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  • By Edmond Remie Gray

COULD STREET AND HOME ADDRESSES BE MADE TO COMPRISE OF THREE WORDS ONLY?


Circle Pines: As Liberians look ahead to another round of general and presidential elections in October of this year, some of us are keenly focusing on the role of national security in making the country an ideal private investment hotbed.

It is difficult to transform a country like Liberia without a niche socioeconomic plan. Already, a handful of those running for the high office are showing off their closeness to Washington, DC and other western nations.

On the contrary, regardless how tightly close someone is to the U.S. Republican or Democratic establishment in Washington, DC, Liberia will never thrive ahead like its ECOWAS neighbors, if our idea of running a nation is who has the abilities to better net financial and technical assistances from the US, EU, or African Development Bank.

Yet, for others, the primary focus is to win, and surround themselves with fellow Liberians they consider smart minds. At least, some of us can only say, that to a larger extent, this was the mindset of our current President Sirleaf. Has such an idea paid off? It is indeed difficult to run for the Liberian or any presidency without foresight as to where you actually want to put the country in the comity of nations. Like some, it’s vaguely easy to say, we are going to make Liberia great again, or whatever. How?

Equally, I firmly believe that without a vibrant private sector, Liberia will continue to remain last among its regional counterparts in every way. However, for anyone of our presidential hopefuls, our nation’s national security could start by simply accounting for those within our Liberian borders. For instance in present day Liberia, delivering mails have never been a straightforward venture. In this age of technology, in Liberia, street addresses are few and far between, and most communities have no address system at all.

Our postal system leans heavily on Post Office mailboxes (P.O. Box), or descriptive directions, most of which involve community landmarks (e.g., behind Chief Momolu Blama Compound). However, for many postal customers, home delivery of mails is not an option.

The question is what is Liberia doing to tackle this problem among its rapid growing communities? Most often, customers have paid the heavy price of not receiving their mails, or lose them for not stepping forward to claim them at postal centers. But, gone are the days, when industrialized and emerging nations use street names and building numbers to deliver mails and postal packages.

Map of Liberia

Today, including the Ivory Coast, most nations are now utilizing three-word-phrases what3words, and other technology to support their nation’s rising ecommerce growth. Accordingly, what3words is a United Kingdom startup that has divided the surface of earth into a grid of 3m by 3m squares, by assigning a uniquely ideal three-word address to each. Don’t scratch your head too hard. Let me tell you how this system works.

Accordingly, http://what3words.com provides an incredibly precise way to discuss location and what it means to everyone and everywhere. And through this, everyone everywhere now has an address. The what3word algorithm coverts bulky GPS coordinates into three simple words adopted from a list of up to 40,000 vocabulary items in 14 languages.

More so, the algorithm is not required to keep all the information, therefore does not need the internet to function. Nations like ours can procure systems like what3words or others and decode our entire country in it. Every structure standing in Liberia will be uniquely landmarked and assigned a code.

With this code, users can type any code address into the app or whatever, and get directions to through a satellite map. On the other hand, you can pinpoint to any specific location, such as the front door or window, and get a three word address for it.

This way, any location on the planet can be identified by a simple phrase like looks.cherry.humans (the entrance to the White House) or input.caring.brain (10 Downing Street in London, the residence of the UK's Prime Minister).

Each address points to one of 57 trillion individual squares, three meters in diameter, on the Earth's surface. "We wanted to make the squares as small as possible, but not too small," Chris Sheldrick, CEO and Co-Founder of what3words, told users. "There was no point in going any more granular than three meters, because that's the maximum accuracy GPS can reach on a Smartphone anyway."

Mongolia was the first country to adopt what3words for its postal address system, in 2016. "We talked to postal services that were facing a challenge," said Sheldrick. "Mongolia and Ivory Coast are trying to develop their e-commerce market, but can't get deliveries done because their addresses are not straightforward. Even though they are developing a better long term plan, this takes time, and they needed something that works now."

Abidjan, Ivory Coast

With a population of 22.7 million -- six times that of Mongolia -- and a total land area of 322,463 square kilometers, Ivory Coast is a large country: if it were a US state, if would be the fifth largest, after Montana and ahead of New Mexico.

Its economy was the fastest growing in Africa in 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Its GDP is predicted to increase by an average of 7.4 percent between 2017 and 2020.

The country's national post system, La Poste, will integrate what3words in a free app that allows users to look up any address with a Smartphone and write three words on an envelope. Major e-commerce retailers such as Yahoo will also accept the addresses on their checkout pages, and official state documents will be available for home delivery using Document.ci.

"In what3words, La Poste has found a simple solution that instantly provides Côte d'Ivoire with a robust and multi-lingual addressing system. It will help us to extend e-commerce opportunities, home delivery and support businesses in both urban and rural spaces," Isaac Gnamba-Yao, CEO of La Poste de Côte d'Ivoire, said in a statement.

The service is free for end users, but not for businesses or national postal services.

"We license a bit of software to postal services and other business who want to convert to what3words and do that in bulk," said Sheldrick.

The algorithm is protected by a patent, which makes what3words a closed, proprietary system unlike some other open-source geo-location platforms. The addresses, unlike traditional ones, also do not suggest any sort of geographical location until they are decoded by the app.

Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Despite these shortcomings, what3words has already been adopted by over 400 businesses and institutions, according to Sheldrick. Among them is the United Nations, which integrated it in an app used for disaster and humanitarian reporting, and the Glastonbury festival, where it was used to track down people in need of medical attention.

The app is also used in several African countries other than Ivory Coast: malaria prevention in East Africa, food deliveries in Ethiopia, and fiber optics projects in Kenya are among the examples.

Further expansion is based on language rather than countries, explains Sheldrick: "With English, French and Swahili covered, most African countries should be able to use the service."

Note: All or some portion of this article was culled from a CNN post


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Edmond Remie Gray, is one of your humble hosts and Founder and President of Radio Wish FM. He can be reached at remiegray@gmail.com
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