At 6am on Tuesday, Avi Schiffmann, the 17-year-old founder of the world’s most popular coronavirus-tracking site, woke up, brushed his teeth, had a piece of toast and then video-called the UN from his bedroom. “They’re interested in me becoming a youth ambassador for tech. It’s pretty cool,” he tells me over the phone from Mercer Island, near Seattle, where he lives with his mother, a doctor, father, a medical writer, and cat, Louie.
Schiffmann began tracking the spread of the coronavirus in late December when there were just a few hundred confirmed cases in Wuhan. “I noticed it was really hard to find information. If I wanted the most up-to-date numbers, I’d have to go to a local government website, where everything was in Chinese. So I decided to build something better and faster.” Using a technique called web-scraping, Schiffmann began downloading data on the virus from government websites and health sources, adding it to a central data set, which he formatted into tables.