In The Same Business

handshakeSitting down?  Long time sufferers of this blog will likely be surprised to hear me come out in defense of Facebook.

There has been a fair amount of shock and complaining lately about declining Facebook reach, and outrage that the social network would dare to charge us for access to our followers…that audience that we gave our blood, sweat and tears to build.  In the weather space we forcefully cry, “We are providing LIFE SAVING INFORMATION!  How dare you charge us!”  At one point I even saw a petition demanding that Facebook pass our content through unfiltered.

Here is the reality.  In an “open” (using the term loosely) platform everyone gets to participate.  Facebook can’t do you a favor.  The minute they do, they have to do one for everyone else…on the planet…and that doesn’t scale.

We built this beast.  Time to tear it down.

Oh, and lastly, take a step back and look.  Facebook, and us, we are in the same business. Building a large audience and charging for access to it.

(Note:  Since Nate Johnson and Spencer Adkins post better content on this blog than me, going forward each author will have his picture at the bottom of each post so Nate and Spencer can get proper attention and credit for their great work.)


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I’m Sharing This Podcast So I’ll Look Smart…er, uh, So YOU”LL Learn More! And Thoughts On Podcasting

We’ve been told as people working in the “digital realm” that we need people to share OUR material, and then we occasionally work on getting people to share THEIR material with us.  The acronym for the material coming back at us is “UGC,” or User Generated Content.  Of late, UCG is seen as gold and a validation of our social media efforts.  (And let’s be honest: another upside to UGC is that we don’t need to dispatch as many cameras and people out and about because we simply can’t get everywhere and in many shops, we don’t have the people to get into every location).

We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get people to share with us.  We spend a lot of time trying to get people to share FOR us.  At times it seems like it’s all just totally random.  But not really.


According to Harvard professor Jonah Berger  there is an actual science to what people share, how they share it and why they are sharing it.

I have not read his book Contagious, (yet) but I did listen to the podcast where he reduced it to the key elements.  And now you can too.  Here’s the podcast.   It’s a good listen and runs shy of 14 minutes.

But wait!  There’s more!

What about weather podcasts?  Would that be a way to go for us as digital meteorologists?

Well, some people definitely think so.  Many of you know about WeatherBrains.  If you want to get into hyper-local weather, friends in south-central Kentucky would want to sample Chris Allen’s daily podcast.  A Google search landed me on a podcast dealing with weather specific to the great American Northwest.  The Weather Channel and Accuweather have podcasts dealing with daily weather forecasts.

Since I’m sort of new to podcast listening, I likely need to broaden my knowledge of weather-based podcasts.  You can Google search climate podcasts and come up with many such as this round up or climate podcasts on NPR.   There obviously is a much shorter shelf life between an operational weather forecast on a podcast and a discussion about climate, so as a digital tool, it may or may not be attractive to any particular meteorologist.

Finally, in a thinly veiled attempt to bolster my “social currency” I will share these bits of info thanks to the Pew Research Journalism Project  :

The number of podcasts out there has been just about steady.  yes there are really about 90,000.  What’s one more if you want to jump in?


Meanwhile recent listenership seems to have spiked in 2012 at about 13-13.5% of respondents in the current Pew survey.  However the drop back to just over 12% does not seem dramatic.



In fact, with the notion of mobile phones become “screen #1,” it’s hard to think podcasts will see a meaningful dropoff.   (See: Forbes article with an outlook for podcasts in 2014.) 

Hopefully if you like this post, you’ll share it.




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Naming winter storms – the next step

Nor'easter off the coast of New England, March 26, 2014. NASA/MODIS image courtesy of University of Wisconsin SSEC.

Nor’easter off the coast of New England, March 26, 2014. NASA/MODIS image courtesy of University of Wisconsin SSEC.

In the fall of 2012, The Weather Channel announced they would begin naming winter storms.  The move was hailed by marketing and social media experts, but it was generally panned by the rest of the weather enterprise.  For its part, the National Weather Service issued a statement once TWC named the first storm 2012 saying, “The NWS does not use named winter storms in our products”, a position reiterated numerous times since.

A Bomb With No Name

Fast forward to today, when we have a monster nor’easter winding its way off the coast of New England.  By some accounts, it is one of the strongest (if not the strongest) nor’easter since 1993, and it will be remembered for the very strong and rapid intensification on the afternoon of March 26, in addition to whatever direct meteorological impacts occur to New England and the Canadian Maritimes.

I was surprised to learn that TWC did not name the storm.  When I asked (admittedly, with a little snark), both Nick Walker and Sean Breslin from TWC replied that the storm did not meet the population criterion for naming storms:

This resulted in a number of folks chiming in on Twitter, asking what that population criterion was exactly or claiming that whether a storm gets a name or not was driven by ratings.

Renewed Criticism

These are all echoes of one of the biggest and most pointed critiques of the project: Whether a winter storm gets a name is determined by a single private entity using standards they have developed with little or no input from others in the community.  Contrast this with the parallel of naming tropical storms and hurricanes where the community has entrusted the process to a single public entity using open and agreed-upon standards and where the decisions (and data used in making those decisions) are available for real-time review by the community.

To its credit, TWC has explained parts of the process they use to name winter storms.  They also participated in a discussion about naming winter storms with other broadcast meteorologists and explained more about their process in a formal conference presentation at the American Meteorological Society’s most recent annual meeting.  While they have said they are working toward a more objective process and have agreed to take official NWS warnings into more account, they concede some subjectivity remains in whether a given storm will get a name.

At both AMS meetings, TWC said they would like for the National Weather Service to take over the project; however, NWS has said they won’t use TWC’s names and has shown no public interest to date in taking it over.

Nor'easter winds, March 26, 2014. Image courtesy

Nor’easter winds, March 26, 2014. Image courtesy

A Proposal for Moving Forward

Assuming the NWS still does not wish to take over naming winter storms, what if we approached this collaboratively across the weather enterprise?  Develop an enterprise-wide working group tasked with developing standards, implementing those standards in naming winter storms, and publishing both its own review of those standards and the data and work product used in implementing them.


The working group would need to be large enough to incorporate representation from a wide range of organizations and sectors, including but not limited to major players like The Weather Company and AccuWeather, representatives from media outlets like TV stations and newspapers, and meteorology and communication experts from the academic sector.  Obviously, if the National Weather Service wanted representation, that would be excellent.  The group would also need to be sufficiently large to prevent any one bloc from dominating the discussion and to allow the group to work effectively even if some fraction of the membership cannot make a given coordination call on a given day.  Similar to the United Nations, membership would delineated by “seats” with each group getting a certain number of seats but being free to appoint whom they choose to the working group.

The First Off-Season

Once convened, the group would begin from TWC’s winter-storm-naming standards from the last two seasons and develop:

  • open standards for what kind of winter storm should get a name,
  • methods for evaluating data against those standards,
  • procedures for scheduling coordination and how decisions would be debated and made,
  • procedures for when and how the name is communicated, and
  • a list of names for the 2014-15 season that “work” across everywhere that they’d be needed.

Next Winter

Once we get back into winter, the group would schedule calls as needed to discuss particular storms and whether they get names.  The group would be responsible for documenting the factors (and vote totals) that went in to naming or not naming.  It’s important to note that this group would only determine whether a given storm would get a name; however, unlike the National Hurricane Center analogue, this group would not issue forecasts.  Their representative outlets would be able to communicate and forecast the storm as they saw fit.

Subsequent Off-Seasons

Once the final winter storm for a season has come and gone, the group would, like the National Hurricane Center does, self-evaluate and formally publish a review of each storm that got a name or was formally discussed but was not named, the data and methods used, and proposed changes and improvements for the following season.  The group could also conduct or coordinate research for the communicative effectiveness of this approach not only on social media but everywhere and make recommendations for improving enterprise-wide communication.

Moving Forward – Together

An enterprise-wide working group to develop and administer an open-standards-based program to name winter storms would address most of the concerns raised about The Weather Channel’s unilateral approach.  It would be inclusive of a wider range of stakeholders, it would develop open standards for what should constitute a named storm, and it would allow for third-party evaluation and replication of the process.  It would also very likely increase the adoption of the names beyond their current reach and would make it more likely that different governmental entities and media outlets would use the same name and social media hashtag for a given storm.  It would also go along way toward mending fences between TWC and other weather enterprise partners, many of whom felt left out of the process two years ago.

I am under no delusion that such a process would be easy or would itself be without controversy.  As the debate over this has raged, legitimate questions have been raised about the efficacy of naming storms in the first place as well as to what extent regional differences, affected population, and official NWS warnings and advisories should be incorporated.  Further, even the National Hurricane Center gets a share of criticism on decisions to name or not name individual storms.  However, bringing together such a working group should eliminate the criticism (fair or not) that storms are simply being named to drive up TV ratings or website clicks.  Plus, if the notion that everyone using the same name will reduce confusion and increase awareness holds any water, the positive effects would only be multiplied with more entities and outlets using the names.

UPDATE (Thursday 3/27): The Weather Channel addressed why this storm didn’t get a name this morning, including the specific population thresholds they use.

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A Picture Is Worth… $19B?

It appears the answer is yes.  Just not this photo:


The photo above is just a silly snapshot I took, goofing around, while out doing snow coverage during a late season snow storm. It’s not even in focus and I don’t even like selfies, but it captured the emotion of the moment pretty well. That silly photo garnered me well over 500 likes and 50 comments on my Facebook profile. It wasn’t even a pure post or share. All of that interaction took place because I changed my profile photo and my friends saw the notification. The key is, the photo sparked a conversation. It led to interaction in my online social circles. Was that worth something? I think so.

I started a virtual blog-tour while on vacation and stumbled into a great blog called Definitely worth a read. I came across a great entry here about photos and their online value. Not going to lie… the statement by blog author Grant McCracken, that Facebook REALLY paid $19B for WhatsApp because of PHOTOS, really blew me away.

We can get into discussions about how we as broadcast or digital meteorologists use pictures, maps, charts graphs, graphics, snapshots, etc., until the cows come home. We should talk about this because social media is a huge and important tool in what we do daily.

Stop and think for a moment about the times you’ve poured your heart and brain into a great forecast with maps and charts and graphs and posted it, just waiting for the masses to rush in to like, share and comment on it, and it didn’t really happen… meanwhile a snapshot of your dog in the snow went nearly viral. It’s not that people don’t like our information. It’s not that people don’t pay attention. But photos GRAB people. And if a company like Facebook is grabbing other companies so they can be the middleman of our “photographic currency,” then there is a lesson to be learned from that in our own social media efforts.

Get the picture?

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Winter Weary

To all my winter weary weather brothers and sisters.  I’m reminded of the words of the legendary Dan Satterfield who years and years and years ago taught me how to answer unhappy viewers.  Hang in there!


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Sunfish_rigged_for_sailingWhen I was a kid my folks bought a Sunfish sailboat to use on the town lake, Farm Pond (yeah, I never understood that name either, how could a lake be a pond…?).  What freedom on those summer days, to be zipping along on top of the water, not a care in the world.

When you learn to sail, you learn how to “tack”, probably one of my first lessons in understanding the wind.  Sailing with the wind, you pretty quickly get to the other side of the pond and must sail your way back, but on a sailboat you can’t sail directly into the wind, only about a 20-25 degree angle on either side.  So you sail a little bit to one side of your destination, tack, or turn around, and sail along the other side of the wind.  This zig-zag pattern eventually gets you to your next destination, it is basically course corrections along the way.  Just before you turn the boat across the wind you yell, “Comin’ about!”, that lets the others on the boat know that you are about to tack, and the boom, the lower part of the sail is going to hit them in the head if they don’t duck.

“Comin’ about!”

Long suffers of this blog, and WeatherBrains might be surprised to know that I am leaving day to day weather at Texas Cable News for a position in…..wait for it… media.

The folks that run digital for the CBS group of stations (two television stations and six radio stations) have invited me to join them.  I’m really kind of excited on a number of levels.  Finally, I get a chance to actually use the stuff I have been writing about on this blog and see if it works.  There will be some weather involved, and exactly what that will look like will develop in the weeks ahead.

For now:

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs

Stay tuned.  Now it gets good. :)


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When Is It Too Heavy?

A massive redesign dropped for AccuWeather on iOS this morning.  It includes a minute by minute forecast for the next two hours.



I’m particularly interested in these iOS 7 updates since they really are opportunities for designers to start over.  The new AccuWeather offering certainly checks off the “pretty” requirement.  In this case, and with the Facebook Paper release a few weeks ago, the new apps open with a tutorial, giving you a few screens of instruction on when to tap, swipe, double tap, scroll, press and hold (or fold, spindle or mutilate).

As a user (and I realize I’m not typical when it comes to weather products) I’m finding that a tutorial is becoming a danger sign.  There is an interesting divergence going on.  Once I’m inside an app I’d really like to concentrate on the data, not whether I need to tap, swipe, double tap, scroll, press and hold (or fold, spindle or mutilate) to get to, or back to, the next thing, yet there is a widening lack of consistency as these apps mature.  In my mind that leads back to “simple”.  Someone said, “The job of the designer is to take things away, until there is nothing left except what is supposed to be there.”

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