Coronavirus data site built by a teen gets attention
The COVID-19 pandemic is of course all about lives and people.
But right after that, it's all about numbers.
And so many of us are craving a simple clean snapshot of what's going on, where are we, How big is this thing and where is it trending.
But so much of the data you get about it seems to be steeped in some kind of interpretation everywhere you look.
We still crave a clean snapshot.
Avi Schiffman can help us with this.
He is a teenager in the northwest of the United States, the Pacific Northwest, and he's developed a website at encode 2019.live the meaning which I'll explain here in a moment.
Which reminds us that just about anybody with a little bit of programming skill can become a citizen data scientist, and also how he has put together an interesting sort of risk projection tool.
I guess there's something interesting about the domain it's like super weird but the reason why it was ninja is because that was like the unofficial name for the virus.
Back when I started this and kind of like early January there wasn't the name COVID-19 yet.
Oh.>> Good point.
I forgot I forgot about that.
And of course all the dot coms are alive.
Yeah, I guess I started this website kind of like, I guess late December, early January times when there weren't many cases.
I think I started when there was like 51 cases.
And I guess what inspired me to make this website is that I was curious in what the numbers are of this virus, how many people were infected but To find that, I had I had to go to like Chinese government websites and they're all in Chinese and I don't speak Chinese and it was all kind of government wording there wasn't just like a table of numbers that could just see.
And you know, every single Chinese place had their own little province kind of CBC, or it could read news articles, but they were mostly out of date by the time I read them anyways, and they weren't like dynamically updating or anything.
So I thought I could just do like a better job.
And I'm surprised that there wasn't just like a dashboard against it just all the numbers.
Yeah>> See just all in one place.
all the countries just Africa, all the countries in Africa are just like right there.
You don't have to go to the individual government websites.
Behind that technical appetite that you had to make something that was a better tool.
What was the personal appetite or the core about this?
Did you feel like we didn't have a good handle as a as a society on where this thing was trending?
Yeah, I guess, I wanted to make something I always just like making things.
I made many things in the past.
And this is just like, another project.
I'm expected to be a global pandemic.
I mean, my generation has never had anything like that.
And I didn't expect the website to become so popular.
But you know, I just kind of went with the flow and you know, continued working on the website.
And you know, adding more things people wanted it.
The technology behind the website is called web scraping.
So let's say Korea for example, they have like a government kind of website, where All the kind of, you know, numbers and all the things on curried and everything but it's all just, you know, on there kind of one place.
And what I'm able to do is basically download that table of numbers and add that to a much larger data set of all the other countries.
And you know, so.
All the numbers and stuff come directly from the government sources and there's a lot of them.
So over time it's actually caused, y it's been harder to deal with it because there's so many countries that have to individually scrape that, if one thing goes wrong then I have to recoat the scraper.
So since then I've added a lot of [CROSSTALK].
Yeah, it's a big data formatting task, obviously.
And yeah, I think I've learned a lot of programming skills from this.
There's a lot of just coding skills that you can't just learn from watching YouTube videos and stuff.
You have to really make projects.
Be up at 3am in the morning-
Just coding random things.
I mean, I've gone through like the Spinoza looked at them like ngi nx logs at like you know, middle of the night to fix things so a lot of other random stuff
Okay, how much time did you spend on this thing getting it started and how much time does it take to keep it running now?
I think this website took me a couple days to make when I first did it.
But these days the website is entirely autonomous.
I haven't Really needed to code anything for the site in a couple weeks so while I'm sleeping, the numbers are still updating 24/7 every couple minutes.
And we should note you credit Daniel Conlon, a software engineer in Dublin, Ireland for some support.
On you building your site.
He runs the well-known COVID data site COV19.cc, and your main summary page is quite similar to his.
Though, after that, your site diverges in a number of ways from his.
He's a more professional programmer, so he helped me, I guess, refine a lot of the ways the website was working.
But all the design, all the way everything works and stuff like that, That's helping me over the course of like six months.
So are you a data guy or are you a coding guy like so good web product .>> All of it Really?
Okay, I do everything from all the media stuff to all the health analytics, I guess to know everything.
So that brings us to the most interesting part of your site, which is the survival rate calculator and folks See this.
You put in your age group sex and you answer a questionnaire of a few pre existing conditions.
And then you give them some, you know, very basic sort of a tier, I guess it's three tiers that it can come up with of the The risk around COVID-19.
What's powering that?
I guess is the question.
Yeah, so there's a lot of data, I guess, that I found on that kind of stuff.
And there's just a lot of interesting things about that.
So I thought it would be cool to make like a little calculator for that.
And I'm gonna think about adding more information as well.
Some things like location and BMI.
Have a lot of other factors into that as well.
A lot of people think it's pretty cool.
I mean, again, it's just an estimate.
I talked to some like epidemiologists and stuff like that.
The formulas for are kind of complicated, but it gives you I guess a relative close ish estimate.
And I think it also helps a lot of people.
They realize that The virus is not gonna just immediately kill them, but I think it also shows that if you are elder and you do have a lot of pre-existing health conditions that the virus still something serious and you should stay at home.
Yeah something interesting about it is a person not just can look at their own profile but they can punch in different age and pre existing condition profiles And they can learn about Should I trend this way or this way?
Had I not watched my way if I was a different age, where would I be?
I think there's an interesting value in that comparative use of the tool, not just saying what's my specific profile, cuz as I poke around here with my age and my gender, then I turn on and off preexisting conditions.
It kind of gives me a look at you know, had I not taken care of this or this and I had certain other conditions, look how much higher my estimated risk would be.
I find that a very interesting exploratory tool.
A lot of those numbers change drastically.
With age and the more health conditions you have and all that kind of stuff.
Yeah, I'm happy to have a mere 2.65 Percent chance of dying if I do get COVID-19.
So thank you for that.
[LAUGH] Let me ask you about where you'll go next.
All great software tools are a work in progress, right?
What else, you mentioned a couple of factors you'd like to add to the calculator.
What else might you do with this site?
I'm gonna continue having the website track the pandemic for, I don't know, I guess another year and a half.
I don't know how much longer there will still be numbers updating.
I guess once there's a vaccine that kinda stuff will change However, once the pandemic is over, I'm not gonna just delete the entire website because, it's linked so many places I've done so many interviews, it's just in so many places it would be dumb to just, make it a white screen.
So what I'm gonna do is make it just kind of like a free repository for information on.
COVID-19 pandemic, you know, if you want to download trend data, it's you know, format and all kinds of different ways for all kinds of researchers, you know, on this specific day there were this many cases and that many recovered in this country, you know, all that kinda information is will just be, you know, accessible in many different ways.
And, you know, also Compared with all kinds of graphs and stuff like that to, you know, previous pandemics and you know, also downloadable data for things like the Spanish flu, so it just kind of all that information right there.
And I think that will be a helpful tool for, you know, all kinds of analysts and researchers for the future.>> So I'm always curious to get into the mind of of today and tomorrow's technologists.
Where will this experience do you think lead you or inspire you to do in the foreseeable future?
Yeah, so you know, I don't have like any rigid plan of anything I'm going to do anytime soon.
I'm just kind of working on more things I made like a that protest website and that one's become kind of popular too.
That was a Black Lives Matter protest website.
Yeah, that one's been pretty cool as well.
I guess what I'm trying to do with these days is just, get make make a lot of interesting connections and read a lot of interesting opportunities that I have from working on one of the like the biggest websites ever And, against is just there's just so many things to do.
I mean, I'm again at the end of the day I'm only just some random kid, working on this website.
So a lot of that kind of stuff is very overwhelming but I want to continue to make more things in the future and you know, having a lot of connections to.
Venture capitalists and private suits and all that kind of stuff is pretty helpful, I think.
Yeah, have you had some interesting outreach and contacts made?
I've met a lot of interesting people.
I talked on the phone with the Snapchat CEO like a couple days ago.
Just a lot of interesting people in technology.
One thing I think I've done pretty good too is making things that are relevant topics in the media.
If I made a website on Legos or something like that, that's not gonna become.
Popular media or.
Anything then your mind for your next topic.
World's full of problems.
Is there another one you think?
I think in the short term, it's something I'd like to Make something maybe about elections.
I think that could be something interesting.
I have a lot of ideas of what I could do, not just for the presidential election, but just you know, all elections in general.
I have a lot of ideas for that.
But in I guess in a bigger picture as well I wanna make something a lot bigger now, now that I've made, I think a lot of more smaller things I'd like to spend some time working on like a much bigger project and learning about how companies work and business plans and all that kind of stuff.
I'd like to create some more high impact Things I think I did.
I think I did my stuff with health analytics.
And I saw I saw something in the New York Times where the CDC was saying they were like mortified by the fact that some teenager was able to update numbers faster than the agency themselves.
I thought that was kind of cool.
So you know, I think I've done my stuff with health analytics and I'd like to move into more high tech that you know company I think is really cool as Napster.
You know, they were a terrible company.
They were sued by everyone who ever made music, but they changed the music forever and because of Napster.
We now have things like, you know, Spotify, YouTube, music, all that kind of stuff.
So I'd like to make just really high impact things of technology.
And I don't really have any rigid plan of anything I'm gonna do.
Yeah, it's interesting the world out there is full of as you Proven and as you've experienced, it's full of interesting feeds.
You know, there's a lot of source out there that's waiting to be molded into something interesting and yet the feeds are out there.
It just you know, it takes someone who can visualize I. And sometimes make it simpler, not more complicated.
That's kind of what I take away from your site.
When I made the Coronavirus subset I wanted to make it very visually appealing and I designed it with the mobile interface in mind.
Now when you visit this website on the phone, the first thing you see is just the quick axiom.
You see the total confirm total deceased.
Now it's very easy to just, get it Get that information has to add a glance, 80% of my traffic or mobile users.
So it's a big deal to make it accessible on mobile.
And you can just easily take a screenshot of that and share it and I don't know, all the information of the COVID-19 pandemic is just right there.
All in front of you, and then you can scroll down and see breakdowns of all the states of the United States and all that stuff.
Yeah, it's really cool.
It's nicely done.
It's got a great sort of snapshot look and I think the fact that it's pretty much just straightforward, unfiltered, is refreshing these days in age.
So, Avi Schiffman is the developer of the N Cove 2019 dot live pandemic website.
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