Way Back When (5): The Interlude

Way Back When (5): The Interlude

The Long Run

It was December, 2013 when the domain name for AQeye was registered. I knew in the first year that a national rollout was not just needed but essential. This wasn’t just because I wanted this effort to be profitable (I do) but because the organizations that one would expect to inform and educate the public about poor air quality, current conditions, and the negative effects were doing, honestly, a terrible job. (I won’t name names but very little has improved in the passing years.) If northern Nevada showed that an accessible, easy-to-understand service could be popular there, it likely would gain similar interest across the country.

Reality took a bit longer…

Matching Software With Reality

When the original code was written for Washoe Air and for the Twitter publisher, it was based on knowledge current at the time. Data related to Washoe County and Nevada. EPA AirNow and then NDEP. Weather data from Weather Underground. Making this national not only forced a re-think about how, when, and where to fetch data, but also how to present it.

Early on in the process with Washoe Air, it became clear that a non-traditional interface, a unique display, was important. An explosion in weather apps was happening at the time, creating some really awesome experiences; this both emboldened and challenged. It was important for this, for which weather was secondary, not to get swept up in the noise of those other apps. It was important as a piece of community service to not simply slap numbers on the screen with a “banner” advertisement. It was essential that the information came first without abusing the trust (or the attention) of the app user.

The floating box over a compelling background image of Washoe Air was specifically designed for the smaller device screens that were prevalent at the time. It was a way to both engage the user as well as allow the entire curated background image to be seen at various points in time. It also limited the amount of information that could be cleanly displayed though, so the choice was made to present the two most important pollutants, ozone and small particles.

When the time came to start looking at the national rollout in earnest, several changes had to happen. Large particles had to be included (and indeed, an increase in large particle incidents had been causing some incorrect condition reporting!); different devices were the norm so it was time to update what the users saw; both Twitter and Apple had made changes so it was time to update to take advantage of newer features.

This basically meant going back to the drawing board with everything that had been learned since 2013 and rebuilding it, making it faster, better, stronger. As anyone with any software experience can tell you, initial estimates were wildly overly optimistic about how long this would take.

Fast Forward to 2015

Sometimes it takes longer than others to redesign a platform while not interfering with existing users. We’re skipping ahead a year because not much happened worth discussing in that timeframe. In truth, not much interesting happened in 2015 either. It was a false start to a much more interesting result and we wouldn’t be here today without it. Still worth noting the milestone though because it was here that the stake in the ground was finally set from which progress could actually be measured.

Fast Forward to 2016

Didn’t we just do this? Despite external commitments, the pressure to update the Washoe Air platform was increasing. Now, it was all pressure I put on myself; whenever northern Nevada air quality events occurred in the interim, usage of the platform spiked. Current condition Twitter posts were shared by laypeople and professionals alike (for which much gratitude!) I owed it to nearly 3,000 people between the app installs and the Twitter followers (and of course the uncounted people who saw the posts in other ways) to bring the platform current, to finish the design for a national-scale rollout (which should easily see 10x to 100x users), to finish the rebrand, to improve further the data displayed, and ultimately to do all this without losing the trust of those individuals and professionals who had come to be regularly involved.

At this point, it’s fair to say that the real AQeye started to appear.

Fast Forward to 2017

This is getting tedious, right? Fortunately, we don’t have to fast forward to 2018. The year of the rooster saw plans laid long ago come to fruition. A new series of apps were under active development including support for Apple TV. A unified infrastructure for both the apps and the Twitter feeds meant that the same data was available at the same time, regardless of how it was presented. Plans settled in for how to support all the loyal, existing users while still moving into the spiffy new world.

It’s an exciting time to consider all that is old and all that is new, from WashoeBurn to Washoe Air to AQeye and what the future holds. That thrilling future is oh… so… close.


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