Weather apps are duller than a doorknob, but I've been testing one that puts a little spring in my step. It's like having a counselor who sends an encouraging note each day, even if the real point is to help you decide how to dress for the day and get your work done.
Late last year, the Sunshine app surpassed a million users, and I've finally figured out what makes it so valuable. For starters, you can interact with the app and select an option about how you are feeling, such as cold, energetic, or distracted. Thousands of other users in my area do the same thing, and the app uses this information to determine how the current weather might impact my day, both physically (getting wet, rays of sunshine) and emotionally (distracted, charged up for work, or a little down).
After using it for a few weeks, I started seeing a few interesting notifications.
Today, the app sent me a message to eat a hearty breakfast because the morning will be foggy and cold, but then the clouds will break and the temperature will rise. That's much more helpful than telling me it's going to be sunny later and 55-degrees. The developers obviously know there's a science behind productivity. We don't automatically become productive, but environmental factors always play a role.
Here's an example of how this worked for me. In a few cases, the app told me flat out that it's going to be cold and miserable. It was trying to prepare me. On those days, I decided to go to a nearby coffee-shop that has bright lights and a pleasant atmosphere as opposed to hunkering down in my office. Recently, we've had some warmer sunnier days in my area, and after seeing a note from the Sunshine app, I decided to work in my office to avoid distractions and cocoon a bit.
That act of interacting with the app--selecting an option that I'm feeling cold or distracted, clicking an icon for my mood--is also based on science. As humans, we like to give feedback. Knowing there are other people selecting their mood and that this determines which notifications might appear turns Sunshine into a massive social experiment, one that is more than a simple reading from a weather service. The rise of social media is, in many ways, attributable to the fact that many of us work in isolation on a computer and there's a great need to have more social touch-points during the day.
You might wonder, though--can an app really make you happy? I wasn't too impressed by Sunshine at first, mostly because I've been conditioned to ignore most notifications and I already know weather apps are really boring. I know they don't make a difference and become background noise. Yet, after a few weeks, I came to rely on the customized messages--they often told me how to prepare for the day like a productivity coach.
I decided to find out more and ask the developers how it works.
"When we receive feedback on energy levels from users, we tailor our advice to how they are feeling," says Katerina Stroponiati, the founder of Sunshine. "If sunny weather makes them feel energetic, we'll send them advice on how to channel that energy into productivity and stay focused. If cloudy weather makes them tired, we'll give them tips on how keep themselves alert and motivated. For instance, 'A few short moments of brisk movement can give you energy.' Personalized advice based on their conditions is more effect at increasing productivity."
Interestingly, Stroponiati says 80% of the Sunshine users are 20-years-old or younger, which is astounding to me. Millennials like to be part of a team.
For me, the app worked wonders (even though I'm a little older than 20). I selected the current weather and how I was feeling, and the app seemed to respond with custom messages meant for me. That interaction felt like a coach was giving me tips on how to boost my energy for the specific conditions. I didn't really think a social weather app could impact my mood, but there's something about seeing a message from a bot that is aware of my personal definition of cold or how I sometimes get distracted that proved helpful.
I'm curious if you experience the same thing. Try out the app for a few weeks--give it some time--and then drop me a note if you've noticed the same level of impact.