While we were doing preliminary research, we had found overwhelming amounts of evidence of mental health deterioration as a consequence of life-altering lockdown restrictions. Academic research has shown that adolescents depend on friendship to maintain a sense of self-worth and to manage anxiety and depression. Intimate exchanges and self-esteem support significantly increased long-term self worth and decreased depression.

While people do have virtual classes and social media, some still had trouble feeling close with anyone. This is because conventional forums and social media did not provide a safe space for conversation beyond the superficial. User research also revealed that friendships formed by physical proximity don't necessarily make people feel understood and resulted in feelings of loneliness anyway. Proximity friendships formed in virtual classes also felt shallow in the sense that it only lasted for the duration of the online class.

With this in mind, we wanted to create a platform that encouraged users to talk about their true feelings, and maximize the chance that the user would get heartfelt and intimate replies.

What it does

Reach is an anonymous forum that is focused on providing a safe space for people to talk about their personal struggles. The anonymity encourages people to speak from the heart. Users can talk about their struggles and categorize them, making it easy for others in similar positions to find these posts and build a sense of closeness with the poster. People with similar struggles have a higher chance of truly understanding each other. Since ill-mannered users can exploit anonymity, there is a tone analyzer that will block posts and replies that contain mean-spirited content from being published while still letting posts of a venting nature through. There is also ReCAPTCHA to block bot spamming.

How we built it

  • Wireframing and Prototyping: Figma
  • Backend: Java 11 with Spring Boot
  • Database: PostgresSQL
  • Frontend: Bootstrap
  • External Integration: Recaptcha v3 and IBM Watson - Tone Analyzer
  • Cloud: Heroku

Challenges we ran into

We initially found it a bit difficult to come up with ideas for a solution to the problem of helping people communicate. A plan for a VR space for 'physical' chatting was also scrapped due to time constraints, as we didn't have enough time left to do it by the time we came up with the idea. We knew that forums were already common enough on the internet, so it took time to come up with a product strategy that differentiated us. (Also, time zone issues. The UXer is Australian. They took caffeine pills and still fell asleep.)

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Finishing it on time, for starters. It felt like we had a bit of a scope problem at the start when deciding to make a functional forum with all these extra features, but I think we pulled it off. The UXer also iterated about 30 screens in total. The Figma file is messy.

What we learned

As our first virtual hackathon, this has been a learning experience for remote collaborative work. UXer: I feel like i've gotten better at speedrunning the UX process even quicker than before. It usually takes a while for me to get started on things. I'm also not quite familiar with code (I only know python), so watching the dev work and finding out what kind of things people can code was exciting to see.

What's next for Reach

If this was a real project, we'd work on implementing VR features for those who missed certain physical spaces. We'd also try to work out improvements to moderation, and perhaps a voice chat for users who want to call.

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