Lessons From Politics

art

This is a Facebook invitation from a local artist. Really nice, colorful, engaging work. I’ll probably stop by.

Check the orange arrow.

The event is Saturday evening and as I write this early Thursday morning the forecast is accurate. The event and task specific nature of the forecast is brilliant and didn’t happen on a whim. This is the work of long-range planning by The Weather Channel and now IBM and they aren’t fooling around.

We can all learn from the analysis, hand-wringing and soul searching we’ve seen after the tumultuous political season. The base reason it happened was that a large enough number of people were fed up with the system.

The humans are still the best hyper-local weather source but we will lose if the system given us by the establishment in Washington (read as broadcast owners) is automation, poor mobile experiences and social media.

Can we get this trending? #makeweathergreatagain

wx-great-hat

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We’re the Canaries

I thought it was clever on election night when I started seeing a few tweets go by directed at political forecasters saying, “Not so easy, is it?” (canary in a coal mine)

Then came a steady stream of stories about Facebook’s influence on the election, and we said, “Welcome to the party, you’re late.”

fakewinter

Certainly we’ve all seen this graphic by now, year after year. It, and its cousins, spread through social media about this time of year and we spend time swatting down the rumors.

Facebook says that fake news is not as big a problem as some suggest. Further suggesting it does not have enough influence to change an election. That said, Facebook (and Google) have responded quickly to the election influence firestorm.

Anil Dash brilliantly tweeted a response to the question of influence.

We talked recently on WeatherBrains about how difficult it is to “filter” a open global platform. Once you make an accommodation for one group you then are called to do it for all and that doesn’t scale.

There has been some suggestion in what I have read that Facebook has been working on fixing the spread of fake news since before the election. Wonder if they had been watching the weather?

 

 

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Tick, tick, tick, tick…

facebookfullweather

I’ve seen small weather updates at the top of my Facebook feed for some time now but this is new. It popped up on top of my feed on Sunday night. Particularly interested in the “See more weather info” at the bottom. I didn’t click on it but I do wonder what was there and now it is gone. Will there be a “Get Weather Forecast” link permanently soon? Seems logical. Dropping a forecast in my feed at random intervals is okay, I guess. Will I be able to get a forecast on demand soon? I haven’t seen that button. Have you?

A couple of years ago I had a chance to visit with Vic Gundota who is the person responsible for Google+. I was ready to tell him that all we needed was a few adjustments and weather information would rocket Google+ to new heights. What I learned was how difficult it is for a global platform to make any accommodation to one special interest group because every other group would then get in line and that can’t scale. Makes sense, and yet, there is the weather on top of my feed.

I joined a Facebook Group the other day called, News, Media & Publishing on Facebook:

News, Media & Publishing on Facebook! This is where the Facebook News Partnerships team shares Facebook Media product updates, and hosts discussions about strategies for news organizations.

News Partnership team sounds pretty good. I posted a comment on a recent post about news coverage. I introduced myself, was upfront about being a vocal Facebook critic, and asked about research or information specific to weather. The admin who made the post “liked” my comment but made no reply. I posted again a day or two later. No reply. I sent a friend request to the admin. Still waiting.

The top of the image above says, “What’s on your mind?” Here it is. The Internet eats middlemen and we are in the middle. The clock is ticking and we had better get creative…fast.

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Check The Radar

Today we’re instructing the National Weather Service radar network to make some improvements in service of its mission to protect life and property.

Effective immediately WSR-88D radar units will do a volume scan only once per hour. This will cut down on wear and tear on parts, as well as decrease the need for users to constantly check radar sources for the latest information.

After a period of adjustment radars will be moved to a volume scan every three hours, followed by every six.

Concurrently, advancements in mapping and graphics technology will automatically generate poorly drawn arrows indicating the direction of movement of precipitation areas.

checktheradar

Local television stations operating radar units are encouraged to move directly to the six hour per scan model immediately.

The combination of these exciting new directives will give end users increased access to out-of-date and confusing radar information as never before…..

Wait…standby.

Never mind. We’re already doing this on social media…..

 

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To Science Or Not To Science

Subtitle: Would someone please answer the question.

The question of how science-y to be during our weather segments is certainly not new but it feels like it has come up again. After a period of, “Yes, do more science. People love it,” some are hearing, “Our research shows that people don’t want all that science.” The pendulum swings from one extreme to the other but this clock seems to have two pendulums. This of course revives the back and forth discussion that includes, “People in my market love it,” and “Our viewers are not really interested.”

So, consultants, which is it? Seems like a simple A or B answer.

The problem lies in one of the oldest issues for mass media. Finding the lowest common denominator in order to attract the largest possible audience. This leads to broad brushed statements like, “Do more science,” and “Don’t do so much science.”

Time to let us see behind the curtain on this consultants. What is the methodology on this? You can’t keep changing your mind. Demanding use of more active words like “tracking” with no context leads to tweets like:

“…tracking when we could see some sun…”

“…”I’m tracking some light, patchy fog…”

“…already tracking a crash on 70…”

Stick around and monitor this stuff. We actually want to try and get it right but dropping these mandates and leaving station management to interpret is not helping.

We’ve rolled this around more than a few times on WeatherBrains and I’ve invited consultants to come on the show. They won’t.

I suspect the answer to the science-y question is do it some of the time, when it makes sense. But that will be consulted into “science on Monday, Wednesday and every other Thursday in months with an “r” in them,” and entire staffs will be marched into pen A or B. The real answer is here in this short post from some years ago.

So, ask to see the math when the consultant shows up. There is an open invitation to come on WeatherBrains. We’re all pretty scientific, we like to understand why. In fact, I bet research would show that we would really appreciate it.

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We Lost The Horizontal

There was a lot of angst a couple years ago about vertical video. “What are people thinking?” “Can’t they see that their TVs are horizontal?” We lost that battle and it kind of makes sense. You hold your phone vertically most of the time.

vertical

We’re going to create designated graphics for social with bigger numbers. The images formatted for TV just don’t translate well to the phone.

It would be nice if we got some help from the vendors (looking at you WSI, Baron) how about helping us format?

 

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The Aliens Are Coming

One of the human behavior books I read recently had an interesting story about aliens. I can’t remember which book and I will mess up some of the details but the point will emerge.

Some years ago a cult of people formed around the idea that aliens would arrive on a given day in the future. The group slowly gained followers and faithful in advance of the date of arrival. In the days leading up to the visit word about the cult spread to the media and, as sensational stories often do, the story became of greater interest to the press.

The prediction was that aliens would arrive on a specific date and time, late in the evening. The day arrived. Followers began to gather. The media circus set up their tents. The moment arrived…..and nothing happened.

Group leaders quickly began to adjust their calculations. They may have been off by an hour or two. Time marched on…..nothing happened. Further adjustments. One or two members became disillusioned and left, but most stayed.

The point of telling the story in the book was to described what happened to the cult members. Even after hours and hours of adjustments and excuses, and no aliens, a funny thing happened. The resolve of the remaining group members actually strengthened. They had poured so much energy and so much of themselves into their story that they were unable to allow themselves to give up on the effort they had made.

Aah! Crazy people, c’mon. They believed in aliens!

wbgrab

We got into a brief discussion about weather on Facebook last night on WeatherBrains (you can listen here, from about 13:18 to 21:15).

In a nutshell, the complaint, which has been growing in volume, was about the crazy and bogus weather information and forecasts that spread on Facebook. “So and so says there will be a major hurricane in Seattle next week, is that true?” We’ve all hear them.

The discussion turned to trying to figure out how this nonsense spreads. We all know how, look at Buzzfeed, look at the bottom of your station’s website pages. Sensational spreads. I submit that part of the problem is that the industry legitimized Facebook as a weather distribution platform and now we suffer the fruits of our labor. More accurately, the fruits of our non-labor. We ceded responsibility of digital weather to automated templates and succumbed to the siren song of the “Like” (read The Addiction of Like here). “We have to go where the people are!” we shouted. “If we’re not there they’ll get their weather information from someone else!”

James Spann and I argued about this for years, as you’ll hear in the WeatherBrains clip, and I was right. The image above is James raising his hand in defeat and remembering that he said a few years ago that Facebook was a lousy way to give and get weather information.

So, we can rant all we want. My suggestion is to leave. Renounce Facebook as a distribution vehicle for weather information. Yes, I know. We can’t leave. People still appreciate the personal connection, some of the information, and the entertainment we’re providing. I’m using Facebook right now for a community project. I get it.

The point is this. It is not going to get better unless we do something. We’ve poured a lot of ourselves into building this channel. But the aliens are not coming.

 

(Update: Thanks to @readydurham for posting a comment, please take a look. We need to remember there is no “right” given to any business to exist. The idea that we can take a tool and use it (in this case because we are being allowed by Facebook) is incorrect.

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