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Agile Computing: Blog Post

Open Letter to YouTube (and Google)

You Can Do Better with Health

Health 2.0 Magazine

Last week was a bad one for Google. There was a lot of chatter on the web regarding a Credit Suisse report estimating that Google may lose $470 million on YouTube in 2009. The AP and the Wall Street Journal also have Google (among other news aggregators) in their sights for copyright infringement as the print newspaper business has fallen off a cliff. As Google tries to find ways to make money in the health space, they seem to have devoted most of their energy on the Google Health initiative (still in BETA), which allows users to gather medical records online. Meanwhile, YouTube's main health offering appears to be limited to a partnership it has established with Health.com. YouTube's Health channel is a compendium of health videos grouped in several condition areas (ie, breast cancer, sleep disorders, etc.). The videos in these centers revolve around experts, tips and personal stories of people who suffering from the condition. While there is value to this type of content, the Health channel is fundamentally flawed from a user experience perspective and its limited value constrains it as a way for YouTube to make any money in the Health space. The experience fails on several counts:

Medical review - the health space is unique in that expert opinion really matters to the consumer (as opposed to restaurant reviews). A December 2007 study found that people look to experts on the internet when it came to health matters (as opposed to work skills, taxes and other types of concerns). The issue with the inventory on YouTube is its broad array of user-generated content. Establishing the health channel in partnership with Health.com alleviated the clutter somewhat by providing a curated experience. The vast array of health videos on YouTube, however, is not in this channel. There are individual doctors who have chosen to upload information about their specialty online, patient's talking about their experiences, medical convention lectures and numerous wellness-related videos. A better solution would be to establish a partnership with the Mayo Foundation or some other institution that can provide medical reviewers (perhaps compensated) to look over selected videos and provide ratings. Those ratings should be segregated from the broader community ratings and users should be able to filter health-related videos by whether or not they have been reviewed. A partnership with the Mayo Foundation or other medical institution brings the added benefit of providing medical encyclopedia information that would better round out the information found on YouTube and improve search engine results for the content.

Search - the search function currently found on youtube.com/Health constrains the search to YouTube's video inventory (ie, seaching for allergists brings back YouTube videos of allergists). While some videos include the typical disclaimer of the videos providing "educational information only" and "consult your doctor" for advice -- YouTube provides no easy way of doing just that. Providing a targeted physician search is a natural extension of the user's experience which YouTube fails to provide (a problem made even more glaring considering the capabilities of its parent company, Google.) The potential patient has to leave that screen and conduct the search in another tab or browser window. The user should be provided some sort of advanced search capability that allows them to search for doctors or do a broader information search on their condition. A more targeted search tie-in would provide a better ad sales opportunity for Google under this type of scenario (since presumably this is a highly motivated user).

Community - since 80% of internet users have looked up health-related information online, it's not surprising that one of the things patients are doing are connecting online. Google has had limited success in the social networking space, and perhaps recent rumors of a Twitter acquisition is a way to rectify the situation. If the Twitter acquisition does go through, it would be great if YouTube could integrate it into a health channel that would allow its more than 5 million users to communicate with each other about the videos they are viewing (probably a much better experience than the current Streams offering in YouTube's testtube incubator since it would be a more seamless experience for chronically-ill patients who already have Twitter accounts.) Even if the acquition does not go through, a partnership in this area is still worth exploring.

Perhaps Google's first priority is staunching the bleeding but Credit Suisse's analysts noted that

In our view, the issue for YouTube going forward is to increase the percentage of its videos that can be monetized (likely through more deals with content companies) and to drive more advertiser demand through standardization of ad formats and improved ad effectiveness

Monetizing content means providing value that will attract both users and advertisers. The Health segment may be a small percentage of YouTube's projected 75 billion video streams in 2009, but as TV executives already know, health advertisers are a lucrative market. These advertisers will not come if their ads are showing up in front of dogs that are skateboarding, but they will likely show up for medically-reviewed videos/content that show high engagement and targeted search.

More Stories By Camille Schenkel

Camille is a digital change and process management consultant. She has worked for diverse companies, from media (ABC) to multinationals (GE). She has helped companies (both startups and Fortune 500) start their businesses online. The common thread is companies or industries that are going through fundamental change or industry-shifting opportunities. She is currently the Editor of Healthyspacesrx.com, analyzing consumer-driven changes in the health care industry.

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