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Microsoft, Facebook, Slack & Others Partner with World Health Org on Coronavirus Hackathon

Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, Slack, Pinterest and other tech industry giants have joined forces with the World Health Organization (WHO) to organize a hackathon to promote the development of software solutions that address "challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic."

The Build for COVID19 Global Online Hackathon (#BuildforCOVID19) was announced on Tuesday and began taking project submissions today. Interested developers can register on the DevPost hackathon registry, and also a registration page created by the Hack Club. The deadline for submitting projects is Monday. The hackathon organizers will announce the top projects on April 3.

The first two weeks of a social-isolation campaign that's on the verge of locking down the population of the entire country -- not to mention the world -- might seem like an odd moment to gather the efforts of software developers for a traditionally sleep-sucking, cheek-by-jowl, code-cramming session, but the event's organizers see it as a valuable means of focusing expertise, creativity, and plain old brain power on some aspects of the world-shaking crisis through a platform that keeps everyone working from a safe distance.

"Given the isolation currently being experienced within communities right now, we want to create an online space where developers could ideate, experiment and build software solutions to help address this crisis," the companies said in a statement.

The hackathon organizers are encouraging developers to build projects focused key challenges, such as the need for accurate disease prevention information around the world in languages and formats that resonate locally, but also the regional needs for expertise, resources, supplies, and financial support from donors.

The organizers posted a list of seven themes to help spark ideas among hackathon participants, including:

  1. Health: Address and scale a range of health initiatives, including preventative/hygiene behaviors (especially for at-risk countries and populations), supporting frontline health workers, scaling telemedicine, contact tracing/containment strategies, treatment and diagnosis development.
  2. Vulnerable Populations: The set of problems facing the elderly and the immuno-compromised, such as access to meals and groceries, and supporting those who are losing jobs and income.
  3. Businesses: The set of problems that businesses are facing to stay afloat, collaborate effectively, and move parts of their business online.
  4. Community: Promoting connection to friends, family, and neighbors to combat social isolation and the digitizing of public services for local governments.
  5. Education: Alternative learning environments and tools for students, teachers, and entire school systems.
  6. Entertainment: Alternatives to traditional forms of entertainment that can keep the talent and audiences safe and healthy.
  7. Other: The above themes are just suggestions. Feel empowered to get creative!


The WHO, scientists from the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, and experts from other industries will provide guidance on which projects are likely to prove most useful, said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in a blog post. "[A]nd our engineers will be joined by teams from Microsoft, Slack, Pinterest, TikTok, Twitter, WeChat, Giphy, Slow Ventures, and more to build tools to help tackle some of the health, economic and community challenges coming from the outbreak," Zuckerberg said.

These companies will be sharing resources to support participants throughout the submission period, Zuckerberg said. And the organizers want participants to use technologies of their choosing.

Whipping up a hackathon to deal with some of the problems caused by the pandemic is not an unprecedented strategy, Zuckerberg pointed out. "Hackathons have always been an important part of how we come up with new ideas and projects at Facebook," he said, "features like Blood Donations and Crisis Response were first built during hackathons and are now used by millions of people worldwide. I'm hopeful that some useful prototypes and ideas will come out of this one as well."

Paola Pisano, Minister of Technological Innovation and Digitalization in Italy, one of the hardest hit countries, endorsed the hackathon in a video tweet, and encouraged developers to get involved: "#COVID19 Global Hackathon is a great opportunity for designers, developers to build solutions that drive social impact, with the aim of tackling some of the challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic. I'm encouraging innovators around the world to join #BuildforCOVID19."

#BuildForCOVID19 is open to anyone who wants to participate, and I encourage ADTmag readers who have the bandwidth to participate to sign up. You can find more details here.

Posted by John K. Waters on March 26, 2020