I went for a run in Wytham Woods at the weekend. For those that don’t know, Wytham is the University of Oxford research woodland and there are a whole host of experiments set up in there linked to disciplines such as ecology, climatology, biogeography, biology, chemistry and others. As I passed on mature tree I noticed a label that listed what looked like a What 3 Words identifier.
Initially I rolled my eyes (these upstart companies trying to change the way that the geographic sciences do things – tsk!) but then I thought about it, and this is actually a pretty good use case. Yes there are some concerns about the What 3 Words system, but in this case the system seems to be made for just such a use. Consider the following:
- The tree is mature and covers a space greater than 3 x 3 m
- The tree won’t move from that grid location (it might fall, but it won’t disappear – and hopefully the researcher would notice a fall)
- The researcher would likely be a biologist, concerned more with the tree than with geographic coordinates
- Because the location code is unique, the site name (which needs to be unique) can be the same – reducing confusion when analysing data i.e. the location is the site name
- Based on the previous point – there’s one less piece of information to share or lose or to get corrupted
So I admit it – I made a judgement on the use of What 3 Words before considering why it might have been used. Being aware of the pros and cons of any system, especially newer ones trying to make it alongside venerable, robust and respected ones, should always help us make the right decisions for the job at hand.