As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate 2020, accessing accurate and timely information is extremely vital. Enter a multilingual website that includes Arabic as part of its offering.
One of the top-used websites to monitor activity relating to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus comes from this very region. Launched in March, CoronaMeter.co is a free-to-use resource that attracts tens of thousands of visitors every day, getting traffic from as far as Argentina and India. Using daily data from the renowned Johns Hopkins University in the United States, the website displays a vast array of statistics presented in numerical and visual form for easy comprehension.
Data includes the total number of confirmed cases, mortality rates, and infection doubling time in the preceding seven days, all broken down by country. A time-lapse graph shows how the disease initially struck China, Iran and Italy before the United States, Brazil and Britain became the worst affected nations. There is also a three-dimensional globe that enables users to click on any country and see its COVID-19 statistics.
"It all started when the [World Health Organization] classified the coronavirus as a pandemic because, at that point, I knew it was going to be something for the long run. We had this urge to stay on top of it," says Paris-based serial entrepreneur Amr Sobhy.
The 31-year-old began discussing a course of action with his friend and CoronaMeter co-creator Mohamed Reda Eldehiry. Building the website took the tandem a few days from conception to launch although the original idea has expanded steadily, with more data points and graphics added.
"It’s a perpetual work in progress," Sobhy says. "We wanted to provide something reliable in Arabic. Once we had enough data, we wanted to use [it] to answer the questions we thought were important."
He continues: "I wanted to see how the pandemic was developing over time in order to understand the gravity of the situation. Once we had things up and running, I started adding interesting visualisations."
Initially in Arabic and English, the website is now also available in Russian, Hindi, French, Italian and Spanish.
"It’s an automated data stream although we have to keep on updating the software because inevitably, there are bugs due to it not being designed to run on every device," Sobhy explains.
As the demands grew, another engineer, Osama Sayed, joined the team to help manage the website.
WHY LOCALISATION MATTERS
What sets this product apart from other international ones is that it is accessible in the region.
"Once you get the data, the next step is to use it to give people something meaningful," says Sobhy, who’s also the founder and CEO of PushBots, which sold two software-as-a-service (SaaS) products to an Austrian company last year. IPtrace gives applications users’ geolocation data, while CurrencyStack provides real-time exchange rates for over 150 currencies.
"There are a lot of ways to make digital products, and we from the MENA region can compete globally," he asserts. "Code is a building block to solve problems. It’s not an end but a means."
He believes the success of CoronaMeter shows that the people of the Middle East can create products and services that will resonate globally.
"What I could see us do more in MENA is to use existing technologies to answer our own questions because otherwise, we’re just hoping that someone else does it for us," Sobhy concludes. "With technology comes the empowerment that we don’t have to wait – we can actually do it ourselves."
Matt Smith for The Middle East Exchange