I made my XMPP based vaccine notification bot available to the general public about a week ago. The service is available at vaccine.monal.im . In the last three days I have sent 129 thousand notifications. Over the past week hundreds of Americans of all ages and from all walks of life have downloaded Monal and Yaxim and tried XMPP for the first time. Monal downloads for iOS are up 745.8% Yaxim is up 117%. This is just the beginning and I expect thousands if not millions of people to install our apps as we expand from Massachusetts, which is a state of only 6 million to larger states like Texas that cover hundreds of millions of people and the vaccine becomes available to the general public rather than select groups. While this is for the US only right now, I believe I have proven the model. We need to replicate this for vaccination drives in other countries.
The growth has become organic. It is spreading via word of mouth and social media posts now. A major part of this project has been explaining XMPP to people, explaining why this was possible with XMPP and not possible with other messaging systems or even SMS. The costs of sending 129k notifications with SMS via service like Twillio would be prohibitively expensive. I am starting to scale up my AWS hardware as more users come onboard but I know that the costs of currently running this whole stack costs less a month than the daily cost of running an SMS service that performs a similar task. Once I explained it to some people and it clicked they have been able to evangelize to others on their own and walk them through the process. If you look at how much the name and even the language had changed on the landing page, I have certainly learned what people understand and what they do not. For example I thought push and bot were scary words and used notification and alert but it turns out non technical people know what push notification means and chat bot actually conveys a lot of meaning to almost everyone about what kind of service this is.
Not everyone who installs this will use XMPP, in fact I expect many to uninstall after they are vaccinated. But some will stick around and this can only be good for the eco system. Even those who uninstall will remember how they got vaccinated. When we talk about XMPP hopefully it’s not a conversation introducing something new it’s a conversation where we can start with, “Remember that program you used to get the vaccine, it can do more”. A year ago we started this pandemic with lockdown and it was incredibly depressing. As software engineers there wasn’t a lot we could do other than staying at home and helping stop the spread. We are doing something to end it now. Many people have sent me selfies getting vaccinated and touching personal notes about how this service has relieved stress on their family. I would like to thank Thilo, Friedrich, Emus and Jim who work on Monal as well as Georg who makes yaxim, for helping make this possible.
This is service is heavily dependent on open source tools made by others teams. I will follow up with additional posts with the technical details of the stack. I hope to make the whole thing open source so others can replicate this service elsewhere.
If you are in Massachusetts, I post a daily update on reddit with vaccine availability data generated by the bot. If you are interested, this is today’s.