Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.
Long lines and bare shelves are a frequent sight at many grocery stores as COVID-19 continues to impact store inventories across the nation.
After returning home from college for spring break, Rithwik Pattikonda and Darshan Bhatta noticed their parents were struggling to find certain groceries. To help make shopping during the pandemic easier, the two friends created Instok, a website that allows people to determine which nearby stores might have specific items.
“When we looked at the news, we saw that this problem was way more widespread,” computer science sophomore Pattikonda said. “Now we’re trying to promote social distancing and keeping people at home instead of having to go to five or six different stores to find a certain product.”
Instok works by gathering inventory data from the websites of nearby stores. When a user searches for a specific product on the site, Instok.org uses their location to put together a list of stores that might have the product close by. The accuracy and availability of items shown depends on how regularly the stores update their online inventory.
“Whatever you would see at stores such as Target, CVS or Walgreens, we’re taking all of that information and making it easy for you to find where you can buy things at all these different stores,” Pattikonda said.
Since creating the website, Bhatta, a computer science freshman, said that a number of people have reached out and shared how the site has helped them.
“Seeing the community feedback and reading that people are actually using our site and having some usefulness out of it is really rewarding,” Bhatta said.
After Instok’s initial upload, computer science juniors Sriram Hariharan and Shan Rizvi joined Pattikonda and Bhatta in working on the website. Within weeks of it’s creation, Instok has been viewed over 550,000 times.
Hariharan said the four were surprised by how fast the website began to gain traction.
“At some level, I knew that this would be really useful, but I didn’t expect to get to this level as fast as it did,” Hariharan said. “It’s definitely something that really took off.”
A community feature was recently added to Instok where members of the public can share on the site where they found specific items, where items are cheap and other useful comments.
Pattikonda said the four have plans to expand the website in the future, including adding more stores across the country. Once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, he said he hopes the website can still be useful for holidays such as Black Friday and Christmas.
Hariharan said as the website expands, he hopes it will continue to positively impact lives.
“We’re looking to see how we can build longevity and a community around this site,” Hariharan said. “It might seem really minute, but knowing we are helping (people) is really powerful to me.”