Archive for the ‘startup’ Category

Replacing the Free Site with Free Trials

To our visitors, fans, supporters, and customers:

When we first broke ground on Stormpulse.com, Brad and I were just a couple of fresh-faced entrepreneurs attempting to create something amazing.  Five years, 61 million visits, and 17 million visitors later, we can look at this work of two founders and a handful of amazing contributors and feel a real sense of accomplishment for having come this far.

But of course, we can’t stop there.  We now have a growing list of customers and prospects that want us to keep pushing our service forward.  Alongside this rising mountain of feature requests, we also have an expanding vision for weather mapping and alerting that can transform the way people manage their operations before, during, and after weather that impacts their business.

As a bootstrapped company on the web, keeping up with these demands means continually reviewing and revising our business.  One of the biggest questions that we’ve faced since Day One is how much to give away for free.  Give away too little and we may fail to grab the attention of new visitors that share the site with friends and colleagues through word-of-mouth.  Give away too much and we risk treading water and disappointing, rather than growing and improving the service for our customers.

Over the years, we’ve tried balancing these concerns by experimenting with advertising (which unfortunately makes the experience worse and worse), consumer subscriptions, business subscriptions, and larger enterprise sales and business development.

In the end, I believe we’ve learned that maintaining a completely free site isn’t sustainable, nor is it in the best interest of the people that benefit the most from our service.  Some of the world’s most important missions are using Stormpulse every day, from U.S. military bases to manufacturing facilities to transportation and shipping and energy companies.  We want to continue serving these missions to the fullest extent of our abilities.

To succeed at this, we have to have a laser-like focus.  And so, after serving up over 120 million pageviews, we’ve decided to replace the free site with free trials.  Beginning in April, visitors will be asked to sign up for a free trial and then decide if they are going to continue using the site for a yearly subscription, or whether they will instead use one of the many free sites available on the web.  Plans will start with individual subscriptions, with additional tiers of service for businesses that need to add geographic data to the platform or take advantage of our rules-based, customizable weather alerting.

Many people have asked us why we can’t also have a consumer subscription.  As our support and development teams grow, splitting our attention may become practical.  For now, we’re choosing to focus on the needs of leaders inside operations centers, corporate security teams, and supply chains, all of which can be greatly affected by the weather.

We’re looking forward to a bright future of continuing to improve our service, which so many have come to know and love and expect to remain the best on the market.  We’ve got some incredible ideas waiting up our sleeves.

We’ll be sharing updates in the coming days on the new plans and pricing that will be a part of this change (hint: they’re a lot simpler and better than ever before) (Update, 4/4/12: Here they are, as well as free trials).  As we go through this transition, we’d like to hear from you (as always).  You can share your thoughts with us at: feedback@stormpulse.com.

Many thanks from this Florida native,

Matthew Wensing

Co-founder, Stormpulse

Live weather data & video on Stormpulse during US landfalls in 2011

This is a guest post by Mark Sudduth, owner and operator of HurricaneTrack.com.

I am pleased to announce that HurricaneTrack.com is partnering with Stormpulse beginning today. The partnership will mean an incredible hurricane tracking experience for both of our audiences. I met with Stormpulse co-founder Matt Wensing a couple of weeks ago in Florida. We talked about some ideas that grew in to even bigger ideas and before we knew it, we had hatched a plan that will revolutionize hurricane tracking. Our plan is to combine the ultra-modern look of the Stormpulse brand with the educational, informative and live data aspects of HurricaneTrack.com. It is no secret that our Java maps are showing their age. Five or six years ago, they were cutting edge, now they are dated and were in need of a complete re-design. Instead of doing that, we have decided to add a custom Stormpulse tracking map to our homepage (as seen below). The map’s functionality will evolve over time but it will give our visitors instant access to a live hurricane tracking map from the moment an “invest” is activated by the National Hurricane Center.

Stormpulse and its related tracking maps have quickly become famous the world over. Utilized by millions of people from business, industry, government agencies and of course the avid hurricane tracker, there is no mistaking a Stormpulse tracking map. We are honored to have the privilege of providing the Stormpulse brand to our visitors. In fact, we will develop special features for our version of the tracking map not found anywhere else.

As for our contribution to Stormpulse, we will develop high resolution digital data and live video streams for Stormpulse clients. The data will be plotted on Stormpulse maps generated for specific needs of their clients- ranging from personal use to large corporate and government decision making entities. The long term goal is to blanket a region with dozens of instrumented towers to provide unprecedented live data and video streams on a level never before available. This partnership will help to facilitate that goal.

Matt had this to say regarding the new partnership:

“Mark’s proven delivery of accurate, real-time storm data and video feeds during landfalls makes the HurricaneTrack team an excellent extension to the Stormpulse platform. Working together is an obvious and natural fit which will allow us to demonstrate what can be done when you bring together the right expertise.”

Today’s announcement is only the beginning to what we both see as an enormous opportunity to serve both of our user bases with the best tools available. The entire HurricaneTrack.com team looks forward to pushing the limits of what we can do with the power of Stormpulse on our side.

Monthly traffic limit for free Stormpulse API users

Since introducing the Stormpulse API in July 2008, our tracking map has been embedded in over 1,000 websites and viewed tens of millions of times. We’d like to thank you if you’ve been a part of our free API program, to which we owe much of the credit for getting Stormpulse into the hands of the site’s fans.

Since that time, we’ve added more features and made Stormpulse into a more reliable service for thousands of businesses and emergency operations personnel worldwide. Maintaining the reliability of our website and API service is central to being useful during critical times, as our customers have grown to depend on us for the best visualizations of storm data on the web.

It’s become apparent during the first half of the 2010 hurricane season that we cannot maintain the reliability of our service while continuing to provide a free, unlimited traffic version of our embeddable maps. The immense number of requests to our free maps places a significant strain on the service for everyone.

As such, we are discontinuing the unlimited traffic aspect of the free API. Beginning Monday, September 6th (Labor Day), all sites using the free version of our maps will be limited to 50,000 requests per month. Once this limit is reached, your API key may be deactivated for the rest of the calendar month.

Those that expect higher traffic are encouraged to sign up for Stormpulse Maps Pro, which allows for unlimited traffic on a pay-per-use basis.

Thanks for your feedback as we transition into this new phase of Stormpulse.

Locality, beauty, and speed: major updates to Stormpulse

Now with city-level coverage for thousands of U.S. locations and ZIP codes

We’ve spent the last four months working on an update to make Stormpulse.com more local, more beautiful, and faster.  And as of this morning, you can go and see for yourself.

Major highlights:

  • Home page attempts to geo-locate and route you to a local weather page.
  • Current conditions box shows current temperature, conditions, and winds.
  • Forecast box shows high and low temperature and an hour-by-hour summary for the next three days.
  • Map imagery with a resolution of 500 m/pixel–four times greater than our previous maps (so you zoom in four times closer).
  • Speed boost: the map only loads the severe weather information it needs for your current view (no loading or rendering data needlessly).
  • Map enhancements–clearer labeling and more beautiful terrain.

Those are the big items.  Other items we get excited about:

  • When viewed with an iPhone, the weather information is displayed in a friendly, readable fashion (and more mobile support coming soon).
  • The ‘Share Map‘ feature now works for U.S. Severe Weather and allows you to share down to the plotpoint for a storm.  For example, a close-up view of Katrina bearing down on NOLA.  This will work for forecast positions during an active storm as well.
  • Improved color scheme for severe weather alerts.  In our first attempt at severe weather coverage, we adopted the National Weather Service’s colors entirely.  Since then, we’ve seen a few big storms come and go, and a lot of winter storms come and go, and we’ve adjusted our colors to improve visibility on the critical alerts, and quiet down the less important ones.
  • Simplified site navigation bar.  Fewer choices with an expandable button at the end means less confusion, we believe.
  • Intelligent expanding and contracting of weather info boxes in the left column.  We are big believers in only showing what matters and hiding the rest.  We’ve tried to make some smart decisions about what to hide and what to show by default.  Tell us if you disagree!

Since so much of this is visual, I thought I’d include a few more screenshots that do this update justice.

A Winter Storm Watch in Hartford, CT:

Wintry weather in … Texas?!  Yep.

As always, we looking forward to hearing what you think.

The Stormpulse Team

Stormpulse Advanced: the better way to track tropical weather

After many, many hours of conversation (with you) and coding (in relative isolation), we’re excited to release our new friend, Stormpulse Advanced, into the wild.

The initial feature set (shown in the screencast above):

Satellite Loops. 12-hour loops using three different kinds of imagery: rainbow, water vapor, and true color.  I’m particularly fond of the true color, as we attempted to blend it as seamlessly with the Stormpulse map as possible.  These loops not only animate, but can be told to auto-repeat in sync.  If you love the way our big blue marble looks from space, I think you’ll love this too.

Auto-refresh. Just click this option On in the layers menu and the Stormpulse page will refresh automatically every 5 minutes.  Especially handy when using Stormpulse as an continuous information display during active times of the season.  This works in full-screen mode as well (counter placed in the page title bar).

Save-my-preferences. No longer do you have to turn this layer on and turn that one off each and every time you load the map.  Turn a layer off and it stays off.  Turn it on, and it stays on.  No need to set up anything in an admin interface–our site learns your preferences as you use the map, no configuration required.

Ad-free experience. The free verion of Stormpulse is supported by advertisements, but advertisements are neither displayed nor loaded in Stormpulse Advanced.

Want to see more? Here’s another screencast I recorded this morning, showing Stormpulse Advanced’s satellite loops in action.

We hope you’re as interested in signing up as we are exhausted.  In any event, we’d love to hear from you.  Feel free to let us know what you think!

You should follow us on twitter here.

10 minute site outage on June 3rd at 2:45PM EDT

By Neeta Lind (Flickr)

By Neeta Lind (Flickr)

As you may already know, our site was down for 5-10 minutes yesterday afternoon.

We investigated the root cause and traced it back to some database enhancements that we made this winter, after the last hurricane season.  This portion of our database system is responsible for the cities you see on our tracking map, so in addition to the map being unavailable, you may have noticed the cities were missing for a larger stretch.

We’ve taken three specific steps (I’ll spare you the gory details) to prevent this from re-occurring in the future, and we appreciate your patience as we grow.

Follow @stormpulse on twitter

Stormpulse is on twitter. We’ll be broadcasting brief updates on new company developments and storm activity. If you take a look at the right-hand column of this blog, you’ll see our last 5 tweets.

twitter-16

Stormpulse Advanced survey

Want to help shape our future? Then head over to our site and click the ‘Help Stormpulse, take our survey!‘ link in the top-right-hand corner.

We’re looking to add advanced accounts with premium features to our site, and we’d appreciate your frank input.

We’re building our own ad network

If you just want to know how to advertise with us, you can head to the Advertise page on our site. If, however, you’d first (or only) like to know more about this decision of ours, read on …

As I began this post, I wrestled with a title. Something about “accepting advertising” came to mind, but falls so short of what we’re really doing. What are we doing? First, a bit of context:

By our latest estimate, building Stormpulse.com has taken over 10,000 hours stretched over 4 years time. In that time, we’ve done nothing to monetize the site except adding a Tipjoy button and later a PayPal Donate button. Those steps were a response to user demands that we have some way of making money off the site. (We felt appreciated to say the least.)

Some of you (a very, very small number) may have noticed that we took down the Donate button last Friday. This reflects a decision we’ve made: we’re going to build a network of severe weather-related advertisers from the ground up.

In keeping with the same do-it-yourself spirit that caused us to write our own Flash application code instead of co-opting Google Maps, we’re going to flip open our phones and make the calls and make the advertising connections it takes to ensure that our site never has an irrelevant ad on its pages. We can’t leave that up to a contextual algorithm.

As consumers of our own site, we really love the ad-free experience, so we’re determined to make our advertisements as content-like as possible. No fat bellies, no dancing bears, no blinking text. Many of those 10,000 hours invested in the site have been about high-quality display. We’re not going to muck it up now.

In fact, we’re building our own network so that we have a total control that will allow us to ultimately remove the line between advertising and content. What do I mean by that? Another day, another post (but yes, we have something coming). For now, know that we are looking forward to speaking with anyone that would like to advertise their product or service on our site. We have several options available, including geo-targeting.

Those of you that remain concerned should know that we’re also planning to offer an ad-free option. If that’s something you’d be interested in, please let us know.

Concerns, questions, and comments anyone? Fire away.

Happy birthday: Stormpulse turns 4!

This week, Stormpulse turns four years old. The site began as a just-for-fun project in mid-September of 2004. Back then I was calling it ‘canewatch’–the name of the folder on my laptop that held all of the little PHP scripts that grabbed XML from the National Hurricane Center and parsed the massive HURDAT file containing all of the best track information back to 1851.

An excerpt from my first blog post about it, from September 21st, 2004:

National Hurricane Center / Tropical Prediction Center — my latest web project involves hurricanes. Twelve hundred of them to be exact. Well, including tropical storms. Can’t share much detail but the theme of the story is that I’m tired of the cartoon renderings that currently pass as meteorological forecasts and have embarked on a journey to bring information rich interactive displays using hurricane data to the general public. I’ve also been waking up between 4:00am and 5:30am in the morning to plug away at this, as my life with a now-nine-week old is rather full!

And another:

To supplement the quasi-dearth of creative challenge at my workplace, I’m currently coding away for what will be stormpulse.com, a real-time updating hurricane tracking site. Nothing there yet, but my PowerBook is gladly accepting a pummeling of data as I build the MySQL back-end. This is an exciting project in many ways. From a social benefits standpoint, I truly believe people deserve better than the cartoon-like graphics and information they get from their local weather service. Technologically, it’s loaded with challenges of integrating multiple data sources by fetching live feeds and simultaneously calling on the historical data that will be stored as well (all of the tracking information since 1851). For the geeks out there, it looks something like: Original input + fetched data (Cron jobs) –> [MySQL] <– PHP –> [XML] <– XML Connector –> [Flash]. Yesterday I downloaded 32,000 GPS coordinates for the state of Florida. Fun! :-D

That old personal blog also contains a few posts commenting on Hurricane Frances, the storm that most directly inspired me to write the code (my family was and still is in West Palm Beach, near Frances’ ultimate landfall). For those of you interested in startups, you may want to read more about our beginnings here at Stormpulse.com.

What have we accomplished in four years? We’ve launched a site, we’ve heard a lot of great feedback, we’ve assimilated that feedback, and we’ve received more visitors in the last three weeks than we ever thought possible.

Which brings me to a very big ‘THANKS!’ to all of you that have helped spread the word. Thank you!