Lately, you may have noticed a new name in online mental health information. Here it is 1999, and companies are still coming online thinking that by using the Web to provide information, they are being innovative!?? Well, let’s take a look at their innovation, shall we?
I began providing information about mental health issues on the Internet in 1991, 8 years ago, while just a graduate student in school. In 1995, I launched first my own personal Web site, and then went on to build and maintain one of the largest mental health sites online, later that year. This is 1995 — over four years ago.
When I designed and built Psych Central, I understood some of the potential of the Internet to provide mental health symptom and treatment information. I also saw the power and potential of self-help information and self-help groups online, and so went about developing some. I found an author of a great, unpublished self-help book and we published it online, long before anyone was talking about online books. We worked in conjunction with the American Self-Help Clearinghouse to publish their entire database online, a first in its time. And we built an extensive, supportive self-help community centered not around “event” types of chats (which do nothing to foster community), but actual online friendships and support.
Fast forward 4 years later, about a millennia in Internet time. A very large managed behavioral health company decides they should have a Website which does much the same thing as Psych Central and about 10 other large-scale sites and hundreds of other smaller sites have been doing for 4 years. So they build one. Good for them. Then they spend over $10 million to promote it (that’s more than 30 times MHN’s entire annual budget!). They hire a bunch of people who seem to have very little understanding of the Internet, and for an Internet company, design a site which is virtually incomprehensible.
They contract with another party for the actual content to populate their Website, not an unusual move in this day and age. Does the content break new ground? Provide better than available, existing content? In other words, do they have anything new to bring to the Internet table? Are they leveraging emerging technologies or breaking new ground? Or did they basically put up a site with the exact same information on it that could already be found on hundreds of other Websites today? Well, given their grasp of the Internet, they leveraged their vast business knowledge and wisdom to produce — you guessed it! — a Website with the same information that can be easily found elsewhere.
Oh, but they did remember their chat rooms and “community.” They produce weekly live events, much like another company they model themselves after. Does anybody visit the chat rooms when there is no event on? I haven’t seen them. They didn’t build a community. They built a huge, empty auditorium which fills up to about 5% of its capacity during a chat. Imagine your high school auditorium with one class in it and you’ll get the picture.
As they pound their chests with their “achievements,” I can’t help but wonder how so much money could be spent on such a useless, duplicative endeavor. Instead of contributing to the online mental health world, this company mocks it. They mock the true communities which have existed online for over a decade (like alt.support.depression), they mock the hundreds of people who have poured hundreds of thousands of hours building mental health information Web sites, and they mock anyone who actually deals with a mental health issue.
Sites like this are not an achievement, they are an insult. They insult our intelligence, insult the work that has come before them. Companies believe they can simply buy their way into any market, and build mental health content and community as though they were building a toolshed. They haven’t paid their dues, and often don’t even understand their market or the people who will visit their site. Even their name screams “unoriginality!”
Don’t get sucked in by them or others who may follow. This is 1999, not 1995. If a company is going to enter the field this late in the game, ensure they are bringing something new and innovative to the table, not the same old information.