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October 8, 2020

500+ Organizations Team on ‘Placekey’ Standard for Identifying Physical Places

Over 500 organizations are backing a new industry standard for identifying physical places. The new standard uses a combination of up to 15 characters to specify where a place is, along with optional additional information about that place. With backers including Esri, Tableau, and Nielsen, the newcomer standard is aiming to become the go-to solution for uniform location identification.

An example Placekey might look like this: 223-227@5vg-7gq-tvz, where the first six digits (all optional) refer to addresses or points of interest within a given geographic location, allowing a Placekey to be called up with a reference to outside information. The remaining nine characters (some combination of the characters 23456789 and bcdfghjkmnpqrstvwxyz) are the basis for a hierarchical hexagonal grid system (pictured in the header image). The string can contain just one character – which the developers say would refer to a hexagon with a max span of 20,040,000 meters – but becomes more precise with each additional character, up to a maximum specificity of 63.47 meters with nine characters.

The Placekey team argues that Placekey is necessary because data analysts “must dedicate a significant amount of time cleaning, normalizing, and organizing datasets in order to join them together.” Placekey, they say, solves this problem.  “To take the next step in unleashing global innovation around the power of location data and information, we need an open, commonly-used designation for place,” said Keith Masback, principal consultant of strategic consulting and advisory services firm Plum Run, one of Placekey’s backers. “Placekey unlocks that potential.”

Placekey touts a number of advantages: the API is completely free (though Placekey says it may “invite” heavy users to help share in the costs); the system accounts for places without addresses; the system accounts for multiple sites at one address; the system allows for easily comparing the proximity of two points of interest; and much more.

Placekey explicitly compares itself to what3words, a comparable system for describing a given location with a combination of three words. “What3Words is not an open standard and, therefore, cannot be easily used or combined with other datasets to extract meaningful value in the rapidly expanding data marketplace,” the Placekey site reads. “With Placekey, we have built an open and uniform industry-wide standard for identifying physical places in a truly hyper-local way—and have also created a better way to enable users to unify multiple data sources around a single Placekey to drive innovation like never before.”

“Placekey is a standardization the entire industry can all agree on,” agreed Matt Shaw, VP of engineering at predictive forecasting firm Fiddlehead, another of Placekey’s backers. “I’m excited to discover what I can do with all the time freed up from data cleansing and normalization.”