what3words is putting Mali on the map


The national map of Mali had remained largely unchanged for 50 years until a recent a refresh and online integration of the what3words service, allowing users to identify precise locations by their French 3 word address.

As previously 75% of the worlds population have poor or inconsistent address, Mali is a case in point. During the 50 years, the country’s infrastructure has seen significant development – new roads have been laid, urban areas have expanded and agricultural and forest perimeters have shifted. Over the past four years, the French Institut Géographique National International (IGN) has led a project to update the country’s topographic map, in a bid to promote new projects, attract investment, and to help modernize the services provided by the Geographic Institute of Mali (IGM).

Making sense of the map
A key part of the project was the development of an online version of the map. Built by Memoris, the IGM geoportal provides a detailed view of the country, including place names, road connections and regional borders. It also provides street level coverage of the main cities, as well as integrating other mapping services, such as Bing and OpenStreetMap.

Mapping a nation is one task. Making sense of that map is an entirely different challenge. Mali lacks a consistent addressing system, which makes it difficult to identify places in the country with any real accuracy. Whilst users can drop a pin on the map, being able to translate that position into a real world location which can be communicated, remains an issue.

3 words towards progress
To improve the way that the map can be used online, the IGM geoportal has integrated the what3words service. what3words has divided the world up into global grid of 3m x 3m squares and assigned each one a unique 3 word address. It’s more accurate than a postal address and easier to use and share than GPS coordinates. The service is also available in French, the official language of Mali.

It now means that users of the IGM geoportal can not only accurately pinpoint any part of the map, they can also discover the 3 word address of that location in French. This enables fast and precise identification of places and spaces in Mali, something that is otherwise not available in the country.

“In a country such as Mali where the addressing system is incomplete or non-existent, what3words makes it possible to pinpoint your location quickly, easily and accurately”, said Mr Ando Inko Guindo, General Director of the l’Institut Géographique du Mali (IGM). “We were immediately struck by the simplicity and effectiveness of the concept. We’ve therefore integrated this addressing system into the geoportal and hope that it will help our fellow citizens find their way around”.

The ambition is that the improved mapping data will now pave the way for ongoing investment – in city planning, transport networks, power, industry, forestry and mining. And a more accurate way to specify location, via a 3 word address, is set to play a key role in delivering that continued growth and infrastructure development.

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