First, we are honored that Wikinomics found our business model compelling given our decision to forgo an advertising-based revenue stream at this time. While Facebook is a pure-play social network (and defines the space), we are a personalized medicine platform with social networking components. The differences between our companies explain the differences in business approaches.
How? Social status on Facebook (and other social networks) relies on the number of friends one amasses as well as the diversity of activities in which one participates. Status on PatientsLikeMe, however, is conferred to each patient by how much data one shares with the rest of the community. We employ a star-based incentive program for patients to keep their data up to date. A three-star patient shares a diagnosis date, is current with outcome, treatment and symptom information, and has provided a certain amount of historical data. This deep data sharing provides credibility to the patient for all activities on the site (forum posts, private messages, treatment and symptom experience, etc.). Every interaction is dynamically linked back to a patient’s profile through our “patient icon” (see right) that graphically describes the patient’s current status with the disease. In essence, sharing data gives patients our version of “street cred”.
Since data drives the activity on our site, so must it drive our business endeavors. We are decidedly not an eyeballs play and will likely never reach the stratospheric numbers Facebook boasts in total members. So advertising isn’t as compelling an option as a revenue stream. Our goal, however, is to create new knowledge from the shared experiences of our patients. We won’t need 50 million people to participate to achieve that goal. We sell this deep information (anonymized) to companies that are most aligned with the needs of our patients (life sciences companies for treatments and health plans for health management).
It is true, though, that the more members we have, the more insight we’ll be able to derive about the course of disease—and maybe figure out novel ways to change that course. Patients already have many of the answers. We invite people interested in changing the course of their disease to join PatientsLikeMe.