Susannah Fox from Pew Internet (so glad I got to meet her in DC!) recently met with Senior Staff at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) to discuss some current issues and trends in mobile and social health information that she blogged at e-patients.net.
Yesterday a redesign of MedlinePlus went live, offering some new features such as widgets to access information from MedlinePlus on your own website or blog such as the search cloud.
I agree with Michelle Kraft that they may want to consider placing the mobile link at the top, since my Android using Opera 5 mini browser does not redirect to mobile site (and looks truly awful) if you access medlineplus.gov instead of m.medlineplus.gov . I freely admit that Dean Giustini’s ‘NLM’s MedlinePlus Goes All Widgety‘ inspired this entry title.
A few of the questions Susannah asks include
- How can the NLM seed conversations happening online and offline, to spread good information and good behaviors?
- Should the NLM maintain its own brand or should the National Institutes of Health emerge as the stronger, overall brand?
- (my paraphrase) How can the NLM harness techniques such as Procter & Gamble’s ‘Listen more than ask’?
I’ve been advocating for dynamic NLM social media communication channels since January 2009 with A tweet for change: #pubmed. The feedback I received was that NLM was aware of Twitter as a communication feedback channel which was “too brief”, then #pubmed became too spammy by January this year. It’s hard to tell how it is used currently since Twitter significantly dropped search history query results from 14 to about 5 days, so I parked a WTHashtag for #pubmed to see how it goes.
There are now a wide variety of NLM social media channels. I see most of these as push-out news rather than pull-in or embedded social health information resources but this is a positive step in the right direction.
I personally believe that user feedback offered via social media channels is every bit as specific, measurable and valid as feedback sent through emails and website contact forms. Remember when I took a look outside the medical library field to see what other users were saying about the Pubmed redesign in October 2009?
Tweeting is often a spontaneous form of communication that captures our first reactions to something new. It is also much easier to tweet than clicking through and filling out a contact form on a website with mobile phone, especially when accessing some part of the website is the problem. I did it myself last month without really thinking about it:
I later received a kind email from NLM asking if I could provide more details about the issue, which I gladly did, and know that I should have sent this in via the contact form…. but I’m not always a medical librarian thinking in forms of structured feedback. I don’t think other patients sitting in a waiting room using their mobile phones to look up health information they just learned about are either.
I do not mean that Twitter feedback about websites should be more valid than website contact forms (see The Social Divide for a good narrative on regular vs. social media company customer service), but it does have value that shouldn’t be dismissed due to its brevity. I hope NLM, NIH and other government organizations who seek to have a meaningful presence in social media channels understand that.