Over these last few years, air pollution monitoring in China has progressed through a few generations. First was the website iphone.bjair.info, which made reading the US Embassy’s AQI Twitter feed much more user-friendly (and unblocked). Then came the slew of smartphone apps such as China Air Quality, which allowed people to post images of crazy-bad AQI directly to their Weibo feeds. Now we have a new generation of websites which take all the hundreds of new official pollution monitors across China and provide user-friendly views. The most important one for Beijingers is the official website from the Beijing Environmental Ministry, which has a great visual map of Beijing showing all three dozen stations, all color coded with the updated hourly AQI. All you do is click on each dot and the local AQI pops up. Here’s the image:
Their website is relatively user friendly, but I now have a new favorite site, at aqicn.info or aqicn.org. I love their site for two reasons: #1 because you can instantly see every AQI monitor in Beijing just by clicking on this link here at http://www.aqicn.info/?map&loc=beijing. Here’s what it looks like:
Even more amazingly, you can scroll and zoom around all of China and instantly see hundreds of AQI readings in dozens of cities. It’s addicting to compare cities.
My #2 favorite feature is the incredible technical data you get when clicking on any of those AQI numbers. Their data pulls all the info from these particle monitors, which includes not just PM2.5 and PM10, but other pollutants as well as weather data — temperature, wind speed, humidity, and other data, for the previous five days. It’s an amazingly cool learning tool for anyone, and I can see school science classes having a field day with this. For example, here are the readings during the sandstorm last week:
As you can see in those last bars on the far right, the PM10 skyrocked while PM2.5, SO2 and NO2 all went down. Also, you can see exactly at what time this sandstorm hit, because the windspeed jumped up, humidity dropped, and temperature and pressure rose. Great stuff!
Here’s My Interview
So I’ve been emailing an aqicn.org co-founder Ronan Jezequel back and forth since I discovered this site, helping his team work out some kinks. I wanted to know more about them so we had a Q&A, and here is our conversation:
Q. So who started aqicn.info, and what made you decide to do this?
It all started back in 2007, when the US embassy started to publish their PM2.5 AQI twit. At that time, aqicn.info was just a simple proxy website showing the Beijing AQI and PM2.5 values, just same as what was shown on twitter.
Then, last year, the PM2.5 data for Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, but also for the major cities in China (based on MEP), became available. That’s when, together with a colleague working in the design industry, we decided to evolve the aqicn.info website into a cross platform AQI widget and website dedicated for Air Quality in Asia.
It took us quite some effort to setup the system, and now that it is working, aqicn.info’s main motivation has shifted to bring transparency on Air Quality data. Nowadays, the main driver is to “provide information as clean as the air one wish to have”.
Q. How has the reception been? Are you getting a lot of website visits?
The reception is extremely good, and definitely much beyond expectations. There is a real concern about the Quality of Air in the population, and this concern is definitely reflected in the number of daily hits seen on the web server traffic.
The number of hits is actually so significant that we had to spend lot of time and effort on optimizing the website to cope with the traffic, but also invest in new dedicated high performance servers to host the website.
Q. What about media reception? Are TV/blogs/others noticing you?
So far no TV attention that we know of, but definitely many blogs and website are referencing aqicn.info. We also have many daily direct requests from individuals asking for all kind of information, and that’s why we have set up the FAQ section on the website.
We also have a lot of attention from the scientific community, and we are working on a way to provide the full AQI historic data, for free, for the scientific community, provided it can help to better understand the air pollution mechanisms and help to bring better living conditions in the most sensitive cities.
Q. Is your audience more Chinese or more foreigners?
Our audience is definitely international! While a large majority of the traffic comes from China, for which there is roughly a 50/50 split between Chinese and foreigners (based on language information), we also have a good audience from the rest of Asia, such as Thailand, Korean, Japan, …
We even got attention from Latin America, from where a Professor Garcia contacted us to explain that Air Pollution is also an issue over there. The example he gave was a record PM2.5 of 787, with a visibility of just 50 meters for the City of Mexico in 2013!
Q. What are your long-term goals with this? Do you plan to make $$ somehow?
Our strategy is anchored around free AQI information, so that our users will never have to pay to get the Air Quality data, wherever they are in the world. This is anchored around our concept of “providing information as clean as the air one wish to have”. In the long term, the plan is to extend the AQI information not only to all of Asia, but also to the rest of the world.
Regarding the business aspect, we have many tracks on-going. One of them is the development of a new set of consumer products related to Air Quality. All I can say for now is that it won’t be yet another air filter or mask series, but instead, some cool design product made to help you in everyday life. You won’t have to wait too long before seeing the product, which will be available during this first half 2014.
Follow me on: