OrganizedWisdom Recruits Experts to Filter Health Information on the Web
When I met OrganizedWisdom co-founder Unity Stoakes for lunch on April 22, he had been awake for 40 hours, embroiled in a manic effort to recover from a massive Amazon cloud breakdown the day before, which nearly brought his site to a standstill. OrganizedWisdom is a health-information aggregator in New York that relies on cloud-computing services from Amazon. The startup had just launched the beta version of its redesigned site when the cloud failed, taking it down along with Foursquare, Reddit, and many other websites. “It was like Armageddon,” Stoakes says.
Luckily, OrganizedWisdom had performed a backup just an hour before the Amazon breakdown, so Stokes and his team of about 20 employees would be able to recover relatively fast, he told me as he sat down for lunch. Stokes was too tired to eat the bright green pea soup he ordered at Soho House, a private club and boutique hotel he belongs to in the Meatpacking District. But his fatigue faded fast as he began to describe the changes that the four-year-old site is undergoing.
Stoakes and co-founder Steven Krein—both longtime Internet entrepreneurs—founded OrganizedWisdom in 2007, five years after selling their previous Web startup, Promotions.com, to iVillage. “We were thinking, ‘How can we apply everything we learned in terms of technology and marketing to something meaningful?’ Stoakes says. “That’s how we got involved in health and wellness.”
The idea came up when a former board member was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Stoakes and Krein sat down with Krein’s brother, a surgeon, and spent hours combing the Internet for clinical trials, research, and other information. Then they put together what they called a “wisdom card”—a list of links related to pancreatic cancer. That, they believe, helped their friend get into a clinical trial of a drug that extended his life for four years.
“We decided to scale that experience and create wisdom cards on every [health] topic,” Stoakes says. OrganizedWisdom aggregated links to journal articles, blogs, and articles on sites such as WebMD, for a range of health and wellness topics. Revenues came primarily from advertising.
OrganizedWisdom raised $3.1 million in 2008, which included a a Series A venture capital round plus funding from about 30 angels, and the company is now profitable, Stoakes says. And now it has attracted a new angel investor, Gerald Levin, the former Time Warner CEO who is best remembered for leading what turned out to be a failed merger with AOL. On April 5, Levin joined OrganizedWisdom’s board after making an undisclosed investment in the company. “Organized Wisdom has everything I was looking for,” Levin told me in a phone interview. “It’s using the disruptive technology of the Internet to change the most fundamental part of our society—our health.”
Levin is helping OrganizedWisdom’s team transform the site from a mere aggregator into a sophisticated filter, designed to point consumers to the most trustworthy experts in health and wellness. Stoakes says it was Twitter that made him realize OrganizedWisdom had to change. “You started to see for the first time this social graph emerge, which people were using to be guided to useful information,” he says. ” But most people don’t have doctors in their social graph. And they can’t easily call up a surgeon or allergist. We figured if we could make that expert social graph available to anyone for free, it would be very valuable.”
So OrganizedWisdom’s team spent about 18 months identifying more than 6,000 doctors, nurses, scientists, and other health experts who were somehow active on the Web. Some had their own blogs, others were sharing links to health information or publishing articles in online journals.
Using those experts as a filter, OrganizedWisdom launched what it calls “expert health alerts.” Now, whenever people land on the site, they are invited to sign up for e-mail alerts on the health topics that interest them. They’re sort of like Google alerts, but more fine-tuned, Stoakes says. “Say you have a peanut allergy and you want to stay abreast of any new content on that topic,” he says. “Instead of random links coming to you, OrganizedWisdom will only send you links from doctors, or nurses, or allergists.”
Stoakes invited me to try the new service, so I signed up to receive alerts on two topics I’ve covered extensively: anti-aging medicine and sleep. I specified that I only wanted articles on aging provided by doctors. (I didn’t want to choose “all experts,” because I didn’t want my in-box inundated with articles from dermatologists about the latest anti-wrinkle potion that Hollywood starlets use.)
I was impressed with the quality of the results. One doctor posted links to several articles from the LA Times, including one about how vitamin D might decrease the risk of the eye disease macular degeneration, and another about scientists studying stem cell transplants for muscle regeneration.
But some of the links I was sent were rather extraneous. I chose the “all experts” option for sleep just to see what would happen. I received one article about a shelter dog in California that was saved from being euthanized, and another that contained a link to a photo of a sleeping kitten. Yes, the word “sleep” appeared in both articles, but they didn’t exactly fit the bill of useful health content.
Stoakes says OrganizedWisdom is fine-tuning the alerts system by developing tools that will filter out links to marketing material and useless content of the sleeping-kitten variety. The company is also building a button that users can press to indicate when they like or dislike a particular link they’re sent.
Another new addition is a free mobile toolbox for the 6,000 experts who are featured on the site. Each expert is given an OrganizedWisdom URL, which links to a profile of that expert and a list of all the content from him or her that OrganizedWisdom has collected. “They can then control their profile and help improve it,” Stoakes says. “They can edit the streams, they can add more streams.” The idea is to provide a way for, say, a doctor to refer patients to content on the Web that they have vetted. “Rather than telling a patient to go to Google or WebMD and search for information on a disease, they send them to something that they have created.”
Stoakes says the company is laying the foundation to provide premium services to doctors and other health professionals. And in June it will roll out a new service that incorporates government data into the health alerts. The information will come from healthdata.gov, a recently launched Web site that pulls together claims data and other information from federal agencies ranging from Health and Human Services to the FDA.
“So if you subscribe to anti-aging, the very first thing you’ll get is a welcome package of the best information the government has on anti-aging,” Stoakes says. “Your first exposure to the topic will be a dossier, to help get you up to speed.”
Levin says it was OrganizedWisdom’s evolving strategy that inspired him to get involved. In 2002, Levin, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, opened a wellness clinic called Moonview Sanctuary in Santa Monica, CA. He was introduced to OrganizedWisdom by New York entrepreneur Esther Dyson, an earlier investor in the site. (Dyson is also one of our own Xconomists). “Esther knew about my passion for health and wellness,” Levin says. “I got emotionally attached to OrganizedWisdom’s strategy. They have a mission to elevate the standard of care in this country. At Moonview, we have the same mission.”
OrganizedWisdom may not get as much attention as better-known health sites like WebMD, but it’s starting to gain some attention—both online and off. It recently formed a partnership with Reader’s Digest that will bring material from the website into 300,000 doctors’ offices. Starting in the third quarter, issues of Reader’s Digest will be polybagged with wisdom cards that cover some of the most common health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, Stoakes says. Each card will include 10 or so links to online resources patients can consult on those topics.
Just after our lunch, Stoakes and his co-workers got OrganizedWisdom fully back online. The Amazon cloud disaster was over, and Stoakes turned his attention back to OrganizedWisdom’s master goal. “There’s this big gap between the doctor’s visit and the Internet,” he says. “Our whole mission has been to leverage the technologies and tools out there to close that gap.”