During this coronavirus outbreak, many are seeking information to important questions. However, the information is both new and changing day to day. What was thought to be a best practice may be superseded by new guidance a week later. There are also many people on social media giving advice, but people may hear conflicting information and not know who to trust. With many medical researchers stuck at home, they could be working to stop misinformation but there is not currently a good venue for people to volunteer answers and make a difference. Our new site Covid Questions will be a force to change this by giving verified professionals a voice against misinformation, connecting them to the most sought-after questions being asked by the public.

What it does

Covid Questions is a Q&A website with two distinct types of users: the general public users who ask questions and experts who answer questions. This is the key critical feature that distinguishes it from fully crowdsourced Q&A sites like StackOverflow, which depend on gaining reputation in the community over time. Covid Questions will clearly demarcate the difference between experts and regular users, which is of utmost importance for this rapidly changing topic prone to misinformation. Any person who visits the site can search the questions and answers in the system. If you log in via email or Google, you are able to ask questions and vote on questions that you want to be answered. If you are an expert in an appropriate medical research field, you can request a verified account through a form, which will be manually vetted. Vetting will be done by us at first to grow a group of experts. In the future, this will be crowdsourced among the most trusted experts to vet others.

The system has the following features:

  • Login with Google account
  • Login with email and password with email verification before any access is allowed
  • Question search by keyword
  • Question sorting by likes, most recent, and unanswered
  • Question voting
  • Question composition and editing
  • Verification request form
  • Answer composition and editing (experts only)
  • Marking answers as upvoted, downvoted, and outdated (experts only)

How we built it

  • Firebase for the backend. This will enable automatic scalability to any amount of traffic. We minimized read operations for performance.
  • Algolia for text search.
  • Vue/Vuetify for the frontend.
  • Tiptap for rich text editing of questions and answers.

Challenges we ran into

  • Firebase functions were a learning curve for us, and are fairly difficult to debug.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

  • The front page ended up looking simple and friendly, even though we are not UX designers. It was a good decision to pick a freely-licensed graphic and use its colors to guide our app color scheme.
  • We were able to implement various sorting and ranking strategies fairly quickly.

What we learned

  • Firebase functions and rules are a bit tricky, but are still way easier than writing a full backend.
  • Algolia was a fairly straightforward way to add full text search to Firebase.
  • Firebase built-in email verification works well, and just requires that you check the emailVerified token in your rules to make sure fake accounts are not able to do anything.

What's next for Covid Questions

  • Pursue partnerships with organizations such as the American Medical Association Physician Innovation Network.
  • Reach out to potential experts to build a team to answer questions.
  • Continue populating the site with searchable questions and answers from reputable sites such as the CDC.
  • A notification stream telling users when their question has an answer, and telling experts when a question needs attention or is outdated.

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