iMedix: Social search that creeps me out

Oh, geez. Deb21 wants to chat again. Stoltz

Here I am, trying to look up some information about tinnitus – a.k.a. ringing in the ears, a condition which has recently afflicted a member of my family – and Deb21 [I’ve changed her handle to protect the innocent ] wants to chat. A little photo box pops up on my screen, with the icky solicitation “I’m online! Chat with me now!” There’s even an audible little ping whenever she implores me to spend some time with her.

Welcome to iMedix, a “social search” site in the personal health space.

In concept, social search is powerful: Combine the algorithmically valid but brain-dead health search results of a typical search engine with the “wisdom of the crowds” – the aggregated opinions of real humans who can validate the information they found worthwhile when dealing with the same issue. Add to that the ability to connect with those people, and (goes the theory) you’ve got something good.

Like any 2.0 community, iMedix faces the challenge of creating critical mass: A community with nobody home is in a death spiral from Day One. But building critical mass from scratch is no small task in mid-2008. Early adopters are oversubscribed to social networks and the mainstream hasn’t figured out what all the fuss is about. Every business based on network power needs people. A lot of them. Fast.

Which brings us back to Deb21. iMedix seems to be trying a bit too hard
to get people to join the party, dispatching its youthful crowd to flag
folks into the front door.

First it was Ann, a comely 29-year-old community manager interested in
fitness and lifestyle. I acquiesced to her friend request but haven’t
heard from her since.

I accepted friendship with a fellow calling himself neurosurgeon_55,
figuring it’s never a bad idea to know a brain surgeon. But then I
discovered he’s a 17-year-old guy in India, whose personal statement
reads, in part:

Then we will ve a lots of chat (humourous)but valuable beniffitng both
of us in the long run so what r u thinking of? Hmmmmmmmm..lets go ahead
and chat.Yo man!!

An unsettling number of people who have set up profiles in iMedix are
attractive and young and look, at least to these middle-aged eyes, like
the happy-go-lucky group with cool haircuts and great teeth you see in
ads for premium liquors.

Here is the problem: People with health problems have, well. . .health
problems. They want to see that people like them, people who have
something valuable to share, are in a community.

You will certainly find these people at iMedix: There’s a 53-year-old
woman whose college-age daughter has bipolar and is in an abusive
relationship. Good lord, the woman needs help. Call me too fast to
judgment, but I don’t think neurosurgeon_55 is the guy to offer her
support and guidance.

To be fair: iMedix is in beta. It appears they’ve seeded the site with
the folks they have around their young staff and (it appears) their
social network contacts.

Building a 2.0 health community is hard. Not many people have gotten it
right, and the very concept is fraught with danger. But social networks
are based on the company they keep. And no matter who that company is,
in the health space, I’m not sure they should jump onto your screen
saying “I’m online! Chat with me now!”

As for the search part of the social search: The information on
tinnitus was really pretty good, better than what Brother Google served
up on page one. Link number one was a direct hit.

Along the way I found the profile of someone named Niroo. She is 24 and
says she has hearing loss and is interested in tinnitus. She lives in
Iran. I sent her an e-mail. Haven’t heard from her yet.

> Craig Stoltz blogs regularly at Web 2.0h Really.

5 replies »

  1. what a breath of fresh air..technology is like the old child’s tale of the emporer’s new clothes..every once in a while somebody has to got shout but he’s naked!!!

  2. I completely agree with you, Craig. iMedix has focused on things that just aren’t important to people with health problems that are seeking information and community. There is no sense of community on the site – a sense of community comes from belonging to something bigger than you… personally, I find it really difficult to ‘belong’ when I’m only talking with one person at a time. I find it even more difficult to belong when that one person is interested in “crump dancing” and has no health concerns (yep, this person really did try to chat with me). Most popular social media sites and communities were not built with one on one chat as the only way to communicate with other members.
    When iMedix decides to really focus on the community, maybe I will revisit it… if something better hasn’t captured my attention by then.

  3. I agree there are way to many healthcare web spaces out there, whether simple links to ‘impetigo’ or weblogs discussing the social ramifications of ‘impetigo’.
    I think the abundance of these web spaces is motivated by, of course, the economics of potential ad revenue, and the reinforcing properties of obtaining ’15 minutes of fame’ by either creating a weblog or conversing on one. The ‘seeing your name in lights’ phenomenon.
    However there is a deeper issue not readily apparent and that is the crying need of people as patients to find their way through the disintegrating and ‘cloaked in secrecy’, opaque healthcare delivery process.
    There are very few sites providing the guidelines and instructions needed to navigate through the cryptic and mailignant culture created by ‘medicine’. This culture keeps patients ignorant of their own health truths and ignorant of the abundant flaws and failures of the delivery process itself.
    Many, if not most, doctors believe patients are to health illiterate to understand medical lingo so why bother to explain and reveal all of ‘their’ health-truths. Why bother? It’s the patient, stupid, that’s why.
    Well, health illiteracy is a fact because doctors have cultivated the ‘keep-em dumb’ approach and patient’s have assumed a wall of apathy.
    Just try to speak to all of your ‘providers’ at length, try to get their notes about you, just try to get the same reports your doctor gets about you. Don’t bother.
    Medicine practices the original ‘don’t ask-don’t tell’ modus operandi. That is, if the patient doesn’t ask the right question, don’t tell them the right answer.
    The card in the mail telling a patient that her mammogram is ‘normal’, fails to include the rest of the story the radiologist sends the doctor. What the doctor gets is that this very same patient has dense breasts and the mammogram isn’t any good for finding cancer in dense breasts. That report gets filed and the patient develops breast cancer later on.
    Another weblog we do not need.
    A web ‘tell it like it is’ place is what we do need.
    We, all as patients, could use a doctor in the family.
    Someone who knows the ‘biz’ from the inside out, beholden to no one and fearless.
    Well, there is a site, now, just like that one.
    Take a look at my new
    GOOD HEALTHCARE WEBLOG likeadoctorinthefamily.com
    and you’ll find me ‘outing’ inside information garnered from practicing internal medicine for almost thirty years.
    You’l read me preaching my philosophy of Health Defense and my strategies for survivng healthcare.
    I’m just getting started and have a lot more to say.
    Louis Siegel, M.D.

  4. You’ve touched upon a very good point – about the quality of members on social networks specific to a certain community. This is certainly becoming a challenge, and has infact had negative impact on many new users who get excited enough to log on to such social sites hoping to find out what the buzz is all about, only to have experiences similar to the ones you recounted above. You’ve survived them … but most others don’t, and solemnly pledge to never return.
    Not all networks are creeps, though. A recent new entrant is a medical networking site GreySynapses.com which claims to ensure a network of medical professionals only by keeping it an invitation-only site. Of course, the premise here is that members would not want to invite non-medical creeps into the community. Sure, anyone who has been burnt by a bad experience would respect their commitment to keeping it a medical professionals only area; but there isn’t a way to check the credentials of every online identity without wading into privacy concerns.
    Nonetheless, these online communities are a step ahead in facilitating communication and relations. It may take a while to get it right, and new entrants are taking on these very challenges – determined to get it right.