Mongolia's New Address System Gives Every Location A Poetic Three-Word Name - Atlas Obscura
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Mongolia’s New Address System Gives Every Location A Poetic Three-Word Name

The US Embassy is now located at “constants.stuffy.activism.”

Under the what3words system, it's easy (or easier) to send mail to this spot Chowd-Aimag, Mongolia.

Under the what3words system, it’s easy (or easier) to send mail to this spot in Chowd-Aimag, Mongolia. (Photo: Bernd Thaller/CC BY 2.0)

It’s hard to get mail in Mongolia. The countryside is large and sprawling, and even in the largest cities, many of the streets have no names. On top of that, a quarter of Mongolia’s citizens are nomads. To get a letter or a package, they must either travel to a collection area, or write out detailed, subjective instructions for postal employees, with a phone number for when they inevitably get lost.

Sometime this month, though, things might get a bit easier. As Quartz reports, the Mongolian government has become the first nation to adopt a new addressing system based on three-word codes. So instead of sending mail to, say, the US Embassy in Mongolia—at Denver Street #3, 11th Micro-District, Ulaanbaatar 14190—you can just send it to “constants.stuffy.activism.”

The system, invented by a British startup called what3words, is already used by UN disaster responders, Brazilian home renters, and UK couriers. It takes advantage of a couple of good technologies we already have: GPS coordinates and our own memories, which favor words and vivid images over more abstract numbers. The company has divided the globe up into a series of 9-square-meter blocks, and tagged each with a unique three-word code. Under this system, to pinpoint a place, you no longer have to tell someone its 16-digit GPS location. You can just say “target.stakeholder.buyouts” (the Gates of Hell), or “amuse.models.porch” (the Atlas Obscura office).

Under the what3words system, the Salina Turda salt mine amusement park is located at soaking.unforgettable.mattresses.

Under the what3words system, the Salina Turda salt mine amusement park is located at soaking.unforgettable.mattresses. (Screenshot: what3words/Google Maps)

As travelers at all scales know, the world in general is pretty badly organized. You can spend a long time questing for a particular house number on a rural road, or get thrown clear across a city just by mixing up “street” with “avenue.” More pressingly, according to the what3words website, about four billion of the world’s people lack a consistent home address, and thus are unable to reliably get deliveries, report facility outages, or file for official documents. Under the what3words system, the company says, “everyone and everywhere now has an address.”

It is possible to imagine some difficulties with implementation, as what3words relies on people having access to the app. If nothing else, though, what3words has turned the entire world into a series of short, Dadaesque poems. Take a jaunt around your own neighborhood with this handy map. Or, in a couple of weeks, try sending some mail to this giant statue of Genghis Khan, now located at “undulations.cheer.androids.”

Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to cara@atlasobscura.com.