Ok. Let’s try a little mind game…Imagine it’s 1990 and you’re the manager of the US National Weather Service trying to keep 250 million people informed about the weather – with a staff of 50. Then your boss walks in and says the unthinkable, “Look, I know you’ve got it rough trying to predict the weather in 52 states with 50 people. So I’ve hired 30 million people to walk around with cell phones and call you to tell you what the weather is where they are. What do you say?”
Back then, forecasters could only dream of such a thing but today they can simply do it – because of social networks like Twitter.
Take the US National Weather Service (NWS) for example. They’re using Twitter to get people to tell them about significant weather near them like big snowfalls, tornadoes, hail or flooding (i.e. the stuff that can kill people or at least REALLY mess up their day). The NWS calls the info it gets “ground truth” and it’s crowdsourcing at its best: getting information from the public to provide better information – to the public. It’s also easy and free. The NWS simply asked people to start tweeting about extreme weather near them – using certain hashtags like @wxstorm – then they search those hashtags to pull up all the tweets.
But how will they sort out bogus tweets you ask? Well, when you’ve got the resources of the NWS, you can do things like develop software to do that for you. (You can also probably sell it for a nice chunk of change to the many folks who, no doubt, would pay big bucks for such tweet vetting software.)
The NWS project is experimental right now but, if it succeeds, I can see other government agencies looking at ways to tap – and verify – the wisdom of crowds.