With no surprise (given its widely-available but lackluster preview release available for weeks now), Revolution Health officially launches with a media tour and PR galore. And what else would we expect from a company funded by marketing-powerhouse AOL co-founder Steve Case? (Because if AOL knew how to do anything right, it was to keep reminding you that it was still around with its ubiquitous CDs that arrived monthly, like clockwork, in your junk mail.)
So can a company that comes from the mind of the folks who brought us AOL really “get” the serious information related to health? The jury is out.
I think that a lot of the PR tomorrow will come in the form you’d expect if you’ve checked out the preview release. That Revolution Health represents the largest, most financially well-backed entry into social networking for health. They believe — with good reason — that social networking has something to offer people dealing with life-threatening cancer, and with other, less life-threatening issues (like “healthy living”). It’s a big market, health, and it’s a crowded marketplace, with long-standing providers ranging from WebMD to iVillage to three dozen other health-oriented and healthy-living oriented websites.
The key to most people, I suppose, will be what’s cool and unique about Revolution? Why would I join and, more importantly, why would I keep coming back? The answer is simple, if not exactly revolutionary — finding a social connection with someone else with a similar concern or issue. So yeah, they’ll have a bunch of licensed content from others which makes them just another “me-too” place to find health information (I’m not sure why they even bothered with this effort). But the viral component will be to find others with similar health concerns and keeping in touch with them.
Revolution will offer the first enterprise version of social networking for people with diseases and health concerns. If you have prostate cancer, now you can share that information with thousands of others just like you, and find and talk to others who also have prostate cancer. And anything that gets people to talk more about their health concerns and start to seriously address them is a good thing in my book.
But despite the inevitable hype that will surround their launch tomorrow, the truth is that there have been thriving online self-help support communities where people have found one another for a health-related concern for decades (going all the way back to the 1980’s). If you want to find any of a number of support groups online for virtually any health or mental health concern you may have, all you need do is type in “[name of disease] support group” into Google and you’ll have no trouble finding dozens of such large, thriving online communities.
So while we welcome them to the world of online health with their unique and pretty offerings (because they are indeed very pretty!), we also want to remind folks to choose your username carefully over there. Because virtually everything you say or do on Revolution Health will be indexed by search engines. And just like those AOL CDs, you may find yourself marketed to in ways you never imagined for additional health services, products, and more.
Why should you care? Because sharing health concerns online, unlike your joy of toy robots or They Might Be Giants, can have significant and serious consequences to your employment, your insurance coverage, and heck, even your real-life social relationships. I’m not sure they’ll mention any of this in their registration process, so just keep that in mind before you fill out their profile as though you were on MySpace.
Bonne Révolution de chance!
1/22/07 Addendum: As promised, Revolution launched with an exclusive from The Wall Street Journal (unfortunately, the full article is available only to WSJ subscribers). WSJ also took the opportunity to point out that Revolution wants to charge users for their chance to contribute ratings, reviews and their health data to the site, mentioning that WebMD, meanwhile, is moving to make more services free.