Avi Schiffmann created one of the world’s most popular information hubs tracking COVID-19 cases around the globe, as a side-project between high school classes. He’s a champion for the web as a free source of information and data and has created sites tracking and providing information on Black Lives Matter protests across the USA and the 2020 presidential election.
I spend almost all my free time programming websites and apps. In early 2020, I started one of the first coronavirus tracking sites before the name Covid-19 existed. It is called ncov2019.live because that was the “unofficial” name for the virus at the time. Since then, the site has exploded in traffic with hundreds of millions of users from all over the world. Dr Fauci in the US, and many other scientists and government health agencies around the world, have even praised the site.
I started the site because I found it so hard to find the data on the new virus in China. There was a clear lack of access to information on what would soon be a global pandemic. For the most up-to-date information I had to go to Chinese government health websites, but they were all in Chinese, a language I don’t speak. They were also slow to load, full of government jargon and didn’t work on mobile devices. There was also the occasional news article, but those were mostly out of date by the time I read them and weren’t dynamically updating. They were also filled with annoying advertisements.
Data and information should not be hard to find, especially now. I wanted to make the data easy to access and enjoyable to use. My site works on mobile devices, for example, and I have easily laid-out tables using colours and simple fonts. I also keep out distracting advertisements and sponsorships — something I wish most sites on the internet did.
My favorite story about how the site was useful was from back in January 2020 when I got an email from an American businessman who travelled to Wuhan for a meeting just as the area went into lockdown. He doesn’t speak Chinese and struggled to get clear information when he talked to people about what was happening, making him feel scared and isolated. He was grateful to be able to get clear information he could trust from the site, which helped reassure him while he was forced to stay in the region during the lockdown period.
I’ve heard many more stories of families and how they are keeping track of all their different family members across the world. For example, a mother might have a daughter in India and a son in America, and rather than using a bunch of different government data sources to find out COVID statistics in each country, she can use a single site that centralises all the information she needs, making it a lot easier for her to check up on her family.
2020 was definitely the year that internet access became an essential utility. You need the internet to see what’s happening around the world. And without the internet, you can’t go to school or do your job anymore.
Everything I know about programming I learnt from the web. You really can learn anything online, from web development to basket weaving. On YouTube, there are web development tutorials that can teach you pretty much everything you need to know. I also spent a lot of time in web development chat rooms where I could ask programming questions to industry professionals all over the world. I did all this with just my laptop in my bedroom. You absolutely can change the world without leaving your bedroom — all because of the web.
Wikipedia is definitely one of mankind’s greatest creations. And it remains ad- and sponsorship-free which I really like. As a result of Wikipedia and the web, you can have essentially the sum total of human knowledge all in your pocket — which is amazing.
The internet is becoming increasingly more essential as the years go by, yet a lot of people still struggle to access a free, uncensored, stable web. Digital inequality has consequences. Internet access should be a basic human right and utility, because in 2021, internet access in your home is as important as water or heat.
My site still remains one of the top COVID tracking sites, and I am still working on it – just today I added vaccination data. Right now I am waiting for college decisions to arrive, and I am learning a lot about tech startups and I hope to create my own soon.
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