How to (literally) never be lost for words

Posted on December 19, 2019


Yesterday, we looked at the debate over whether it’s better to choose a long password over a complicated one, with many experts pointing out that with each character added to a password, the chances of it being guessed correctly decrease dramatically.

There is one other advantage to choosing a two- or three-word password instead of a short alphanumeric jumble, though – generally, it will be easier to memorise. The human brain struggles to remember chains like ‘3qH7£k?E’ that it can’t pronounce and doesn’t see regularly. On the other hand, a three-word phrase like ‘coffee flamingo tarmac’, while unlikely to appear in a sentence, is a lot easier to visualise and remember. Could this solve the problem of people choosing a password so complex, they end up forgetting it themselves?

The vast number of possibilities created by three-word codes, despite their simplicity, is the basis behind an app and website that its creators claim is now being used by over 75 emergency services teams in the UK.

A world of words

Called what3words, the app divides the entire planet into 3×3 metre squares, and gives each one a three-word code. For example, the code for the entrance to reception at Engage Web is party.shape.metro.

The idea is that people who are lost, or want to tell someone where they are, can communicate their location down to within three square meters with anybody else who has the app. This may be especially useful when climbing mountains or out in the wilderness, where there will be little in the way of landmarks to describe a location.

Is it necessary?

Some might argue that map co-ordinates give emergency responders a more accurate location than what3words can, and that you don’t need to rely on an app to give them. This may be true, but how many people know how to find them? Is it ideal for people involved in and dealing with emergencies to be looking for large chains of numbers, which could be misread, misheard or mistyped?

Something like ‘party.shape.metro’ takes three words we’re familiar with, which can then be imputed into the app to find a location in an instant. It’s a modern day GPS system that anyone can use, with or without geonavigational knowledge.

Of course, it relies on people downloading and embracing the app, and that may be the sticking point, but it is an example of the huge number of code possibilities that exist within the language we use every day, and a reminder not to underestimate the power and potential of words.

John Murray
  • […] for an easy-to-remember yet hard-to-guess password, and is the method used by the geocode system what3words to locate any area in the world to within three […]

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