Toronto firm hopes to put location-addressing system on the map

A Toronto-based software company has updated its location-based mapping software to work with Google’s search service.

The company, NAC Geographic Products Inc., has developed a mapping and address standard called Natural Area Code. Using a precise string of digits the system should be able to find any building in the world.

According to the company, a two-character NAC represents an area of about 1,000 km by 700 km (like a province), a four-character NAC is about 33km x 23km (a city), and a six-character NAC roughly represents a square kilometer area. It takes eight characters to cover an area of about 35m X 25m (like specific a building), and 10 characters for every square metre on the Earth’s surface. For example, the code 8KDC PGFC corresponds to the co-ordinates of the Washington Monument in D.C.

The system has been in existence for about a decade, said NAC Geographic Products spokesman Lixin Zhou, and more than 20 countries have been mapped with NAC codes.

Its advantage over conventional addresses is that it is not bound by local languages, he says. To most Canadians, a Chinese address would be incomprehensible. Even within English, “Road” could be spelled in its complete form or abbreviated as “Rd.”

The system is easy to understand and logical in the way it is laid out (starting with a country code, followed by a city, etc.), but has not been widely adopted, said Zhou.

“Today, it’s still early stages. Not many people know their universal address. It still feels a little unfamiliar,” he said. “But it’s actually more convenient than using telephone numbers. With eight characters, each universal address can specify all the houses and buildings in the world.”

The system does have its backers, said Zhou. For example, the Irish government is considering adopting it as a means to expedite postal delivery and will make its final decision next year. A mobile version of the system is available to Telus Mobility customers and also has some traction in China.

Now NAC Geographic Products aims to make its service more popular by making it work with Google.

Google recently made a Javascript library called the Google AJAX Search API readily available so that its search technology can be embedded into other online services like NAC.

Zhou claims that the NAC system’s advantages, i.e. brevity and ease of use, could give it a leg up on Google’s own popular location-based system Google Maps. “The advantage (of a universal address) is that you don’t have to rely on a map,” he said, adding that a string of digits is easier to convey to a person than a street address. “You cannot ‘tell’ them a Google map.”

Making the system available via a Google interface is a good idea, said Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox, since users associate it with simplicity. It’s also a good idea since basic geography knowledge seems to be on the wane, particularly in youth populations, he added.

“How many people are going to remember latitude and longitude? But they’re using to remembering strings of numbers, whether it’s phone numbers, social security numbers . . . that’s a fairly familiar motif.”

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