How to create COVIDWA

Hello, I am one of the covidwa.com founders, a volunteer based project to search for vaccine availability. This project runs very fast with ups and downs and it is too early to reflect on the full story, but one aspect we often are asked about is how to replicate the effort for another state. This is really a time sensitive question, almost too late, so let me share my learnings that might help you to bootstrap the effort.

Start simple and launch within couple of days.

For the website, take whatever is simple and allows custom HTML. A paid plan on weebly or wix of similar would go. We used Jekyll framework. As I said, you can put together a decent website with an Airtable on it, without coding and quite quick.

Keep minimalistic data structure

You need data

The key win in our original design was simple API that allowed other people to plug their scrapers in vary fast: we’d issue a key for a scraper and a scraper would report availability by that key. The scraper author could implement it in any language and run in any environment. Eventually we consolidated scrapers into a single system, but for long we had scrapers running on our own laptops as bash scripts.

Build a team

  • People to monitor new clinics and add their info
  • People to check availability for existing clinics
  • Software developers to build scrapers and automate
  • Business people to build relations with similar efforts and share data. Without help of others you won’t survive
  • People for community outreach, media outreach
  • UX and Web design
  • Customer support
  • ….

Also keep your door open for different help venues. You never know. We had people who suggested what we could not originally think of, for example ad credits. At the same time, make sure you build structure and good onboarding experience before let many people in. Volunteers should be given means to get effective.

Strive for asynchronous communications, thus document critical agreement and how things need to be done (when it is important). Establish open culture (everybody can see everything).

Move fast

Technical recap

  • Airtable
  • Static website with embedded airtable
  • Several scrapers in bash and other languages
  • Simple backend on Express — you can start even without it

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