Why have 30,000 data points when you can have 100,000, or maybe a million?
That’s one of the key questions behind Weathermob, the crowdsourced Waze of weather that allows a mob of 100,000 monthly active users to report local weather conditions, creating a much finer-grained weather status map — and prediction data — than anything the National Weather Service or Weather Channel has available today.
And with data, bigger is almost always better.
Weathermob is releasing version 2.0 of its still relatively young app today, and 100,000 users is just the beginning. The company has some interesting monetization plans.
“The Samsung Galaxy S4 can already collect basically all the information that our current weather stations monitor,” Michael Nicholas, head of product at Weathermob told me yesterday. “And in the next 24 months … everyone will have a very very functional weather station in their pocket.”
The company’s existing userbase is already the largest crowdsourced weather community in the world, and growing fast. A recent typhoon in China boosted download numbers massively, pushing China to the company’s most-downloaded country. Saudi Arabia is a big Weathermob user, and although most active users are in first-world countries like the U.S., UK, Italy, and Canada, the app is big in the BRIC nations and third-world countries — often because local weather forecasts are nonexistent or incredibly inaccurate.
That third-world userbase is actually a strength, not a challenge, for monetization. Because this crowd app isn’t making money from the crowd, just off the crowd.
“The question is, will certain countries have lots of food or less food?” Nicholas said. “The hedge fund guys are already buying data like this, and they’ll pay to know.”
CEO Julia LaStage puts it a little differently, also mentioning the staggering $14 trillion in goods that are shipped around the globe annually, and the security companies, insurance companies, supply chain companies, and logistics companies that need access to accurate, up-t0-date weather data to continue functioning efficiently and profitably.
“We know we’re doing good for people by giving them access to better weather data,” she says. “If we can collect this data from the BRIC countries … we can make money in the US. We’re a fun little application, but [we meet] a huge industry need … and we might even share the profits with users.”
And the data has every prospect of getting better all the time. Not only will the devices that we’re all carrying around with us continue to improve, Weathermob is planning to get permissions from users to take background-level observations even while users are not actively using the app. That means measurements of temperature, barometric pressure, ambient light, and other observational data can be sampled much more often.
“Weathermob is on the verge of having the ability to corral a couple hundred thousand users globally and make each phone get a couple dozen measurements automatically,” LaStage told me.
That’s huge, because now you have hundreds of thousand of mobile weather stations reporting local weather conditions in fine-grained structured data multiple times a day. Weathermob, which is currently only available for iOS, will be releasing its Android app shortly, the company told me, which will aid in global penetration — especially in lower-income countries.
But it’s also just the beginning.
“There’s huge potential here,” Nicholas adds. “Basically everything on the ground that is a machine could be a weather station … a car, HVAC systems, everything on the ground that knows where it is.”
I asked Nicholas and LaStage about another pretty obvious possibility: integration into fleets. Thousands of companies globally run fleets of delivery trucks or rental cars with thousands or even hundreds of thousands of vehicles. So a data-sharing deal that enables Weathermob to put its app in drivers’ pockets — or even a slightly more sophisticated piece of hardware in the truck — in exchange for cheaper access to the total regional or global dataset seems a no-brainer.
Which is, of course, a comment.
The data is good because it’s finer-grained than what is currently available to even pro meteorologists, Weathermob says. Currently, the National Weather Service, the Weather Channel, and other meteorologists around the globe rely on a network about about 30,000 global sensing stations, which are disproportionately in the United States, plus satellite imagery.
That results in forecasts that are 30-40 percent wrong.
“The guy who’s on TV with a suit is taking measurements from 30,000 stations around the planet and checking them twice a day,” LaStage said. “Our ability to overcome that is really easy. And we’re only two percent of where we ultimately want to be.”
Which means that a fun little app, in the hands of hundreds of thousands of users, is showing how big data can help improve people’s lives — and be very profitable.