My Favorite Weather Babe

Thursday, February 16, 2017

My wife purchased an Amazon Echo around Christmas, and let me take this opportunity to sing praise to the high heavens for the following mundane use: I can (at last!) get a concise summary of the weather on a daily basis. Yes, this thing is a technological marvel, and I love having something so science-fictiony sitting unobtrusively in the kitchen (where it blends in suspiciously well with our car coffee mugs), but this has been my most pleasant surprise and favorite use so far. Here's a slightly edited transcript:

Me: Alexa what's the weather today?

Alexa: Currently in Whitetail Woods, it's 28 degrees with intermittent clouds. Today you can look for intermittent clouds with a high of 58 degrees and a low of 21 degrees.
Short, sweet, and to the point. But why has this been missing from the web?

Before I begin, let's consider the obvious benefit of Alexa's weather summary: I can get the weather immediately when I need it -- generally when getting myself and the kids ready for the day -- without having to drop everything to check my computer or phone -- or having some radio station blaring the whole time. That's a big part of it, but the summary is far superior to the barrage of verbiage, images, and advertising (however much decent formatting salvages it) from the web, or even the less-bloated output of my phone's weather app. Indeed, I looked for some time for exactly this kind of summary, in text form, a couple of years ago, in the hopes of automatically dumping it into my daily planner so I could ... just ... know ... what generally to expect. I never found one. Given that this is a popular use of the Echo, it's not as if there was zero demand for something like this.

My best guess as to why the web, for all the information available from it, never delivered something like this comes down to a few things:
  • Since it's easy to deliver gobs of information, and there's no telling how much detail what any one visitor might want, weather pages just go ahead and give it. (And one can come up with a general idea by perusing, say, the hourly forecast, but it takes more time.)
  • Web pages are delivered "free," but since someone has to pay the bills, they have to include ads. So the "weather page" suffers from having more than one purpose. No man can serve two masters ... (Alexa, though not ad-free, is a subscription service, and needn't and doesn't serve ads for things like this. You'll get an ad only if you bump into something your subscription doesn't cover.)
  • Such a summary, while it sounds simple, strikes me as something requiring artificial intelligence. Perhaps it is a happy byproduct of all the other work it took to create the Echo. Note that the web hasn't caused mass unemployment of television and radio weathermen.
In any event, it has been a joy to be able to get what I need when I need it so quickly and easily.

-- CAV


Kyle Haight said...

You're welcome.

Gus Van Horn said...

I must have had a correct guess in there. Thanks!

Kyle Haight said...

I'm just being smug because I actually work on the Echo device software team, although I didn't have anything to do with that particular feature. It's always nice when people appreciate the products we make.

Gus Van Horn said...

I figured as much. Thanks all the same!