Innovator Spotlight: Earth Networks - Using APIs to Deliver Critical Information that Changes with the Weather
"When adopting APIs, develop a plan that will scale technically and business-wise as customers deploy your offerings. Anticipate technology and business challenges to more rapidly decrease the learning curve, and grow your business."
Director of Development
Earth Networks gathers and analyzes atmospheric observations from around the world using the world’s largest weather observation and lightning detection networks. Real-time weather intelligence and lightning data – gathered every few seconds from thousands of sensors across the planet – keep businesses, governments and consumers informed with neighborhood-level weather information, updated with the latest forecasts, and alerted to approaching severe weather. The company’s popular WeatherBug® website, desktop, application and mobile apps provide real-time weather and advanced severe weather alerts to millions of consumers. Enterprise solutions from Earth Networks enable organizations and markets, including energy and utilities, agriculture, schools, sports and recreation, emergency operations and government entities, to safeguard lives, prepare for weather and climate events and improve business operations.
Andy Rosenbaum, director of development at Earth Networks - WeatherBug, discusses how the company has increased revenues and accelerated developer adoption through their API program. He explains how the company's new product, the Spark™ HTML5 Mobile Lightning Widget for app developers, taps the power of APIs to report the nearest lightning strike, minute-by-minute, based on a user’s GPS location on their smartphone.
How are you using APIs today?
We collect data from over 35,000 weather sensors around the world, process millions of pieces of data every second “in the cloud,” and deliver that information in the form of weather conditions, forecasts and alerts to our customers in real time. We use internal, partner, and open APIs to deliver localized weather conditions, forecasts and alerts to businesses, governments and consumers.
What need were you addressing with your API strategy?
Weather plays a critical role in our daily lives. It helps us plan our day and know when to head indoors for safety from an approaching storm. For businesses like aviation, transportation and logistics, and energy, weather intelligence informs planning, safety and decision making. This need for atmospheric information will only increase as weather becomes more extreme.
As the owner and operator of the world’s largest weather and total lightning networks, we see continued demand from developers for our exclusive and unique real-time weather and lightning data that is unavailable from any other source. We strive to provide this information to our developer partners in way that is accessible for them to utilize within their enterprise.
How have your APIs evolved over time?
Our first-generation API was XML-based, and it provided a standard way for us to distribute the valuable information from our vast weather and lightning networks. With our open API generating 3,000 transactions per second, we needed a thorough understanding of how this information is being used. And as demand for our API has grown, scalability to meet this demand has increased in importance.
We are expanding our API offering to add more modern output types, such as JSON, to increase developer adoption and distribute to a wider base. We have continued to utilize REST-based services, which have simplified developer usage and have improved our analytics to better understand how to both enhance the API for developers and help us understand where additional business opportunities lie.
In parallel, we developed a new product, our Spark™ HTML5 Mobile Lightning Widget, which extends the API to deliver a customized HTML5 widget that can be tailored for various devices. This enables visualization of changing weather conditions, specifically around real-time lightning proximity alerts.
What does the WeatherBug Spark Lightning Widget provide?
Earth Networks – WeatherBug operates the largest and most comprehensive lightning detection network in the world. Our network produces massive amounts of data during severe weather events with lightning, which we track in real-time. With WeatherBug’s Spark Mobile Lightning Widget, we are making our live lightning data available for the first time, and in a way that makes it possible for developers to quickly integrate valuable data from this network into their own mobile applications.
WeatherBug’s Spark Mobile Lightning Widget is the only product and mobile developer tool that reports the nearest lightning strike, minute-by-minute and mile-by-mile, based on a user’s GPS location on their smartphone. It makes it possible for developers to offer additional and potentially life-saving features to mobile apps aimed at users who enjoy spending time outdoors. The Spark Mobile Lightning Widget for app developers is available no cost to all mobile app developers and designed for easy and quick integration into existing apps.
Rather than having to create a lot of design and development resources to add and understand a very dense and complex data set -- and obtain resources to interpret the data correctly for consumers -- we've provided both the data and a baseline UI to allow app developers to get this feature and information to their users quickly. With the Spark widget, developers can tap into the power of the world's most advanced lightning detection network and give their users access to the most accurate information on lighting strikes.
What kind of business benefits have you experienced as a result of your APIs?
As a result of our APIs, we've been able to increase revenue by providing enterprise clients, for the first time, with measured use access that allows them to use our services in a quantity that more closely matches what they need. We can also get a greater understanding of how our APIs are being used due to Apigee Analytics Services. We've also increased developer adoption by making it easier for developers to learn and use our APIs by deploying Apigee Developer Services within a richer developer portal.
How do you work with Apigee?
We use the Apigee Enterprise API platform in a cloud deployment integrated with enterprise systems that also exist in Amazon's cloud infrastructure.
What is your vision for your API program?
From a business perspective, we see continued growth in our revenue streams as we bring in new clients as part of our API program. We also see the ability to expand reach and brand recognition by enabling easier use of, and value from, our APIs.
From a technology perspective, we see both internal innovation, like our Spark HTML5 Mobile Lightning Widget, and external innovation, from what we learn from partners and developers. Together, these are helping us derive more value and use from the important atmospheric data we uniquely observe, analyze and deliver.
What advice would you offer for those just starting an API program?
It's important to understand the strategy for your API program, the value it will deliver, and the metrics you will use to measure success. Deliver both what customers want and what they need with your API. Learn from them and iterate this insight into the API to improve developer efficiency and your business potential. Don’t just build an API for your apps -- build it for external developers. You will learn more and achieve greater success.
When adopting APIs, develop a plan that will scale technically and business-wise as customers adopt the offerings. Anticipate technology and business challenges to more rapidly go down the learning curve, and grow your business.