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Sep13
OrganizedWisdom Re-Launches As A Human-Powered Online Health Search Engine, But Will It Work?

Next week, OrganizedWisdom will attempt what is referred to in marketing owlogo.gifcircles as a re-launch.  Last year, the company debuted as a platform where consumers could share “health wisdom.”  However, the founders, Steven Krein and Unity Stoakes, quickly changed course.  Realizing that the Web is awash with user-generated content like blogs and online forums, they decided that it would be difficult for a related platform to gain traction.  

Finding relevant health information online can be a chore so they decided to revamp OrganizedWisdom into a Web search platform.  But there’s a twist.  Instead of relying on algorithms to classify content, they are turning to the computer that’s been with us since the beginning: the human brain.  According to the company press release:

 

“OrganizedWisdom.com features a custom health search engine curated by trained search experts and guided by a team of specialized physicians.  The service provides credible, well-organized search results pages for the most popular health search terms, without the clutter, redundant links . . . or spam typically found in search engines.”  

If this sounds familiar, it is.  Yahoo! was first introduced as a human-powered search engine.  AskJeeves started the same way.  More recently, Mahalo, backed by Jason Calacanis, launched in Alpha mode this May.  

Human-powered online health search is certainly an interesting idea, but is it scalable?  Hiring and training human editors requires lots and lots of money.  OrganizedWisdom hopes to reduce some of its costs by relying on volunteer labor.  According to Stoakes: “OrganizedWisdom Health also taps into the wisdom of our site visitors to help improve the results.  Anyone can suggest links they feel are missing and deserve to be included on a WisdomCard, and can report or discuss any links they feel should be removed.  Each suggestion is reviewed and monitored by our guides to ensure that only quality links are added to the search results themselves.”

This is certainly an interesting experiment.  But with all of the online health content being pumped out on a daily basis, OrganizedWisdom’s human editors have their work cut out for them.  Over time, it will come down to this: time versus computer power.  If automated search engines significantly improve (see this previous HealthCareVox article), humans may become irrelevant.  I’ll be watching to see how things play out.

7 Comments/Trackbacks




Fard,

Thanks for the post about the NEW OrganizedWisdom. I think you and Matthew Holt are the first to scoop the news in advance of our formal launch/release this coming Monday. But you both are always out front on these things...

We are really very excited about what we are building because we think it is going to help a lot of people. The reality is the Web has been flooded with spam and junk in the past 24 months, rendering many searches useless, if not dangerous for health information seekers. We've been working on this new initiative for some time now and there is no doubt the time is now to clean up the Web.

You are correct that this concept is not new. As you mentioned that's how Yahoo! started and upstart Mahalo is doing something similar for all categories. In fact, DMOZ, the old Yahoo!, Wikipedia, and Mahalo have all been significant influences for us and what we are doing and we have great respect for each of those projects/companies. But we feel strongly that our doctor-review process and focus on health is very important (and unique) and will help us deliver a level of quality and credibility that no other search site/service can provide. For a good example, compare our Breast Cancer or Hair Loss WisdomCard with a similar search on Google, Yahoo!, or Kosmix. Type in What is Melanoma on Google and the very first result is a SPAM web site (at least today - it changes all the time). Scary!

To your point on scalability, we've been getting this question frequently. And this is an area we are most excited about and feel we will excel at once we get going. To correct one minor point in your post, we are building a team of paid guides, not just volunteers. Anyone can apply to become a guide and create WisdomCards, but we only pay for and publish WisdomCards that get approved by our editors and physician reviewers. We know that we can scale over time (remember this is a multi-year initiative!) because we are built of a social media platform designed for collaboration (similar to Wikipedia). As an example, let's remember that the majority of Wikipedia has been created by only a few thousand passionate people. And it is scaling just fine -- in fact it will likely become the largest Web site, most trafficked etc. We've already assembled a great team collaborating from all over the country...and it is rapidly growing everyday.

We are only in the very preliminary stages of what we are building and what you see now at OrganizedWisdom.com is only about 10% of what we have planned. We decided to launch in this early beta stage however because we want to get real live feedback from users so we can continue to improve the service. We've got a long road ahead, but we love what we do and we love what we are building. And most importantly we want to help a lot of people get better health information.

If anyone has any feedback or suggestions, please contact me anytime at unity at organizedwisdom.com.


Unity:

Thanks for visiting and for clarifying what OrganizedWisdom's up to. Best of luck!

Fard,

Great post. I find this to be a fascinating area, and one that is well worth watching. Can't wait to hear more on Monday about the formal relaunch.

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Is the OW change really a matter of spammers overtaking health topics on the web? Not long ago I received a VC's suggestion (translation: "your idea isn't big enough") that vertical health search is the place to be in the market. Social media + health isn't.

I'm not suggesting OW made the change based on investor pressure, but I'd love to hear more about their insights that spam is the root of the health consumer problem online.

Our observation is that consumers lack access to a balanced perspective. In the verticals we cover at RealSelf.com, search engine results are strongly biased toward sites that give medical factoids or paid listings of medical experts (which some may argue are a form of spam).

Wikipedia is patrolled by doctors and other medical experts who see limited relevance to consumer-driven content and edit it out (note: this was my personal experience). Yes, you get intimate insight into say the molecular makings of a drug, but the voice of the consumer using the drug is absent.

Consumers want to go beyond these easy-to-access facts and get access to others who are taking the drugs, undergoing the treatments, and trying out the personal care products.

Is this problem addressed by a new way of organizing search results? Perhaps. And I do wish OW success at doing so. But I'm still bullish that we can create significant consumer value by capturing the human-side to health and personal care. It's very hard to assemble a complete picture by sifting through fragments of quality that exist on the web.

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