Other location encoding systems can be generated offline as well. Mapcode, Open Location Codes (Pluscodes) and the Maidenhead Locator System (QTH Codes) can all work offline if you have an app to do them. And, guess what – apps to do them already exist. Even better – there are multiple apps to do all of these. So you can pick the one you like the best. If you know how to do it, anyone can write an app for these – it’s relatively simple (I’ve written a QTH generator in 39 lines of code, including blank lines and comments).

With W3W, though, there’s only one app. Nobody else can write an app, or any other code to generate the words. Only W3W is allowed to do that. So if their app ever stops working on your device, you’re stuffed. Do you really want to rely on that in a safety critical scenario?

As for the “why should everything be free?” argument – sure, Word and Excel aren’t free. But the formats they read and write are published and available, and anyone can (and plenty of people do) write alternative software (some of it free, some of it paid for) that can read and write Word and Excel documents. The key thing here is not the software that does the job, but the formats used by the software. The problem with W3W isn’t that their software isn’t free. The problem is that it uses secret, proprietary algorithms that nobody else is allowed to replicate.

It isn’t true that people expect everything on the Internet to be free. But it is true that the Internet is built on a set of agreed, published, open standards, that anyone can hook into – either with free software or proprietary software.A location encoding system, to be useful, also needs to be based on a published, open standard that anyone can use. Some people will create free software to do that, some will create commercial software to do it. The commercial software may well be better. But there will be multiple competing providers, and you can pick the one you want.

We’re not asking for W3W’s software to be open source. They are perfectly entitled to keep their code closed. We just want their system to be based on a published standard rather than a secret.