This Twitter Bot Alerts LA Residents to Open Vaccine Appointments

Francesca Billington

Francesca Billington is a freelance reporter. Prior to that, she was a general assignment reporter for dot.LA and has also reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.

This Twitter Bot Alerts LA Residents to Open Vaccine Appointments
Photo by Hakan Nural on Unsplash

A 24-year-old unemployed college graduate frustrated by the tedious process of finding his grandmother a vaccine appointment created a new site to make it easier.

Find My Vax LA translates appointment information to any language, searches for open slots by zip code and on Friday released a Twitter bot that alerts followers of availability.

Andrew Friedman was hit with the same idea software engineers across the country have chased since public officials started distributing the COVID-19 shot.

"Frankly it's hard to access resources," said Friedman, who studied political science and computer science at the University of Chicago. "We really want to make sure we're getting this in the hands of the people that need it most. And the people that are currently not served as well by the current system."

The goal, he said, is to "augment" L.A. County's efforts to help people sign up for appointments.

"The current system does favor people who are from wealthier backgrounds, who have more technological literacy."

Since L.A. received its first shipments of COVID-19 vaccines, booking appointments has become an obstacle for many. The confusing and often weekslong process has translated to steep inequities across the city.

"A lot of people said they were only able to get an appointment because they had their husbands and three of their kids spending hours watching these websites and refreshing to get a slot," said Kristen Choi, a nurse and UCLA assistant professor of health policy and management.

"It means that the only people who can get the appointment are those with the luxury of time and people to help them find one," she said. "Those appointments are disproportionately going to the wealthiest and whitest communities."

Vaccination rates in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Brentwood are double the rates in East and South L.A.— the "places that lost the most from COVID," Choi said.

Find My Vax LA was inspired by a similar citizen-run resource in New York called TurboVax. Built by Airbnb software engineer Huge Ma, the site sends out real-time information about appointments on Twitter. Since late January, the account has amassed over 97,000 followers.

On Friday, Friedman launched his own Twitter bot. In the first hour, it churned out six updates listing 67 appointments. He programmed the bot to tweet about every new availability. Down the line—if supply in L.A. improves—he might change the threshold.

"I'm open to feedback," he said. "It's really just based on what people's needs are. Maybe it becomes an overwhelming number of tweets."

Like the alerts from TurboVax and LA Public Health, @Findmyvaxla_bot blasts out direct links to websites with open slots. And he's working on a plan to tweet in other languages, too.

Running the web application will cost Friedman anywhere from $50 to $100 each month, a bit more than necessary. But his eyes are set on the next few months, when the city will open eligibility to new tiers. Around 1,000 L.A. residents have visited the website since it went live late last month.

"I want to make sure that if there's ever rapid usage, that it can handle it," he said. "And make sure it won't go down."

The platform continuously scans a slew of websites for appointments through a process called 'scraping'. Unlike VaccinateCA, a similar volunteer-operated effort hinged on calling hospitals and clinics for that data, his system can update itself every few minutes.

But there are a few limitations to what Find My Vax LA can do. It might miss the open slots that don't get listed online, an issue VaccinateCA is tackling by calling those locations manually. Meanwhile, the threat of bots scalping for vaccine appointments has pushed companies like Vons to ramp up cyber protections.

Friedman's system can't get past those new blocks, so Vons and Walgreens are listed under a "Possible Availability" tab to indicate that users might try reaching those locations directly.

The site is hosted by Heroku, a cloud platform that Friedman says makes sharing his code easy. Across the nation, new appointment finding services are popping up almost weekly as a supplement to county-run sites. This week, a software engineer in Denver launched Vaccine Spotter. And volunteers in Washington state built CovidWA, an effort now supported by the state's department of health.

"If someone would like to build their own for their own municipality, we're really excited to share how we did this," said Friedman.

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This Year’s Techstars’ Demo Day Included Robot Bartenders and Towable Rockets

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

This Year’s Techstars’ Demo Day Included Robot Bartenders and Towable Rockets
Andria Moore

On Wednesday, Techstars’ fall 2022 class gathered in Downtown Los Angeles to pitch their products to potential investors in hopes of securing their next big funding round. dot.LA co-sponsored the demo day presentation alongside Venice-based space news website Payload.

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Derek Jeter’s Sports Trading Card Company Brings in $10M

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

sports trading cards
Arena Club /Andria Moore

Sports trading card platform Arena Club has raised $10 million in Series A funding.

Co-founded by CEO Brian Lee and Hall of Fame Yankees player Derek Jeter, Arena Club launched its digital showroom in September. Through the platform, sports fans can buy, sell, trade and display their card collections. Using computer vision and machine learning, Arena Club allows fans to grade and authenticate their cards, which can be stored in the company’s vault or delivered in protective “slabs.” Arena Club intends to use the new cash to expand these functions and scale its operations.

The new funding brings Arena Club’s total amount raised to $20 million. M13,, Lightspeed Ventures, Elysian Park Ventures and BAM Ventures contributed to the round.

“Our team is thankful for the group of investors—led by M13, who see the bright future of the trading card hobby and our platform,” Lee said in a statement. “I have long admired M13 and the value they bring to early-stage startups.”

M13’s co-founder Courtney Reum, who formed the early-stage consumer technology venture firm in 2016 alongside his brother Carter Reum, will join Arena Club’s board. Reum has been eyeing the trading card space since 2020 when he began investing in what was once just a childhood hobby.

The sports trading card market surged in 2020 as fans turned to the hobby after the pandemic brought live events to a standstill. Since then, prices have come down, though demand remains high. And investors are still betting on trading card companies, with companies like Collectors bringing in $100 million earlier this year. Fanatics, which sells athletic collectibles and trading cards, reached a $31 billion valuation after raising $700 million earlier this week. On the blockchain, Tom Brady’s NFT company Autograph lets athletes sell digital collectibles directly to fans.

As for Arena Club, the company is looking to cement itself as a digital card show.

“Providing users with a digital card show allows us to use our first-class technology to give collectors from all over the world the luxury of being able to get the full trading card show experience at their fingertips,” Jeter said in a statement.

Hosts Who Rent From “Airbnb-Friendly” LA Apartments May Not Make a Profit

Amrita Khalid
Amrita Khalid is a tech journalist based in Los Angeles, and has written for Quartz, The Daily Dot, Engadget, Inc. Magazine and number of other publications. She got her start in Washington, D.C., covering Congress for CQ-Roll Call. You can send tips or pitches to or reach out to her on Twitter at @askhalid.
LA house

L.A.’s lax enforcement of Airbnbs has led to an surge of illegal short-term rentals — even four years after the city passed a regulation to crack down on such practices. But what if hosts lived in a building that welcomed Airbnb guests and short-term rentals?

That’s the idea behind Airbnb’s new push to expand short-term rental offerings. The company is partnering with a number of corporate landlords that agreed to offer “Airbnb-friendly” apartment buildings, reported The Wall Street Journal last week. According to the report, the new service will feature more than 175 buildings managed by Equity Residential, Greystar Real Estate Partners LLC and 10 other companies that have agreed to clear more than 175 properties nationwide for short-term rentals.

But prospective hosts in Los Angeles who decide to rent apartments from Airbnb’s list of more than a dozen “friendly” buildings in the city likely won’t earn enough to break even due to a combination of high rents, taxes and city restrictions on short-term rentals. Rents on one-bedroom apartments in most of the partnered buildings listed soared well over $3,000 a month. Only a few studios were available under the $2,000 price range. If a host were to rent a one bedroom apartment with a monthly rent of $2,635 (which amounts to $31,656 annually), they would have to charge well over the $194 average price per night for Los Angeles (which amounts to $23,280 per year) according to analytics platform AllTheRooms.

Either way, residents who rent one of these Airbnb friendly apartments still have to apply for a permit through the City of Los Angeles in order to host on Airbnb.

“[..Airbnb-friendly buildings] seems like a good initiative. However, from a quick look, it seems that given the rent, Airbnb revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover all expenses if the host follows the city’s policy,” says Davide Proserpio, assistant professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business.

In addition, since L.A.’s 120-day cap on short-term rentals still applies to the buildings on Airbnb’s listing platform, that greatly limits the number of longer-term guests a resident can host. Not to mention, some of the buildings that Airbnb lists have even shorter limits – The Milano Lofts in DTLA for example only allows residents to host 90 nights a year.

Airbnb’s calculations of host earnings may be greatly misleading as well, given that the estimate doesn’t include host expenses, taxes, cleaning fees or individual building restrictions. For example, Airbnb estimates that a resident of a $3,699 one bedroom apartment at the Vinz in Hollywood that hosts 7 nights a month can expect $1,108 a month in revenue if they host year-round. But the Vinz only allows hosts to rent 90 days a year, which greatly limits the potential for subletters and a consistent income stream.

Keep in mind too that since the apartment will have to serve as the host’s “primary residence”, hosts will have to live there six months out of the year. All of which is to say, it’s unclear how renting an apartment in an “Airbnb-friendly” building makes hosting easier — especially in a city where illegal short-term rentals already seem to be the norm.