New Social Network for Caregivers Bucks ‘User as Product’ Model

Former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz is offering caregivers a social networking service designed to be free of confusing privacy policies and invasive advertising.

Social networking is far older than Facebook, MySpace or even Friendster, according to Schwartz, CareZone founder and CEO. Family is actually the world’s oldest social network, and whether by birth or by choice everyone is pretty much part of it.

However, this original social network doesn’t always make for a good fit with today’s online social media, he maintained — especially when it comes to privacy.

For many social media sites, the user isn’t the customer but the rather the product. The goal of CareZone is to change this so that productivity and privacy don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

“The network’s goals are to serve the needs of those that care for their parents, their children or the loved ones we consider part of our family,” Schwartz told TechNewsWorld.

“We believe with life expectancies extending nearly everywhere on Earth, and with the burdens falling increasingly on those already challenged with kids, our service is timely and high value,” he added.

Entirely Private

The concept behind CareZone is to provide an online account that can be opened on behalf of a loved one, and which remains entirely private and available by default only to the person who opened it. The service, which launched this week, offers subscriptions ranging from US$5 a month to $48 a year per individual.

Accessible online, the CareZone could be used to provide a permanent reference for key information including names and addresses, blood type and allergies. It also provides a way to manage medications and therapies, including dosage, frequency and reactions.

General purpose social networks have played a huge role in encouraging people to share more, but as the online social world evolves, participants will look for networks that offer more value for their personal and professional interests. But will Schwartz’s background bring the attention that CareZone might need to succeed?

“It may mean something in Silicon Valley VC circles, but consumers in virtually all markets don’t know who he is,” said Josh Crandall, cofounder of Netpop Research. “They won’t take it into consideration when evaluating the service.”

This service is thus a significant departure from the Facebook-type social networking sites that provide the usual “what you’re doing right now” type of social commentary, but for this reason it could offer something unique as well.

“Launching a social network for a niche audience requires deep expertise and passion for the subject,” Crandall told TechNewsWorld.

The challenge is to differentiate itself through specialization from general purpose social networks, he said. “By focusing on a particular niche, the product team must focus on building features that general purpose social networks don’t have time and bandwidth to tackle.”

Not a Niche

However, Schwartz doesn’t even believe that there is such a selective market.

“We don’t view taking care of an older parent or a child as niche: It’s what the vast, vast majority of people on Earth do every day,” he said.

Technology will not be a barrier, in his view. “We’re focused on those that are responsible for care — not necessarily the objects of their caring attention — and those that are already connected via smartphones, tablets and PCs. That’s 4 billion and counting. It doesn’t matter to us whether your Mom has access to the network, it’s whether you and your sisters do — you’re the ones whose challenges we can lighten with the smart application of basic technologies.”

The fastest-growing segment on popular social networking sites such as Facebook is comprised of those 50 and older, noted Lynne A. Dunbrack, program director, connected health IT strategies, at IDC Health Insights.

“There are already plenty of people who want to share health issues, good or bad,” she told TechNewsWorld, “and this could be a good extension of that.”

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