A few months ago, a group of students and recent graduates of IIT Madras released an Android application and a website called Bloodline that aims to harness the power of technology and mobile networks to save lives, by creating a network of blood donors that could help people in need.
Siddharth Swaminathan, now an alumnus from the mechanical engineering department of the institute, is the co-creator and website developer of Bloodline. When asked about the inspiration behind Bloodline, Siddharth says, “We were faced with the desperate need to find blood donors at the critical hour. Many of us had faced it at different points of time. One of our team members, Sheeba, had to find blood for a relative for an operation. Ashwin, another of my team members, had to go through the same process for his grandmother’s cancer treatment. We got together and wondered, why is it that in this world of fast internet and social connectivity, we can’t reach out to people? If we can share photos and videos that can be viewed by thousands of people in a few minutes, why can’t we do the same for a critical need?”
But many websites give you a huge list of people who have donated blood. Siddharth says, “This is often outdated; the problem with that sort of exhaustive list is that you need to manually contact each and every one of the people on it. You don’t want to be doing that when your loved one is in an emergency room or in the operation theatre.”
Siddharth explains how Bloodline solves these problems: “Bloodline is not just a website or a mobile application, but a network of people like you and me, who are ready to donate blood in the hour of need. Instead of getting a list, you directly get people who are ready to donate. Bloodline does the work of contacting people for you, and only if they’re ready to help do you get their contact details. We solved two problems in one go – privacy and effective communication.”
Putting the idea into practice definitely wasn’t a smooth ride. The team ran into many issues while developing Bloodline and it took them around seven months to launch it. Siddharth talks about some of these: “The first issue was manpower. It took a while and a lot of looking around to find developers. I built the site mostly by myself. For the app, luckily, we got in touch with Junaid. He did the entire Android app. We deployed the site on a Linux server in the USA over the Python-based web-framework Django. We had our design team, headed by Priyanka, churn out some cool designs.”
Other team members include Vasant Sridhar, who manages the business development side of the enterprise; Ashwin Krishnamoorthy, who handles the marketing and everyday operations; Sheeba Rajagopalan, who takes care of the financial side and legal expenses, as well as Arun Vinayak, who also manages business development and marketing.
Siddharth tells us that a critical issue was to get the app and the website to communicate with each other. “This involved significant abstraction in the way the code was handled, including model design, embedding REST frameworks… I started building the site around February 2013, and was close to done by May. The app was developed simultaneously,and then we had to spend a couple of months of all-nighters at Department of Management Studies (we weren’t supposed to be there, but blasted LAN cuts!) integrating the two.”
What other caveats came up? “Then, we ran into questions of user-interface and workflow. As a user, what would you expect out of the site? What do you want to see when you first get to the page? Should we let you place requests without signing up? Well, we still haven’t answered a lot of them, but we’ll keep growing and adapting as we do so.”
The team’s vision for Bloodline is for it to become the single-point solution for blood requirement across the country. “The idea is to establish it as a trustworthy network that you go to and get help from immediately by reaching out to thousands of willing people,” says Siddharth.
Their focus is on getting regular blood donors to start using the network. “We’re working really hard to get blood banks and other hospitals on board. Often, blood requests are placed via hospitals and not by individuals. The hospitals can also place requests on Bloodline, conduct blood donation drives, just about anything. Our strength is our infrastructure and the power of communication over the Internet.”
Siddharth tells us that they are concentrating their efforts on Chennai for the time being. “However, the idea itself is not centric to any location. We will soon be establishing ties in other cities like Bangalore and Mumbai.” According to him, the best thing about this solution is its lateral scalability – users can sign up from any part of the nation, yet only the donors in that region will be targeted.
Siddharth is very happy with the kind of response Bloodline has received in such a short amount of time. “We’ve had more than 870 users signing up, 600 app downloads, and over 700 likes on Facebook so far. We’ve also been receiving positive feedback from various sources – the Google Play Store, for example. We were cited on Wired UK within just two days of launch. YourStory, a catalog of Indian startups, ran an article on us. NextBigWhat featured us on their feed. The Times of India recently published an article on us.” Well, you get the drift.
“As I see it, I think we’re constantly on the upward incline when it comes to publicity and response. What hit us is the amazing number of sign-ups.” By signing up,you don’t just get to place requests at the hour of need. It’s much more. As Siddharth enumerates,“You also get to donate,help someone, save a life. It’s such a response that reminds us of the humanity in every one of us.”
Bloodline is completely free. “It always will be,” says Siddharth, “We do not like the idea of charging you in your time of critical need. What we want to ensure is that you do not face the cost of a life. We’ve invested a lot in this, and, as of now, are primarily looking for support in terms of donations.”
The team would appreciate contributions from anyone. They’d also like to reach out to alumni and other patrons of the IIT Madras community for the same.