it's a relationship


How can a community help you know more about yourself?

February 22, 2012

Late last summer, my boss asked me if I wanted to take a genetic test through 23andMe as part of research for a project we were working on. (Don’t worry: this isn’t a story about workplace health discrimination.) Being something of an introvert, I’m slow to join new online communities and even slower to share personal information once I’ve joined. So you can imagine my resistance when I was asked to share my genetic information as a part of the registration process. However my introversion is easily trumped by my borderline obsession with data, and anything health-related. Long story short, my tube of saliva was in the mail back to 23andMe within hours of receiving it.

Over the next few weeks I anxiously contemplated what the test would reveal. What I learned was not what I expected. Aside from a long list of traits and conditions—apparently women with my genotype show a greater tendency to overeat, didn’t exactly need a genetic test to figure that one out—there was also a long list of surveys to fill out. Ever since taking my first personality quiz in GirlsLife magazine, I can’t get enough of surveys. Love them. But this time filling them out was directly contributing to scientific research that could tell me more about MY GENES. How cool is that?

The genius in the 23andMe model is their ability to pair the give and the get by identifying their core needs and creating a sustainable way to acquire them. The best community models leave members better off than they were before the interaction. In nature, this is known as a mutualistic symbiotic relationship; if you’ve seen Finding Nemo, you’ll recall the classic clownfish and sea anemone example. The give and get for these two are perfectly paired: the clownfish attracts prey to the anemone and once the anemone kills the prey, the clownfish feeds off of the remains while simultaneously cleaning the anemone.

While the 23andme model is not as gruesome, it has perfectly paired gives and gets. The company charges a flat fee for an initial analysis and then a monthly fee for regular updates based on new discoveries. Once users sign in, they are given the option to complete surveys about their health history, behaviors and traits. Armed with a DNA bank and the surveys, 23andme has the data they need to make new discoveries. And their users directly benefit from it by getting regularly updated, personalized genetic insights. Usually research institutes have to pay subjects to fill out surveys and the like; 23andMe has figured out how to get the research subjects to pay to participate!

23andMe has created a generative marketplace around genetic information by managing a call and response between individual patients and researchers. The more people who sign up, the larger 23andMe’s database grows and, as those of you who work with data know, the chance of finding significant correlations (i.e. new discoveries) increases. By making DNA personal and sharing more information, people are motivated to contribute. In a time when one’s own personal health information is surprisingly difficult to acquire, 23andMe puts this information in the user’s hands and gives them the opportunity to participate in the scientific process.

What would a generative marketplace look like in your world? What are your organization’s needs and who can fulfill them? What can your organization offer in reciprocation and how are you facilitating this exchange?

How can a community help you know more about yourself?

Mela Drakatos


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