Open Location Code: Addresses for everything, everywhere

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Accurate street addresses are taken for granted in much of the world. But in many areas, formal street names and addresses don't exist and the only real alternative is to use addresses of the form "behind the old bus stop". Without a street address, it's difficult to organise deliveries, to receive visitors or to find businesses. And street addresses only work where there are named and numbered streets - without these, there's no easy way to provide someone with a location.

Area with unknown street names in Indonesia. (Google Maps)

Latitude and longitude coordinates can specify any location, but they’re long and cumbersome. What if they were more human-friendly, like a very accurate postcode that refers to just your home? We’re happy to share Open Location Code, a stand-alone open source library for this purpose.
The Open Location Code system allows people to derive plus codes from latitude and longitude coordinates that already exist everywhere. Plus codes are similar in length to a telephone number -- 849VCWC8+R9, for example -- but can often be shortened to only four or six digits when combined with a locality (CWC8+R9, Mountain View).  Locations close to each other have similar codes. They can be encoded or decoded offline, and the character set was chosen to avoid spelling words in more than 30 different languages. We removed similar looking characters to reduce confusion and errors, and because they aren't case-sensitive, they can be easily exchanged over the phone.

World's largest carrot,
H3+XG Ohakune, New Zealand.
The big gumboot.
GV+8J Taihape, New Zealand.

Developers of websites that need location from users (such as delivery or taxi firms in locations where street addresses are poorly defined) could use plus codes to get accurate locations from their users. Other services which map locations that don't have street addresses (such as water sources, mountain refuges, or nesting sites) could use plus codes since they don't rely on street information.

The big trout.
2W+GW Gore, New Zealand.
Kime Hut, in New Zealand's Tararua Ranges.

We have a sample implementation to find and use codes at You can download the latest release of the library from our GitHub page and join our discussion list to learn more.

by Doug Rinckes, Travel team