s surface. Whether there’s a building located there and someone lives or works there...

              Latitude/longitude is not an address system

              It’s as much of an address system as what3words. It allows you to assign an identifier to a spot on the Earth’s surface. Whether there’s a building located there and someone lives or works there and is ready to receive mail is, well, arbitrary. Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t. It isn’t a kind of address that can easily be remembered by humans, so it’s more akin to IPv6 than DNS (the equivalent of DNS would be street addresses), but it could certainly function to identify houses.

              And if you actually want to use it as a human-friendly address, it suffers from a lot of issues as mentioned in the article posted above. English is not a universal language. What3words is available in different localizations, but the localizations don’t line up properly. Dingo.bat.creek could turn into tomato.banana.cheese in French. Or disestablishmentarianism.crepuscular.tmesis. And the potential for unintentionally offensive names is huge. You want your Holocaust museum to be located at jews.demise.deserved? And the algorithm is proprietary and arbitrary. And there is no sense of local adjacency (no relation whatsoever between the identifiers for neighboring grid squares, unlike something like lat/longitude, where there is a clear and obvious relation between neighboring locations). Which makes it approximately useless for navigation without a map (likely to have traditional street addresses) or satnav (likely to use some variant of latitude and longitude). And and and.

              2 votes