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Maps 101

How we’re giving everyone, everywhere an address

Plus Code in the Alps

We’ve gone behind the scenes to look at how we map the world, use imagery to capture the meaningful details around us, and all the ways contributed content and AI make Google Maps a more helpful tool—from planning your trip to deciding where to go.

Today, we’ll dive into how we are working to make sure everyone in the world has access to an address using our free, open-source digital address-making system called Plus Codes.

Addresses help us find people and places, and they help people and things find us. An address is also necessary to secure official documents and do things like open a bank account. However, several billion people either don’t have an address at all or they have one that doesn’t accurately identify the location of their home or business. Plus Codes offer a simple but powerful solution. Already, Google Maps provides millions of directions each month to people looking up a place with a Plus Code and this volume is rapidly growing.

So what are Plus Codes? 

Plus Codes use latitude and longitude to produce a short, easy-to-share digital address that can represent any location on the planet. For example, the Plus Code “W2GJ+JQ, Johannesburg” represents the main entrance to the Google office in Johannesburg, South Africa. Put this code into Google Maps or Google Search and you’ll be brought right to our front door in Johannesburg.

Google's office Plus Codes address in Johannesburg

The Plus Code address for Google's Johannesburg office is W2GJ+JQ, Johannesburg

Helping people get on the map

A Plus Code can easily be used where no addresses, street names or even streets exist today.  Someone in an area without addresses no longer needs to give out complicated instructions to find a home or workplace—like “drive to the community center, turn left and look for the blue house with the red roof.”  Now, they can simply share a short Plus Code and it immediately works.

Businesses and services that rely on navigating to peoples’ homes can simply enter the Plus Code into Google Maps and get directions instantly. Emergency services and humanitarian groups can more easily find people who need aid, locate people for vaccine programs and easily track health programs all with Plus Codes. 


Generating Plus Codes

In the absence of street names and accurate addresses, how are Plus Codes created? 

First, we divide the world along latitude and longitude lines to form a simple grid. The grid is labelled along the X and Y axis using a specific set of 20 alphanumeric characters  {2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,C,F,G,H,J,M,P,Q,R,V,W,X}. You’ll never see a vowel or characters like “1”, “L” and “l” in a Plus Code as we want to avoid confusion over the characters when writing them down and prevent any accidental word formations. And by using a carefully selected set of alphanumeric characters, Plus Codes can be used by anyone no matter what language you speak.

Each grid cell on the digital globe is then further divided, the X and Y-axes again labelled with the 20 characters above and the process repeated to build out a full Plus Code. In the case of the Google Johannesburg office this would result in a full Plus Code of “5G5CW2GJ+JQ”. 

Since a full Plus Code might not be easy to recall, you can conveniently drop the first four characters of the code if you know the area you are in,  just as we drop area codes on telephone numbers when already in the area. In this case, if I know I am in Johannesburg the Plus Code for the Google office can be shortened to “W2GJ+JQ, Johannesburg.”

Depending on the number of characters included in the code after the ‘+’ sign, the code can be even more specific. For example a Plus Code with two characters after the ‘+’ sign represents an area of approximately 13m x 13m, about the size of a half a basketball court. Adding an additional character reduces this size to approximately 3m x 3m, providing an exact address for a sidewalk vendor who may not even have a storefront. 

And this might go without saying, but Plus Codes are named after the ‘+’ sign that is one of their key characteristics. This sign is used to help people and our digital applications recognize the code as a Plus Code. 

Plus Codes in Sao Paolo, Brazil

Plus Codes in São Paulo, Brazil

Community addressing

Providing conventional (non-digital) addresses to communities at scale can be complicated and expensive for local and national governments, often taking years to set up and become useful. With Plus Codes, a village, town, city or even country can quickly and efficiently set up an addressing system. And unlike conventional addressing projects, once a Plus Code address is created it is immediately usable on platforms such as Google Maps and anywhere else that recognizes Plus Codes both online and offline. This means that new services (both digital and non-digital) are more readily available to traditionally underserved communities that lack proper addresses. 

The power of Plus Code addresses

While there are other digital address-making solutions, they’re often proprietary or must be commercially licensed, which can mean unnecessary costs, complications and longer term uncertainty for businesses and governments. These solutions also have challenges with universal recognition and adoption, as they are generally not open source or freely available.  

Here’s a taste of the positive impact we’ve seen Plus Codes deliver.


We recently introduced a refreshed Plus Codes icon to make it more recognizable. If you’d like to learn more about Plus Codes, how to use them and how they’re being used, visit maps.google.com/pluscodes.

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