Crowds are a hit. Millions of people, connected by the Internet, are now contributing ideas and information to projects big and small. Crowdsourcing, as it is called, is helping to solve tricky problems and providing localized information. And with the right mobile apps, contributing to the crowd -- and using its wisdom -- is easier than ever.
Weather apps, for example, sometimes have data only for cities or towns far from a specific location. The Weathermob app, free on iOS, tackles that by sourcing weather reports from people who are exactly at the spot you are interested in visiting or knowing more about. Users submit weather information from their location, as well as other data, like their mood or what they're doing.
As I write this, for example, some users in the app's "nearby" page have shared photos from a beach not far away where it is 70 degrees and sunny, and they've added a smiley tag to the photos. There is also an option for adding comments, which means those beach partyers could add information, like "Come and visit here -- a band is playing in an hour."
This aspect of the app is entertaining but not particularly useful -- I can take a step outside and get most of that information. But the app is searchable for information on other locations. When I looked up a town that I would be visiting, for example, Weathermob users reported that it was 66 degrees, and the app's detailed forecast page reported an 11 percent chance of rain the next day.
Entering your own weather report is easy. You dial through a rotating list of weather icons to one that matches what you see. Then you select a mood and an icon from the "it's weather for..." list, which includes oddities like a sea gull or a cricket bat. You can also add a comment, photo or video. It's fun to use, but the app depends on users' actively taking part to deliver meaningful information -- and that's not necessarily going to cover every location.
Weathersignal, a free Android app, takes crowdsourced weather reporting one step further by using sensors in your phone or tablet to assess the local weather conditions. Your device effectively becomes a miniature weather station. The makers stress that the app is experimental and that not every Android device has the right sensors. With the right device the app can collect data like air pressure, ambient temperature and even brightness. But even then, Weathersignal is quite basic and has a few quirks -- like telling me my Nexus 7 is sitting in 37-degree Fahrenheit weather, when it's plainly a warm day.
But as more people use the app, the team should be able to refine the algorithms to make better calculations and predictions about current and future weather. For now, this app as something amusing to contribute to, not a reliable weather app based on crowdsourced data.
If you are trying to learn a new language, it is worth trying Duolingo, a great example of a crowdsource app. The app is like many that teach languages, with guided lessons on vocabulary, verb use and pronunciation. It's graphically very attractive, with straightforward menus. There is also a rewards scheme that makes learning a new language a gamelike experience.
But where other apps simply test your new language skills on preset examples, Duolingo takes another approach. As you move through the lessons, either in the app or on the complementary Web site, you may find yourself being asked to translate other Web sites or documents. This means that you're part of a crowdsourced translation engine -- a point of pride when you get something right, and probably no harm done if you get it wrong, since the app will rely on the wisdom of the crowd. The apps, on iOS and Android, are free, but at the moment available only for students of French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and English.
Find it difficult to make a decision? Then you might want to download Seesaw, a crowdsource app that is all about decision making. If you're undecided on something, Seesaw can poll your social network friends with a simple click-to-vote mechanism.
If you're considering a new haircut, for example, you could put photos of four different haircuts into a status update on Seesaw and submit a question like "Which one is best?" Your Seesaw friends, added from your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account, can click on the picture they like best. They can also add a comment, if so inclined. It's simple and easy to use, and you may be surprised by the answers. The app is photo-centric, though, so it may not suit all types of questions. It's free on iOS.
Finally, check out the crowdsource video app Pixorial Krowds on iOS and Android, an app for sharing video of an event or location. The idea is that if you're attending something like a music festival you can see what's going on from other attendees' perspectives. The interface is a little confusing, but the app is free.
Crowdsourcing apps are most useful when you actively take part and share data. But do check the apps' privacy policies to be certain that you're comfortable sharing the information that you are submitting.
Yahoo's Fantasy Football apps have just been updated with a valuable new feature: They can now connect users to a live draft and even set up mock drafts. If you've never played fantasy sports, now is a great time to try out Yahoo's free app on iOS and Android.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.