Google Plus Codes

Tuesday 10 Apr 2018 02 am

Ever had problems trying to find a particular street address? You slowly roll along the street, searching for number 37. You scrutinise each mailbox as you pass: 31, 33, 35, 39...

Everyone has trouble finding addresses, even in our well-marked Australian cities. Let’s not get started on mail or packages delivered to the wrong place because of confusing or absent street numbering.

And once you get into rural or outback areas, it becomes a different ball game again. In many respects, it’s a serious matter: even one of life and death. For example, regional NSW emergency services have reported difficulty in finding the right property on occasion.

Travel overseas and, depending on the country, the problem can go to a new level. Some countries like Ghana often don’t even use addresses, while others have idiosyncrasies, like Japan’s lack of street names.

But what’s any of this got to do with technology?

Well, Google has been slowly rolling out an answer to all those confusing, missing and wrong address problems that plague us.

That answer: a plus code.

You get an address, you get an address... Everybody gets an address

Labelled as “addresses for everyone”, Google’s plus codes is an addressing system that uses global grid references, instead of local street-based addressing.

Think of it like this: every single nook and cranny of the world is cut up into finely-diced, evenly-sized squares. Each one of those squares has a unique grid reference, so a large building may have a dozen or more of these references. A smaller home may just have two or three.

And when we say every nook and cranny in the world, we mean it. Each part of every ocean, desert, forest, tundra, mountain, arctic wasteland and steppe has its own reference.

Basically, every single part of the world has a unique “address”. Take 5R8X9JGJ+6G, for example. It’s a beautiful patch of ocean around halfway between Brisbane and New Caledonia.

When you have a grid reference of where you’re going (and software like Google Maps to pinpoint it), then the physical property markings become largely irrelevant for the purpose of finding it.

If this sounds weird, well… in a way, it is. Geospatial addressing is a very different method to identify properties (and landmarks, and pretty much any geographic area), so using a plus code might seem unusual.

Want to know where Smartm8 HQ is via plus code?

So why we would use these plus codes?

Well, Google’s new system isn’t the first attempt to solve the challenges of poor or inconsistent street addressing.

Dubai, a city that’s transformed in a whirlwind of urbanisation, is trying to solve the problem of finding your way around by implementing the Makani system - a unique 10 digit code assigned to locations.

The Australian government took a slightly different approach to capture and distil address data (along with other descriptive data) in the country, compiling a comprehensive geocoded G-NAF dataset available for anyone to use.

So, what’s the compelling reason for using these plus codes?

Well, Google gives plenty.

Plus Codes are free

It costs nothing to use them. Enough said.

They’re open source

That means anyone can build technology or software that uses the plus codes. Over recent decades, open source technology has often grown large communities that helps develop the technology.

They’re (reasonably) easy to use

While the Plus Codes aren’t as intuitively easy to understand as a street address (compare 124 Queen St with 5R4MG2JG+Q4), there’s a logical sense in that grids close to each other share similar references.

They’re truly global

With a single system covering the entire planet, it has the potential to provide a universal method of finding addresses, landmarks or any other location.

There’s one unspoken reason too: plus codes are backed by one of the world’s largest technology companies (not that this is any guarantee of success *cough* Google+ *cough*).

Plus codes are already integrated into Google Maps, so they’re already good to go. For example, if you wanted to visit Smartm8’s HQ, just enter “5R4MG2HJ+J3” into Google Maps and you’ve found us!

You can also embed them into URLs. Can’t be bothered entering the code above into Google Maps? Just click here and you’ll see where Smartm8’s head office is located.

Go forth and plus code!

It’s still early days for Google’s project, and considering the size and scope of plus codes, it could be years before we know whether it becomes the de facto standard for addressing. And our prediction: while they might become the way to track down addresses with technology, the timeless and traditional street address isn’t going anywhere.

Do you think you’ll be jumping on the plus code bandwagon any time soon?

Want all the details on plus codes? You can get the full story on the official plus codes site.