Screenshot by Hyperallergic

All screen captures by Hyperallergic

We live in a data-driven world. Computer-driven algorithms sense and predict what the future might be like instants before it happens. Google Earth uses satellites to quantify the entire earth. Weather is pretty complicated, too. Dark Sky is a short-term weather predictor that uses real-time data to show a complex view of our current environment, visualized with radar animations. But what about a forecast anyone can instantly understand?

Ponchi's Q&A (Screen capture by Hyperallergic)

Ponchi’s Q&A survey

Enter Poncho, a beautifully designed and branded weather service from the start-up incubator Betaworks. Instead of crunching tons of data and spitting out a complicated chart of the weather, Poncho sends its users a simple, prose weather prediction illustrated with an emoji of the day’s conditions. The service is based on both usual weather measurements and the input of actual human beings who contribute reporting.

The service is only available in New York so far, but today’s prediction was pretty spot-on. After answering a handful of simple questions like what time I wake up, when I go to work, and how I commute, Poncho sent me an email at 9 AM this morning noting that the day’s weather would be “Basically cloudy,” with a cute little cloud emoji. So far, so good — it was a little sunny this morning, but now it is resolutely gray. The full email is below.

Poncho's email headline

Poncho’s email headline

Weather email from Poncho

Weather email from Poncho

Just because we can have all the data in the world doesn’t mean we want or need to actually see it. That’s the magic of Poncho — it makes things simple, providing a usable service wrapped in an attractive, fun skin. It’s a smart plan — collect emails and phone numbers, send out good information, and then capitalize on it with the advertising and sponsorship hinted at in Poncho’s Terms of Service. There’s a reason you can’t get the weather report directly online: They want your digits.

Time will tell if the site’s accuracy stands up, but it promises to give users helpful hints like when to wear a scarf, pack an umbrella, or include an extra layer for the evening. Adding crowd-sourcing to real-time weather prediction just makes sense, and when the results come in emoji, who can resist?

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...