After interviewing friends and family members working in the front lines in the fight against COVID-19, including doctors and contact tracers, we realized that we could add the most value by helping with contact tracing.

Contact tracing is an effective way of containing the virus but is very manual and time-consuming, and requires significant human capital. Our objective is to improve the efficiency of contact tracers, by having people proactively record their own activities and in the event they get sick, share the information with contact tracers.

What it does

footsteps is a simple yet effective way for people to record interactions, in real time. Our users record only necessary information: time, date, location, and participants. If they become sick or come in contact with an infected person, our users would share their activity summary directly with contact tracers, as they control their own data.

How we built it

  1. Collected feedback from friends and family working in the front lines
  2. Brainstormed ideas and did research on existing solutions
  3. Created user stories
  4. Whiteboarded designs and UX components
  5. Conducted daily standups to review progress, prioritize work, and identify next steps
  6. Created an MVP
  7. Continued to iterate on the MVP and added "nice-to-haves"

We began by tackling the areas that we were most unfamiliar with: Calendar and Authentication. We were able to quickly understand what was possible and what was not possible. We also built a rough draft of the front end and created the models and some initial back end routes. Ana and Nadine were working collaboratively throughout the process, with Ana focusing on the back end and Nadine focusing on the front end. Leila brought the team together at daily standups, where we reviewed functionality and identified enhancements.

Challenges we ran into

Challenge 1: Ideation At first, we wanted to help small restaurants with managing their queues and in-person dining as they begin to reopen. However, we realized that existing reservation and wait time systems already solve this problem. After speaking with healthcare workers, we saw the greatest opportunity as contact tracing

Challenge 2: Secure Authentication We tried to set up authentication using passport but then realized that cookies would be a simple but effective method

Challenge 3: Calendar Integration We spent time searching available calendar APIs but realized that our product was more of a sophisticated list that needed month / day information so we pivoted to starting with a list view and bringing in the date components that we needed

Challenge 4: FourSquare Integration We spent time looking into using FourSquare's location data in our location field. Long term, we are hoping to connect location with contact information so that a contact tracer could easily call a restaurant, for example. The challenge is that FourSquare requires lat,long coordinates, which would mean we need to store lat, long coordinates for users or ask them to share their location. Given our initial focus on privacy, we did not want to track location

Accomplishments that we're proud of

  1. Came up with an idea that will help contain the spread of COVID-19 as cities reopen
  2. Applied new skills to building a simple product that solves a real-world problem
  3. Developed an MVP website in <2 weeks that works on laptop and mobile!
  4. Created views that look like the mockups we designed
  5. Built secure authentication and required only minimally necessary data from users

What we learned

This project reiterated the importance of keeping the end goal in mind and referring back to our original designs, when a given approach was not working. We learned new technical skills, including how to build secure authentication, work with calendars and dates, and validate data. We also learned how to think like entrepreneurs and work as a cross-functional team of engineers and a product manager.

What's next for footsteps

  1. We will add a few new features to footsteps, including an exportable list of activities that feeds a template email and a FourSquare integration for locations and contact information
  2. footsteps will be launched as a public website. We will share the website with friends and family to beta test before sharing broadly
  3. If the beta testing goes well, we plan to advertise more widely to individuals through ad campaigns on social media, and to restaurants and stores through email, encouraging them to advertise footsteps in their places of business, with the value proposition that footsteps adoption will increase the likelihood that they are alerted, if recent visitors test positive for the virus
  4. If we gain momentum, we will: 1) launch a mobile app, 2) get the app approved by the appstore, and 3) contact the CDC, which is actively evaluating digital contact tracing tools, for consideration

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