While air quality remains a concern in many Indian cities throughout the year, Diwali marks the period when the demand for information on poor air quality reaches its peak as stubble burning in northern India coincides with widespread bursting of firecrackers across most of the country. Some use the weather widget on iPhones while others rely on Google Maps to check the air quality of nearby locations. Google rolled out this feature for its navigation app about a year ago. Many others simply search for “AQI + region” in their browser and click on the first link.Over the past five years, the search interest for“AQI” has gone up during October and November for both web and news searches, as per Google Trends for India,
Platforms such as AQI.in are now vital tools for people to quantify the level of air pollution in their surroundings and voice their concerns on social media. A section of Twitter users (or Xcusers), sharing screenshots comparing Delhi’s AQI level with that in war-torn Gaza, is a glaring example of this.
“More and more people are taking interest in knowing the quality of air indoors and outdoors to make informed lifestyle decisions,” says Rohit Bansal, the site’s founder. “Two years ago, a friend told me that her child was facing health issues because of poor air quality in their area and she decided to relocate after comparing air quality data of different Indian cities on our site,” he adds.
A similar personal experience led Bansal to shift from a marketing career to becoming a full-time environmental entrepreneur over a decade ago.
BREATH & HEALTH
In 2012, Bansal faced health issues after working in Beijing for a few years. “Doctors back home attributed it to the pollution levels in the Chinese capital,” recalls the 35-year old entrepreneur during a Zoom video call from his current office in Rohini, Delhi. Foreseeing a similar problem in India, he bought the domain name AQI.in, aiming to build a business around it at some point. Later, he found inspiration in a Chinese company, Plan tower, known for creating efficient yet affordable air quality monitoring sensors that can measure fine particulate matter such as PM2.5 for as little as $40-50. He decided to replicate that approach in India.Today, Bansal’s company, Prana Air, produces and sells air quality-monitoring products costing Rs 3,000-50,000 for consumers. Products for industries start from Rs 50,000 and go up to Rs 10 lakh. “Prana Air has an annual turnover of Rs 5-6 crore,” says Bansal, adding that the company’s monthly expenses stand at Rs 23 lakh. “We made losses in the first few years, broke even in FY21-22 and got on a growth path thereon,” he adds.
AQI.in functions as the company’s data analytics front while Prana Air brings in the money that also sustains the website whose server costs go up to Rs 3 lakh in certain months, says Bansal. “But we have never tried to monetise AQI.in. We never ran any ads on the site so that we maintain the platform’s credibility,” he adds.
That said, he now believes the site has grown big enough for him to pitch to investors and secure funding for expansion. “We want to venture into water, soil and energy next, and become a holistic data analytics platform.”
The company claims that AQI.in ranks as the fourth most visited site worldwide for tracking air quality, following international platforms such as IQAir.com, AQIcn.org and AirNow.gov from Switzerland, China and the US, respectively. It also claims to be the most popular AQI site in India. Last year, the site introduced certain user interfaces in about a dozen foreign languages. Gyaneshwor Haobijam, project manager at the company, says the move has brought in substantial user traffic from Mexico, Canada, Russia, Indonesia and the Philippines. “During the forest fires in Canada in July, our site received 10x the usual traffic. However, our maximum traffic still comes from Delhi and Gurugram,” adds Haobijam who hails from Manipur.
Although ET could not independently verify these claims, analytics firm Similarweb’s data indicates that AQI.in’s desktop traffic fell from 401,000 visits in August this year to355,000 in September and then went up to 448,000 visits by the end of October.
In contrast, Similarweb data showed a month-on-month decline for both IQAir.com and AirNow.gov’s desktop traffic for the same period, while AQIcn.org followed a similar trajectory as AQI.in.
In absolute numbers, the international sites drew four-five times more desktop traffic than AQI.in, but these companies are older than the Indian site and were established between 1963 and 2008. AQI.in was founded in 2017. Besides, Haobijam says AQI.in receives 90% of its traffic via mobile phones as opposed to desktop.
However, sustaining traffic for sites like these is a challenge. The companies have to rely heavily on search engine optimisation(SEO) as most users tend to search for and click on the top result rather than returning to a favourite site.
The site’s senior designer, Riya Bhatia, believes that the platform’s visual character, depicting a boy whose attire and demeanour shift from “cheerful” to “concerning” with growing AQI levels, distinguishes it from other platforms. Bansal says an Egyptian designer named Yara Ellithi created the character in 2017. Bhatia also says that they keep introducing innovations to address design issues and maintain a “cleaner and minimalistic user interface.”
When the data takes an extra second to load on AQI.in, the site shows a message encouraging users to “Take a deep breath” in the meantime. An innovative addition could involve appending “at your own risk” based on the user’s location as soon as the page loads. Except that it might be too on the nose.
The post What’s in the air?: How AQI.in has become a vital tool for Indians to check the level of air pollution in their neighbourhood appeared first on Tezzbuzz.