Introduction

Unexpectedly, COVID-19 has become a widely acknowledged keyword for the year 2020. The unprecedented global pandemic brought exceptional anxiety and inconvenience to our lives. In response to such disease, countries from all over the world have taken effective actions to combat the pandemic. The governments, disease control departments, and medicinal professionals have contributed full efforts to reassure their citizens and patients. Meanwhile, as the rapid advancement of technology and a speedy change to the virtual world, numbers of COVID-19 related software flourished in our societies, striving to ease people with up-to-date information and assistance. Nevertheless, as the virus spreads around the world, disinformation also spreads. The inevitable fake news that permeates the internet brought extra stress and unnecessary panic for the global audience. It is crucial to ensure the authenticity and accuracy of COVID-19 related news as well as their sources. The IEEE project competition creates this meaningful opportunity for our team, CNUS (stands for COVID News in the U.S.), to develop our information-focused software “COVID-19 US” to contribute our enthusiasm in helping combat COVID-19, especially promoting credible information-sharing in the U.S. amidst current uncertainties.

Purpose and Motivation

Purpose

The APP “COVID-19 US” aims to help minimize fake COVID-19 related news and to convey authentic information and assurance to our users, which includes credible up-to-date news, statistics, and location-based assistance. Recently, United Union News shared an article named “During this coronavirus pandemic, ‘fake news’ is putting lives at risk”. While the rising infection statistics and the temporary shortage of certain essential supplies indeed exist, numbers of news reports are no longer fact-based but rather biased, manipulated, or politicalized. As a result, many people who trust the un-credible information rush to stock up excessive food and toilet paper, consume unproven medicines, and generate biases towards certain groups of people. Exaggerated or even fabricated news, such as theories connecting 5G to coronavirus, claims that methanol can cure coronavirus, or rumors that someone (mostly celebrities) tested positive for the virus, brought the pandemic panic and bias to the next level. On video-sharing platforms such as Dailymotion, users claimed that fake news about COVID-19 stressed their families more than the virus itself, often scared them to not step out of home and lead to a series of other issues such as financial problems.

Motivation

The widespread misinformation and disinformation motivate our CNUS team to create and bring credibility and rationality to wider users. On the one hand, we are in an age where credible information is highly needed and cherished. On the other hand, we are all part of the current COVID-19 lockdown and wish to make a difference. It is true that rational people have objective judgment for the information they absorb. However, it is out of our human nature to overthink under stress or believe seemingly convincing information. Therefore, we hope to use our algorithm and machine learning system to help filter and maximize the credibility of COVID-19 related information. As world citizens, we genuinely desire to contribute our knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm to fulfill our social responsibility and generate positive societal impacts for broader users amidst current COVID-19 uncertainties.

Solutions

In the short run, our APP will focus on providing and encouraging credible COVID-19 related information to our users. In the long run, we hope to extend or change (after pandemic) our COVID-19 help APP to a fact-based information sharing APP that mainly focuses on health, wellness, and accidents. Although we have not planned that far, we envision our APP to provide up-to-date data and trustworthy news and advice on health and wellness in the U.S.

Step by Step Instruction

Step 1 When the user first opens the APP, the first page is the statistics of each state's confirmed, recovered and death numbers in the user’s region.

Step 2 Users can easily change the regions and look at other states’ statistics

Step 3 The user can also automatically access information to the nearest hospital (based on his or her current location) by clicking on Apple Maps or Google Maps.

Step 4 There are 2 navigation buttons, one that leads to the statistics & hospital and the other to the updated news along with the percentage of its credibility and the color for its ranges: High credibility (70%+) – Blue Less credible (50%+) - Green Unreliable (below 50%) - Red

Team Member Roles & Contributions

Business Developers: Raissa Antoinette and Qichen Huang

Our business developer Raissa majors in International Business. She contributed her passion for business development and market research to our APP’s market evaluation and development. Raissa is a key leader in our team: she promoted effective communication among team members and actively participated in all aspects of this project, such as brainstorming the design, giving suggestions to the layout and functions, and recording the video demo. She represents our team to introduce our APP and ideas in the video demo. She also plays a time manager’s role to oversee our progress, from group brainstorming to individual follow-up to overall finetuning, to make sure our project moves forward smoothly and organized. She collaborates with Qichen for this write-up, mainly taking charge of sections including step-by-step usage instructions, difficulties & challenges, suggested improvements, and the conclusion.

Another business developer, Qichen, studies Management Science. She worked closely with Raissa to manage the team, such as setting goals for the project, organizing weekly check-up meetings to ensure open communication, and conducting market research for the APP. She also contributed ideas to different aspects of the project such as improving the APP design, evaluating the market, and preparing for the video demo. She collaborates with Raissa for this write-up, mainly taking charge of sections including introduction, purpose and motivation, team member roles and contributions, and market evaluation. Qichen also edits the video demo to demonstrate our APP and its strengths.

Graphic Designer: Jingyi Xu

Our graphic designer Jingyi majors in landscape architecture. Despite her major focusing on architectural design, she expanded her interests in different aspects of design, including the APP design, Logo design, and the Digi-Key mask design in this IEEE project. She led team meetings to brainstorm the APP component and design. Also, she created drafts using Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Indesign, and CAD and shared with our team for critique and improvements. She beautifies our designs in poster format, which have been used as backgrounds for our Video Demo and the cover page of this write-up. Moreover, she has completely taken charge of the bonus mask design.

Data Scientist: Kevin Tanila and Qu Di

Our data scientist Kevin takes charge of data collection and training for the News section. More specifically, he extracted training data set from 6 website’s health-related pages, cleaned and vectorized datasets with Jupyter notebook, and trained several Logistic Regression models. Meanwhile, he worked through other base models such as Perceptron, Support Vector Machine, Multinomial Naïve Bayes & K-Neighbors as well as ensemble models with Random Forest. With the extraction codes, he generated outputs that include the URL link, author, published date, the title, the text, as well as the probability (level of credibility) to be uploaded to the server.

On the other hand, Qu Di works on the server of the APP. He built a server on Amazon's AWS service and allowed the code written by Kevin to run then pushes the output to the app to be displayed. Also, he collected the latest COVID-19 related news and stored them in the database so that the server will return the news when users request them.

Software Developer: Cason

Our software developer Cason created the APP “COVID-19 U.S.” based on our ideas and sketches. Specifically, Cason made the UI from our design and connected the APP to our data scientist Di’s server. Also, he searched for the API to collect the COVID-19 related information and extracted them to display in our APP. After developing the APP, Cason collaborated with Raissa to represent our team to introduce our product and ideas in the video demo.

Difficulties & Challenges

Despite having the same goal and going through the same experience through this pandemic that shaped our motivation, our group did not finish this APP without some stumbles on our way.

Communication

Unfortunately, not all of us knew each other from the start. Some of us were friends and some others were friends of a team member. Moreover, we all came from different parts of the world: the United States, China, and Indonesia, which means time zone difference was another part of our challenges on the top of working with new group mates. However, this did not stop us from collaborating to make the APP “COVID-19 US”.

We knew from the start that communication would be essential for our success and that establishing an efficient communication in this case would be something we needed to tackle early on. With the time zone difference and each of us having our own daily job, we had a rocky start. Discussions were rare and ran a bit long and inefficient due to us not getting each other’s workflow yet. We even had a hard time gathering everyone at once at first. However, we solved this by deciding a weekly goal of where we want to be in the phase of our APP building. We also divided our communication into 2 different categories: the weekly group meetings and the smaller updates. We decided to have our weekly zoom meeting once a week on Saturday when all of us would have time to spare. Some of us had to wake up very early and some others had to stay up very late to make this happen. But none of us minded as we wanted our project to succeed. We had our smaller updates throughout the week, usually around both Monday and Thursday, with our team members quickly sending an updated message on their own time to the group chat. This was to make sure everyone was given a flexible timeline in between his or her busy schedule but also still follow our weekly goal.

Disagreement & Uncomfortable Working Environment

There will always be different opinions when it comes to projects and we knew we would face that throughout our journey. In fact, it has been proven important to have disagreements in the workplace. What’s important is for us to have constructive debate and establish a comfortable professional environment for all our group members to speak out their minds without worrying for backlash. It was important for all of us to remember that we want to make the best for our APP and to not take any argument personally.

This too began with a rocky start. It became obvious that some of us did not feel as comfortable to speak out their mind when we realized the discussions in the beginning were heavily dominated by some of the group members than others. It was also tough because of social distancing, even the ones in the same country couldn’t go and meet face to face. But all of our team members worked together, making sure everyone’s voices were heard by giving constructive feedback and making sure we listened to each team member’s opinion before deciding. Having a consistent meeting also helped our team get comfortable with each other and get to know our own unique personalities and styles of communication.

Individual Challenges

Business Developers: The business developers Qichen and Raissa had to take into account since the start of this project that there are a lot of competitions out there and that we need to make our APP more marketable. There are numbers of COVID-19 APP types already available, therefore, we need to find what is suitable and unique for our group. They brainstormed the first idea for this project and discussed it further with the group. Later, they needed to make sure communication ran smoothly throughout the project: making sure everyone stays on top of his or her job and follows the given timeline and creating a comfortable working environment for everyone. With the help from Cason, the software developer, CNUS has come up with having credibility for the news that would be featured in the APP. Moreover, making sure that the end highlights the APP, making it desirable for the users and the hard work of the group doesn’t go to waste.

Graphic Designer: Jingyi Xu is our designer. Her challenge came early as she is actually a landscape designer and she had to adapt to designing an APP interface. It didn’t come easy but she scrolled through UI/UX design for the iPhone and found inspiration from them. Not to mention, as much as the group supports her, we also have our own different thoughts for the design. She tried her best to accommodate all of us while still considering the beauty of the design.

Data Scientists: Kevin and Qu Di are the data scientists of this group. Since our APP is an information APP, they are the hearts of the content. They worked together and took the role of collecting and cleaning data. At first Kevin had no resources to make an accurate model, where he asked Qu Di’s help. But the problem didn’t end there - this is a new assignment for him, and he did not know which method would give us the most accurate result. He started with logistic regression, ran multiple classifiers including ensemble models, and parameters tuned each of them to no avail. Finally, he discovered that random forest produced the most accurate and robust models. Qu Di was in charge of the hospitals; he also met his own challenges along the way. He had difficulties making the server stable with invalid requests and multiple requests. Eventually he chose to design it in the assembly line way with multiple processes in Python, since Python doesn’t support real multithread. The news getter, database cursor, and the server are three workers in line.

Software Developer: Our software developer Cason is in charge of making the platform for the APP. As an experienced developer, Cason did not encounter too much challenges and resolved all the minor issues smoothly and immediately.

Market Evaluation

Industry Overview and Market Trend

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, worldwide technologists have been building various mobile APPs to help the general public cope with COVID-19, such as contact tracing, statistics and information sharing, self-assessment clues, remote healthcare advice, medical and psychological support, etc. Simply searching the keyword “COVID-19” in an iOS device, 136 results appear. The total number of COVID-19 help APP, in different languages, is surely more than that. Some APPs are more regional focused, such as the APP “Canada COVID-19” and “Coronavirus Australia” while others are globally covered such as the APP “COVID-19!”.

5P Analysis

Product: COVID-19 related news and statistics have been the center of attention for almost every household. People read news from newspapers, subscribed channels, or direct online searching and track pandemic situations through CDC statistics or other statistical sites. Our Product - an informational COVID-19 help APP focusing on the United States - integrates all these resources in a single platform for our users to obtain information. Moreover, our comparative advantage centralizes on the filtering of the resources and the credibility of our data.

Price: We marketed the product as free. As discussed previously, we aim to generate positive societal impacts for broader users amidst current COVID-19 uncertainties, hence the non-profit approach. We hope to challenge ourselves to produce creative software while fulfilling social responsibility out of our current capabilities to support more people in need.

Place: Our product will be shared first on the iPhone and later expand to other systems such as the Android system and beyond. In terms of the APP content, our COVID-19 related help will focus on the United States region.

People: Our target users are all the COVID-19 stakeholders in the U.S. Generally speaking, individuals from all ages who are living in or associating with the U.S. will be our targeted users. Specifically, we expect people aging from 15 to 65 years old to use our product more frequently.

Promotion: In response to current social distancing, we choose to adopt digital marketing instead of traditional marketing to minimize interactions. Our strategy includes both social media advertisements (Facebook page, Instagram account, Tiktok videos, blogs) and website setup. Our graphic designer Jingyi will help design engaging digital posters (attach at the end of this write-up) and have them shared in our social media to attract more users. We also hope to make the best of this awesome IEEE competition opportunity as a platform and media to popularize our APP. Meanwhile, we will focus on the product itself, to constantly upgrade its functions and service. Once our product becomes more valuable and user friendly, we will be able to spread our ideas through recommendations across users, which would be more effective.

Competitive Analysis

Competitors: Theoretically, our direct competitors are all the information-based, U.S. focused software that centralizes on the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on our research, there is no or only very few software that focuses exclusively on the U.S. region. Therefore, depending on how broad or narrow we define our competitors, we do not have a direct competitor on the market. However, numerous talented developers, including our competitors for the IEEE project competition, may have been developing software that focuses on or includes news and statistics about the COVID-19 situation in the U.S. In addition, although APPs such as the “COVID-19!” do not focus exclusively on the U.S. region, they provide detailed information on every country’s data and news, including the U.S., which would be our strong competitors.

Target Market & Market Proposition

As mentioned in the previous section, our target market focuses on the broad U.S. APP users. Nevertheless, different people have different preferences for information gathering, some prefer to read daily newspapers while others prefer to search on their favorite sites. We hope to develop a brand image that emphasizes convenience, cost-effectiveness, and credibility as our market proposition to maintain a positive user relationship and attract more potential users. Our ultimate goal is to persuade more users to choose to read COVID-19 related information through our APP instead of other alternatives.

Key success factors (potential comparative advantages)

Product: refined features, comprehensive functionality, credible data sources, user-friendly characteristics, aesthetic design Service: integrated CRM system to ensure customer-centric service, feedback system to maintain open communication with users, periodic upgrades for troubleshooting and advancement

Future Prospect

Product prospects Once we launch our APP, our technology team (software developer and data scientists) will focus on product improvement while our marketing team (graphic designer and business developers) will focus on the product promotion. We hope to first attract and maintain a stable number of users (starting with people around us) and gather feedback from them for technical and service-side upgrades. Once we achieved this first goal, we will move forward to spread our APP to broader audiences through our digital marketing strategies. Our current version gives a big yet rough picture of our ideas, which surely needs constant refinement through critique from the public. We will always uphold a positive, open-minded, collaborative, and modest attitude in our APP development and popularization, especially in its early stage. Although the future is filled with uncertainties, we will always keep pace with the changes to update our functions, features, and focuses.

Market Outlook The increasingly competitive market for COVID-19 software creates both opportunities and challenges for our team and product. On the one hand, the competition and selectivity would motivate us to stay energetic and keep upgrading our function and service for a better product. On the other hand, we will be facing intense elimination, which requires us to be more innovative and more proactive to overcome all the technical barriers in order to survive in the market and attract users. Meanwhile, from the users’ standpoint, the numerous COVID-19 software creates more choices for them to fulfill individual preferences. However, once the pandemic ends, how would this software evolve to maintain their usefulness would be our next challenges.

Suggested Improvements

As stated, once we launch our APP, our team will continue working on refining it and improving it to optimize user experience. The definition of improvement for APPs does not have to be something grand or massive. Instead, minor things that will give the users a more convenient and delightful experience while using the APP will be a significant improvement. A few more features our APP may include to increase user experience are:

Bookmark feature to bookmark the news: This can be used in the case when the user might not be able to read it at that moment because of constraint or if they like the news and want to read it again the next time.

Setting options: This may include preferred locations, notifications and light/dark mode, giving the users more options while using the APP.

Changing the order of the statistics: It is a minor change, but some users might prefer to immediately see the infected or the death rate first – this feature will allow them to do that.

Basic Information: Right now, our APP only features news from external sources and their credibility. We hope to help users avoid unreliable news that has now spread panic all over the United States. It caused panic and disorder to an already stressful situation. However, one of the most important information needed is the basic information about the virus, how it spreads, how to protect yourself from it or what to do when you encounter it. We hope to further develop our APP to provide such credible and focused information to make a sound decision.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, as coronavirus spreads, the disinformation also spreads, which might cause dangerous behaviors to those who believe in unreliable sources. To make the best of the opportunity that the great IEEE competition has given us, we desire to contribute our knowledge and social responsibility to provide people with credible COVID-19 related information. Therefore, we built our information APP “COVID-19 US” that focuses on the United States region and gives as credible information as possible to our users. Our biggest competitors are APPs such as “COVID-19!”, which includes detailed information on the statistics and news countries all over the world. However, from the research we gather, there is almost no APP that focuses exclusively on the United States region. Thus, our APP provides such a more concentrated focus for U.S. users to facilitate their search and creates such an innovative feature that enables users to check the rate of credibility of external news sources. We hope more and more users can rely on our trustable platform for information gathering to minimize unnecessary panic from unsupported news. CNUS Team would like to extend our best wishes and support to everyone amidst this temporary pandemic.

Reference

  1. https://github.com/texturegroup/texture
  2. https://covidtracking.com/api
  3. https://newspaper.readthedocs.io/en/latest/
  4. https://newsapi.org/
  5. Scikit-learn: Machine Learning in Python, Pedregosa et al., JMLR 12, pp. 2825- 2830, 2011.
  6. UNICEF Pacific. “During This Coronavirus Pandemic, 'Fake News' Is Putting Lives at Risk: UNESCO | | UN News.” United Nations, United Nations, 13 Apr. 2020.

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