A little over 150 years ago the UK Met Office, lead by meteorology pioneer Admiral Robert Fitzroy, issued the first ever public weather forecast, published by The Times. The predictions were far from perfect, and received a good deal of skepticism and critique from the public. Most people thought predicting the weather was impossible. After 5 years of public debate, in 1866, the Met Office decided to stop issuing public forecasts, and it did not resume the service until 1879.
Today, 150 years after Admiral Fitzroy’s pioneering work, meteorology is still far from perfect, but weather forecasts have become more accurate, more sophisticated, and pretty much an indispensable part of our lives. People learned how to understand and benefit from weather forecasts, even knowing they cannot be trusted with full certainty. Nobody questions that forecasts are useful and by large valid. Forecasts are not only important for the average commuter to decide wether to take an umbrella or not, they are deeply embedded into our economy, think of agriculture, transport as a major examples.
From Weather To Social Media- It’s all in the data
But what made it possible for Admiral Fitzroy to prepare his first forecasts in the first place? First, data: he discovered the possibility of predicting future weather by examining records of past observations. Second, technology: the telegraph system, developed by 1850s, has enabled the Met Office to collect weather observations from several geographic locations across the UK and send them back to a central location for analysis.
Today, the availability of new data, and new technologies give way to a new breed of forecasts: predictive analytics. An example of this is the analysis of social behaviour and influence. Companies like PeerIndex, Klout and others use modern versions of the telegraph system (hint: the Internet) and vast amounts of social data to create models and metrics of social influence. Sadly, these pioneering services seem to face similar levels of skepticism and criticism that Admiral Fitzroy’s early weather forecasts faced a century and a half ago. See for example this recent Guardian article or this earlier article by Monty Munford.
Key Take Away
Sure, these services are in their infancy, and as such they have their limitations. Sure they need a healthy level of scientific skepticism and rigour. But as they are growing up, they add new dimensions to our understanding of social influence. A single personal influence score is just the tip of the iceberg. At PeerIndex, we believe in topical influence, and show you a meaningful breakdown of how influential you are in politics, technology, or arts. In our labs we are testing new ideas that go far beyond that, so keep an open eye for new developments. We are also constantly adding connectors to more data sources (like LinkedIn, Quora and blogs), in a similar fashion to how meteorology installed pressure sensors, weather balloons then satellittes over its 150+ years to incrementally refine its predictive capabilities.
Don’t you wish you were one of the farmers in 1861 who, instead of being skeptical, learned how to profit from weather forecasts early on? Well, that train is now long gone. But you can still go check out your PeerIndex report and see how you can profit from your social capital.