As part of its ongoing effort to assist the relevant authorities in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook has announced that it will provide free development services to health agencies in order to help them use Messenger to scale their response to the rapidly evolving crisis.
As per Facebook:
"We’re launching a global program to connect government health organizations and UN health agencies with developers that can help them use Messenger most effectively to share timely and accurate information, and speed up their responses to concerned citizens. Our developer partners have offered to provide their services free of charge to these organizations during this crisis."
The main focus of the initiative will be to help these agencies develop automated response and advice tools for Messenger, which, ideally, will reduce the burden on already overwhelmed staff.
The most common questions will have universal responses, so it makes sense that health authorities should look to automated tools like this to quickly respond, without having to take up staff time. Last week, WhatsApp launched a new bot tool in conjunction with the WHO in order to provide its users with accurate, timely info on the pandemic, while WhatsApp is also working with the NHS in the UK, the Singapore Government, The Israel Ministry of Health, the South Africa Department of Health, and KOMINFO Indonesia on creating similar chatbot tools for each region.
And while several of these bots are already in operation, it's important for each individual organization to have their own system, as people will contact the service they know best, and feel most comfortable with. Not everyone will be looking to the WHO, so providing more groups with the resources to build their own response tools could provide significant benefit.
In addition to this, the Messenger team will also provide tips and advice on how to share updates in the app most effectively, and how to seamlessly transition from automated conversations to chatting with a live person when necessary.
Given Messenger is used by over 1.3 billion people every month, it's a key communication source for many, and providing more options to help connect users to relevant information can only help in maximizing community awareness, and ensuring the latest information is reaching the biggest audience.
In a separate project, the Messenger team is also inviting developers to participate in an online hackathon which will focus on leveraging the Messenger platform to build solutions that address COVID-19 issues, including social distancing and keeping people educated and informed.
"Participants will be encouraged to build both global and local solutions and will receive unique access to Messenger-related content, including Facebook Live tutorials with product experts and a range of educational materials to support innovation. Winners will get mentoring from Facebook engineers to help make these solutions a reality. They’ll also receive invitations to attend F8 2021, including flights and accommodations, and will be given the opportunity to participate in the F8 hackathon."
The hope, of course, would be that we might be able to get on top of the COVID-19 crisis before such tools would ever make it through the development pipeline - but realistically, that's unlikely. The pandemic looks set to change the way we live for months to come, and as time rolls on, and its impacts worsen, we're going to need all the tools we can to best communicate the latest info as we work to limit the damage.
Hopefully, these new projects will help to further expand efforts on each front.