UK Snow Map Leverages Twitter and Hosting

19 January 2010 Staff

Manchester, UK – According to the official UK weather service, the Met Office, the UK has just suffered through its longest spell of freezing conditions since December 1981.

The recent winter storms across the whole of the UK wreaked havoc with public transport and generally disrupted the lives of millions of UK residents. In calculating which regions were affected and determining where snow was falling or not and in what amounts, millions of UK residents turned to Twitter. Hundreds of thousands of them also turned to a specific Twitter-based application created by East Midlands resident and freelance web developer, Ben Marsh. The UK Snow Map lets Twitter users report where snow is falling and see those reports on a map in real-time. It works regardless of the cloud cover, which weather satellites do not.

The system works like this: anyone with a Twitter account (for those who don’t know, Twitter is an Internet-based microblogging service which limits messages to 140 characters) can report on local snow conditions. The person tweets (the name for an individual message) the hashtag #uksnow, plus their location – either the placename or first half of the local postcode, and a rating of snowfall from 0 (no snow) to 10 (blizzard). Those results are then placed on a map of the UK in real-time through the development expertise of Mr. Marsh – and give a visual reference on the local snow conditions as reported by actual residents on the ground in that location.

The UK Snow Map has been active since last February, but has increased in use exponentially year over year – mirroring the growth in popularity of Twitter in the UK. Last year approximately 50,000 UK residents used the map. This year, the map received 50,000 visits in one day during the height of the snowfall last week. During the recent wintry weather, the application received over 100,000 unique snow reports from all over the UK with rates of over 100 tweets per minute at peak times.

Such intense traffic loads can bring a website to a crawl if not properly managed. Mr. Marsh therefore chose website hosting firm, in Manchester to execute on the technical end of the web hosting and web server support. Ben Marsh explained the importance of the web hosting component in the application, ”You need a host that can keep an eye on your server’s traffic and usage levels and do what they can to keep the site available and running smoothly. When the winter storms hit again this year, demand on the snow map peaked and was much higher than I experienced the previous winter with the original snow map. The app was struggling to serve content to all users so I asked to upgraded the account to a virtual web server as quickly as they could. Within a few hours the app had been migrated to a new virtual server and the app was then easily able to handle the number of visitors it was receiving.”

Mr. Marsh concluded by commenting on the viral nature of the application, ”The main thing that surprised me was the way it really caught the public imagination and how popular it became, and how quickly! I think it illustrates well how having a good visualisation of data can encourage people to participate and add to to it. So much so, that #uksnow was the number 8 top trending news topic on Twitter for the whole of 2009, which in itself is astonishing!”

To view the UK Snow Map please visit:

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