Coronavirus spurring interest in biology, games, cooking, and learning

A surge in activity at specific online communities run by Stack Exchange reveals what people want to learn and do as a result of COVID-19.

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The coronavirus outbreak is forcing people around the world to stay at home during the demand for quarantines and self isolation. All those individuals need some way to pass the time and keep themselves occupied and entertained, and in many cases, to learn more about the devastating virus. Offering a variety of online communities, Stack Exchange reveals which of its websites have seen a spike in use since COVID-19 reared its head.

From the 400 million people who visit its 174 virtual communities, Stack Exchange said in a Monday blog post that it has found a flood of interest and engagement in biology. The reason is clear: As COVID-19 has impacted the world, people want to better understand viruses and what can be done to stop them.

As one example, users have discussed the implications of humans catching the virus from animals, and large cats such as tigers seemingly catching it from us. Other discussions have focused on the challenges in creating a coronavirus vaccine, how to visualize the disease, and whether you can develop an immunity to the virus. Beyond the uptick in biology conversations, Stack Exchange has seen a rise in activity around medical sciences.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

As people stuck at home search for entertainment, Stack's gaming communities have become more popular. The puzzling site has witnessed a 300% surge in visitors, the video game sites a 106% increase, and the board game sites an 85% jump. People are also turning to certain card games, as Stack's poker site has attracted a 75% rise in activity.

Learning new skills is another common need among people at home. Stack's sites for gardening and cooking have seen 100% jumps in traffic, while activity at its homebrewing community has risen by 82%. And though many people are avoiding public places by staying indoors, they're still getting out into the fresh air to enjoy certain physical activities. Stack's site for bicycles has witnessed a 72% rise in activity.

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Image: Stack Exchange

But Stack said that the largest surge has been at its academia site. Devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and lifelong learning, this community provides an alternative for people whose in-person classes have been temporarily suspended. Users are posing questions about how to conduct virtual lessons and how to safely manage video chats for children. The site also offers a list of sources for those whose regular studies have been sidetracked by the virus.

Finally, to try to help people affected by the outbreak, Stack users created a chat room where individuals can discuss emotional issues and other concerns related to the crisis.

"I think of our Stack Exchange sites as fulfilling three needs for people right now: information, connection, and inspiration," Stack Overflow VP of Marketing and Communications Khalid El Khatib said.

"Information is a basic need, and feeling informed and confident goes a long way in reducing stress—even if it's just knowing whether or not you can freeze pickles. Connection with a community is part of human nature and with many of us being physically removed from our core community, finding another group online serves that need. Finally, inspiration in the form of new ideas, discoveries, or knowledge gives folks something to look forward to and a way to escape from the day-to-day routines." 

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