Weathernews, one of Japan’s biggest weather forecast providers and the owner of Sunnycomb and Weathermob apps, is taking a big step into the Chinese market. The company announced today it signed an agreement with Moji, the maker of China’s largest social weather app, to share data.
Moji claims that MoWeather, its app, has 400 million users who upload weather reports from 700,000 locations throughout China. Weathernews, which acquired Weathermob in May to boost its presence in the U.S., says its partnership with Moji means it is now the largest crowdsourced weather service in the world.
The Tokyo Stock Exchange-listed company operates traditional weather stations, but is bent on reshaping the weather- and climate-monitoring industry, which is worth an estimated $6 billion. To do this, it wants to move forecasts away from stations in favor of alternative sources such as reports by app users, smartphone sensors, and Internet-connected home weather stations like those made by Paris-based Netatmo, another recent Weathernews partner.
Like Sunnycomb and Weathermob, MoWeather is a platform for people to upload photos of the sky along with comments about weather conditions. The benefit of using crowdsourced apps instead of services like Accuweather or the Weather Channel is that you see real-time updates about the weather and user comments about how it makes them feel, which is useful for sufferers of migraines, allergies or seasonal affective disorder.
Weathernews director Tomohiro Ishibashi says that data from mobile devices not only increases the accuracy of forecasts, but also gives people in areas without traditional weather stations information that is important for disaster preparation and climate-dependent industries like agriculture.
It is also a potential source of insight for mobile advertisers. For example, Moji currently monetizes MoWeather by using its real-time forecasts to target ads to people in specific locations.
Weathernews has been aggressively expanding around the world over the past six months. After its acquisition of Weathermob and partnerships with Netatmo and MoWeather, Ishibashi says the company now has access to over 100 million weather observations—or photos and comments about climate conditions at a particular place and time—produced by a total of 420 million users. Monthly active users on Weathernews’ own apps now number 100 million people in 175 countries.
Weathernews’ algorithms collects and analyzes data from all its sources, including MoWeather, Weathermob, and Netatmo, and delivers forecasts to its smartphone apps, website, and clients, who include TV news stations. Its larger ambition is to build a B2B consulting service that will target industries like aviation, energy, and agriculture.
In China, crowdsourced reports are especially important because they fuel more accurate alerts when air pollution, a major public health crisis, reaches harmful levels.
“We believe we can analyze real-time air quality from the color of sky photos by MoWeather’s users, and from user’s comments and emojis we will understand Chinese user behavior, feelings, or mood according to each weather condition,” says Ishibashi.
Ishibashi points out that crowdsourced forecasts from China also benefit people in Korea, Japan, or Taiwan, since weather moves from west to east in that part of the world. For example, yellow sand and smog from China is a frequent source of concern for residents of cities in western Japan and Korea.
One challenge of analyzing meteorological data is the lack of traditional weather stations, especially outside of China’s major cities. Ishibashi says Japan has three times more coverage than China, but increasing installations is difficult because it is expensive to maintain traditional stations, which are often run by airports, the military and government organizations.
“In Asia, we are all connected, and Chinese data is the biggest missing piece for meteorologist who care about the whole of Asian weather,” Ishibashi says.