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What Are Google Maps Plus Codes? And Some Great Free Alternatives

Apr 11, 2021 by Placekey

Google Maps Plus Codes is a location identification system like Placekey that works with Google Maps to allow you to easily create, use, and share address data.

While this solution is extremely easy to use, there are a number reasons why Google Maps Plus Codes is not the best current location mapping and tracking solution. To help you understand why and point you in the right direction (pun intended!), we’ll cover the following:

  • What are Google Plus Codes & location keys?
  • How do Google Maps Plus Codes work?
  • How to find and share locations with a Plus Code
  • Why location keys are better than Google Plus Codes

To start, let’s cover the difference between location keys and Google Maps Plus Codes.

What are Google Plus Codes & location keys?

Google Plus Map Codes are location keys that represent street addresses as alphanumeric codes based on latitude and longitude. They are open-source, free, and easy to access and use. They can be used to receive deliveries, access emergency and social services, and otherwise help people map or find an address.

How Google Maps Plus Codes work
Image Credit: Google Plus Codes Technology

Plus Codes are a form of location key, which is essentially any alphanumeric code that represents a physical location. These are commonly used for street addresses, but can be used to identify and label any real-world location.

This is better than traditional addressing, as you can create a Plus Code for any location, even if it does not have a standardized (or even existing) street address. This is ideally suited for people that live in rural areas and don’t have access to an address. Plus Codes provide an alternative for those that do not have a street address, giving them access to an address for mailing, emergency services, and more. When we get into rural areas, where most locations have street addresses, Placekey is a more accurate, powerful solution, as you can encode multiple POIs to a single location!

Plus Codes uses open-source technology, and is therefore free to create and use by anyone. Their simplified, shortened, and standardized format make them extremely easy to work with and share with others.


How do Google Maps Plus Codes work?

Plus Codes are alphanumeric codes that represent latitude and longitude coordinates. This code is based on a division of the globe using a square grid system based on latitude/longitude WGS84. The final portion of the Plus Code reflects a unique address within this grid, and the preceding portion of the code identifies the cell this location is in.

Google Maps Plus Codes work by converting location coordinates (latitude and longitude) to alphanumeric codes that use a standardized format. They use an alphanumeric grid (like a chess board with a grid of A - H and 1 - 8) to divide the world. 

How the Google Maps Plus Code grid system works
Image Credit: Google Plus Codes Technology

That first grid forms the first 2 numbers of the code. That square is then further subdivided, forming the next portion of the Plus Code. The result is an extremely easy-to-use code that represents a unique address in the world.

Whether you create the Plus Codes yourself or you are using Plus Codes that others have created, you can then use these Plus Codes to manage addresses. These codes are less prone to spelling and formatting errors, making them easier to work with. 

Developers can easily use Plus Codes to build flexible, personalized, and easily shareable address solutions from the open-source technology available.

Google Plus Codes can also easily be used with the Google Maps platform, enabling you to pair this data with the Places API and Geocoding API so that you can enter and retrieve this information as needed. There are also a number of add-ons available for Plus Codes that enhance what you can use them for, such as the Google Sheets Add-on or the Grid Service Add-on.

Why Placekeys are better than Plus Codes

How to find and share locations with a Plus Code

The main benefit of Plus Code is the simplicity and ease of use. You can quickly and easily find a Plus Code using Google Maps, and then share this with others. All you need to do is:

  • Open Google Maps via an app or mobile web browser
  • Select the location on the map that you need a Plus Code for
  • Copy the Plus Code
  • Send the Plus Code to the person you want to share it with

This is relatively easy to do if you are familiar with using Google Maps. However, how to find and share a location’s Plus Code varies depending on the operating system and device type you are using. We outline exactly how to do this on different device types below. To make it easy for you, we cover each individually:

How to find and share a location’s Plus Code using Android

  1. Using an Android device (phone or tablet), open the Google Maps via the app or a mobile web browser.
  2. Using the map, find the location that you want to get a Plus Code for. Touch and hold the screen to place a Pin on the map, marking the location you want to get a Plus Code for.
  3. Along the bottom, tap “Dropped pin”.
  4. Beside the Plus Code logo, find the Plus Code. (i.e. 8QQ7+V8, Dublin).
  5. Tap the Plus Code to copy a location’s code.
  6. You can then paste the Plus Code in another messaging service (email, direct messaging service, etc.) to share the location.

How to find and share a location’s Plus Code using an iPhone or iPad

  1. Using an Apple device (iPhone or iPad), open the Google Maps app.
  2. Using the map, find the location that you want to get a Plus Code for. Touch and hold the screen to place a Pin on the map, marking the location you want to get a Plus Code for.
  3. Along the bottom, tap “Dropped pin”.
  4. Beside the Plus Code logo, find the Plus Code. (i.e. 8QQ7+V8, Dublin).
  5. Tap the Plus Code to copy a location’s code.
  6. You can then paste the Plus Code in another messaging service (email, direct messaging service, etc.) to share the location.

How to find and share a location’s Plus Code using a desktop computer

  1. Using a desktop computer, open Google Maps via an app or web browser.
  2. Click to select the location that you need a Plus Code for.
  3. In the info box along the bottom, click the coordinates. (i.e. 53.339688, -6.236688)
  4. This will open a panel on your screen.
  5. Click the Plus Code to copy a location’s code.
  6. You can then paste the Plus Code in another messaging service (email, direct messaging service, etc.) to share the location.

How to find and share a location’s Plus Code using a software library

Open Location Code is an open-source technology that allows you to encode location information (latitude and longitude) in an easier to use format. These codes allow you to create a location code for addresses that are otherwise unable to be mapped, such as those without street addresses.

This algorithm is available to the public, making it extremely accessible and easy to adopt. Using these, you can convert locations into a code, and codes back into location information. One main advantage of using a software library is that this can be done offline, as the program is performing the task for you, without needing to connect to another solution or integration.

There are a number of open location codes available that can be used, which are open-source solutions that the community can create and modify for use. You can find software and integrations that use JavaScript, Python, Objective-C, and many more!

How to find and share a location’s Plus Code using a Google Sheets

Google Sheets is a flexible solution that you can use to create your own dynamic sheets. With this, you can customize a sheet to generate Plus Codes for you from latitude and longitude using conditional formatting on the sheets.

Alternatively, you can use the Plus Codes Google Sheets Add-on, which allows you to convert location coordinates to plus codes, and vice versa. This is made possible by menu function and dynamic sheet functions, including:

  • PLUSCODE
  • PLUSCODE_CENTER
  • PLUSCODE_LENGTH
  • PLUSCODE_BOUNDS

You are also able to convert plus codes and addresses with ease using:

  • PLUSCODE_TO_ADDRESS
  • PLUSCODE_FROM_ADDRESS

These functions can be used to simplify the process of managing, finding, and sharing plus codes, all within Google Sheets. 

How to find and share a location’s Plus Code using an API or Professional Software

To simplify the process of finding and sharing Plus Codes, you can use an API or a professional software. Unlike using Google Sheets or manually creating your own system, these are designed to perform these functions for you, making it easier to find, share, and manage Plus Codes.

For example, the Plus Codes Grid Service lets you integrate the Plus Codes grid to online maps and other GIS applications that you are using. You can do this using a variety of APIs, softwares, and other solutions, including:

  • Image tiles: users can display the grid on online maps and GIS applications (such as ArcGIS, QGIS, and arguably the simplest option - Google Maps)
  • GeoJSON: leverages vector data to draw the grid on maps using JavaScript libraries, automating much of the process.
  • Keyhole Markup Language (KML): displays the grid within Google Earth for ease-of-use.

Ultimately, these integrations allow you to leverage Google Plus Codes and the grid by integrating them directly with your geocoding and address management solutions.


Why location keys are better than Google Plus Codes

Google Plus Codes and location keys are both standardized location identifiers that simplify address management. However, location keys like Placekey have greater capabilities, the most important of which is that they allow you to track points of interest at specific addresses. With this, you can not only identify where things are, but you can also map what things are at those locations.

The breakdown of a Placekey’s what and where

Placekey uses this what at the where system to track points of interest (POIs) at different addresses, represented by easy-to-use alphanumeric codes. While Google Plus Codes use a grid to encode location and address data, Placekey has an added layer that encodes a POI. 

While Plus Codes allow you to create unique location keys for specific locations, Placekey goes a step further, allowing you to identify multiple POIs at a single address or location. This empowers users to identify and track multiple places at a single address, or even the changing places of an address over time. This can be ideal for tracking the different stores at a mall (which is one single address) or multiple business offices in a skyscraper.

This can be used to map, manage, and share locations with ease. As a free, universal solution, the Placekey community is able to develop their own unique solutions, all leveraging the Placekey universal identification system.

Plus Code uses a traditional grid system to divide the globe. This square system is inferior to the hexagonal grid system that Placekey uses, which is the H3 Hexagonal hierarchical spatial index system also used by Uber.

While squares are good for dividing a flat object, hexagons are better for dividing a spherical object with accuracy. As opposed to a square, all outside points are equidistant to the centre of a hexagon, providing a more accurate method of mapping. This means that you can draw more meaningful insights from this data and apply them quicker and with confidence.

Plus Codes are intended to help identify locations and typically represent a 14 meter x 14 meter space (roughly the size of half of a basketball court), but can work at multiple resolutions. They were not built to convey POI-related information whatsoever, nor can they distinguish between places on different floors within a building (i.e. specific apartment units) or individual, smaller POIs within a larger footprint (i.e. Starbucks coffee shop within a Target retail store).

In short, a Placekey can provide all of the information available in a Plus Code, but then takes it a big step further by providing an extra layer of POI-related information for added precision that can unlock a wealth of unique insights when joined with multiple datasets.


Want to learn more?

To see all of Placekey’s pre-built integrations that will speed up your workflow, visit our integrations page.

And to join the largest Slack community for geospatial data enthusiasts, sign up here.





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