Open Location Codes are a way of encoding location into a form that is easier to use than latitude and longitude. They are designed to be used like street addresses, especially in places where buildings aren't numbered or streets aren't named.
Instead of giving people complicated directions, just give them a short code that tells them exactly where you want them to go. They can enter it in their phone, laptop, computer, and get the exact location. They don't even need to be online!
Most places just need a six character code and a locality to get an accurate, unique reference. For example, this football pitch in Belo Horizonte, Brazil has the location "Belo Horizonte 22WM+PW". Try it on the demo site!
If you don't want to use the locality, you can use the full 10 character code. That same football pitch has the full reference 58GR22WM+PW. "58GR" is like an area code of a telephone number, and like an area code, if you're in the town (or even near it) you don't need it.
Here are three examples of people who could use these codes.
People living in unmapped slum areas, such as Kibera in Nairobi, could use these codes as a home or business address. For example, the Adventure Crafts Glassmart in Kibera has the address "Stall No.164, Makina Stalls, Kibera Dr, Kibera, Located close to the Toi Market". That's not easy to find, and the glass they ordered might be delivered late if at all. But if they tell the delivery company that their address was "MQPQ+QG Kibera", they can look it up, get the exact location, and the glass will be delivered faster.
Small businesses rely on people being able to find them. This is especially true for guest houses, because they are mostly used by people who are not local to the area. If a guest house provides their location using these codes, a visitor is able to use that code to go directly to the location.
Crisis response organisations need accurate location information. These may be existing buildings (storage warehouses) or things such as wells that don't have addresses, or temporary camps that could be long distances from the nearest road. Latitude and longitude coordinates are long and prone to errors, leading to wasted time and resources. Using short codes that importantly, do not require expensive satellite communications, could provide such organisations with improved location information.
Of course. The codes are free to get and free to decode. We've got software libraries on our Github site, and example web pages. If you need help, you can contact the mailing list.
Yes! We are working on implementations in other languages, but if you'd like to do an implementation, contact the mailing list and see if anyone else is already working on the language.
Alternatively, if you know someone who would be interested, let them know.
The first thing we did was to work out what attributes of addresses were useful. Once we had that list, we looked at a lot of existing location coding methods to see how well they matched our list. Once we'd done that, we decided that it was worth to at least define a new one, and then see if it was well received.
The other methods were mostly designed with different ideas in mind, and so this isn't a criticism of them.
- The codes aren't case sensitive and don't include easily confused characters. We've selected the characters to make it difficult to impossible to spell words in any language.
- Codes are generated from latitude and longitude, so they already exist for everywhere. Nobody has to set them up or pay for them. Each place has only one code.
- Codes that are similar are located closer together than codes that are different.
- Open Location Codes represent an area, not a point.
- The size of the area depends on the length of the code. Long codes are more accurate than short codes.
- Dropping characters from the end of a code gives you a larger area that contained the original code.
- Codes are 10 or 11 characters long (8FMGP9FW+6M), but if you're in the local area (within 50km), the leading four characters of the code can be omitted (P9FW+6M) making the codes even shorter.
- The short code can be used together with a place name (like P9FW+6M Pisa, Italy).
- Demonstration site
- Mailing list
- Comparison of existing location encoding systems
- Open Location Code definition
Open Location Codes were developed at Google's Zurich engineering office, and then open sourced so that they can be freely used. The main author is Doug Rinckes (@drinckes), with the help of lots of colleagues including:
- Philipp Bunge
- Aner Ben-Artzi
- Jarda Bengl
- Prasenjit Phukan
- Sacha van Ginhoven