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My weather experiment on FriendFeed

The latest foray into my meteorologically-themed social media exploration is the Charleston Weather FriendFeed group, designed with some automated aggregation of Charleston weather-related tweets in mind, but also designed as a point for folks to share their weather stories and reports. It seems like a strange, nearly too-narrowly focused topic for a FriendFeed group, but I see it as an important proof of concept stemming from some goals we set for Charleston news reporting in March.

You may remember the Charleston news hashtag summit-of-sorts. The meeting brought together media members, active Lowcountry bloggers, and concerned Twitter citizens. We hashed out a series of tags that would classify tweets accordingly. There are tags for news (#chsnews), breaking stories (#chsbrkg), and the like. The goal of using these — and really, any hashtag — is to bring related content together so people can filter their streams accordingly. These tags have met with moderate adoption; I’ve personally seen some tags more than others. One of them, #chswx, is one focus of my FriendFeed group.

Nuts & Bolts

The Charleston Weather FriendFeed group is fed from four sources:

  • @chswx on Twitter, which automatically tweets forecasts four times a day and also serves as the location where I live-tweet severe weather situations
  • The Charleston Weather blog, which will house longer-form weather analysis (expect this to really kick into gear as hurricane season starts up) as well as news about new services
  • A Twitter search for the #chswx hashtag, with messages originating from the @chswx account and retweets of the @chswx account filtered out to lower noise
  • User-originated posts directly from FriendFeed. Anybody can posts links, photos, etc. to the group.

The feed for #chswx is probably the most important one to come in, because it enables others to contribute to the group without even having to have a FriendFeed account. Having #chswx come into the FriendFeed group honors the ideals of what we were trying to do at the hashtag summit as it lets us aggregate and rebroadcast.

The only snag? Twitter Search is fed over RSS and is not realtime. The functionality’s not yet there to return realtime results to a FriendFeed group — that would be an immense improvement in terms of timeliness of data. For now, we’ll have to still monitor Twitter for the late-breaking stuff.

Why FriendFeed?

So, why FriendFeed? It’s only emerged as the best social data aggregator out there. Its flexibility and power are unparalleled, especially now that FriendFeed is completely realtime. That, combined with its discussion and sharing (“likes”) components, make FriendFeed the ideal platform. It can be delivered in realtime over e-mail or IM, filtered with a fine-toothed comb — basically, if you need to do something with the data, FriendFeed lets you do it in any way that’s convenient for you. Its rich sharing (inline photos and videos) plus integration with Twitter make it an instant win for a project such as this. Plus, thanks to tools like BackType, we can tie FriendFeed comments back to originating blog posts, which I suspect will be critical functionality in hurricane season.

Will it work?

The whole “Charleston Weather” reporting concept is a gigantic experiment; the FriendFeed group is another component to this. We won’t really know how well it’ll work until we have a heavy weather day, and people take pictures and make reports with the hashtag. On sunny days, the Charleston Weather group will probably resemble just another automated push service. On stormy days, though, it has the potential to become a great repository of photos and reports, which could be invaluable to media outlets or even the National Weather Service as they collect information for storm postmortem reports.

Expect to see more movement with the hashtags feeding into FriendFeed soon. We have a Charleston, SC group that is a great candidate to feed in other tags, such as the news hashtags, #chsfree for free stuff to do, and the all-important #chseats for announcing BBQ meatups. :)

By Jared Smith

Jared Smith is a web developer and weather enthusiast living in Charleston, SC.

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