Can Curating Doctors' Tweets Improve People's Health?

By Alexis C. Madrigal

Take a look at OrganizedWisdom.com and you see a strange mix of ambitions. The website's category pages (acid reflux, erectile dysfunction, IBS) and general clickable clutter might make you suspect that it's a content farm intent on picking up WebMD's scraps.

But under the hood, there's an interesting idea cooking. Organized Wisdom is creating a way of evaluating the authority of health-related social media users, which they can layer over Google's relevance algorithms, so that they can surface useful health information from vetted sources.

As doctors and other health experts increase their output on social media, Organized Wisdom thinks they can scoop up that information and turn it into the backbone for their site.

As explained by new board member and former Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin, the site wants to "correct an algorithm frenzy" by which people search for health information online and find only perfectly search engine optimized content written by people who may or may not know what they're talking about.

Organized Wisdom has verified more than 6,000 social media accounts as having some kind of expert knowledge. Levin sees their output on Facebook, blogs and Twitter as "a treasure trove that needs to be organized."

Of course, that is the hard part.

Unity Stoakes, one of the company's co-founders, described their mission as building a "trust filter for health and wellness, something that's never been done." He compared their task to eBay's -- connecting sellers (patients) with respectable buyers (doctors/experts). His other corollary was Quora, the Silicon Valley question-and-answer site, which has morphed into a community filled with technology experts.

But eBay had the advantage that sellers had a far greater incentive to be vetted and verified on the site than do the doctors Organized Wisdom's collecting. And Quora established a very strong early community that was dedicated to maintaining the quality of the information on the site. Organized Wisdom's relationship with its experts is one step removed. They're scraping what doctors and experts do on other sites and re-presenting it in ways that they think are more useful.

Though Levin and Stoakes contend that doctors will see value in what their website does, I doubt the good ones will work as hard as eBay sellers or Quora users do to make sure that their reputation on the site will be well-maintained.

The germ of an idea represented by Organized Wisdom is fascinating. Distilling and storing useful health information from the social web would be a valuable service indeed, but I'm not sure it's going to be easy or even doable.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/04/can-curating-doctors-tweets-improve-peoples-health/236922/