Disaboom, Take Two

In response to several thoughtful comments by readers about my earlier Disaboom post, I revisited Disaboom recently. Here are my impressions.

Short version: I still don’t like it, for most of the reasons previously stated, and some new ones. Details follow.

I absolutely agree with the commenters who ask “What’s wrong with a site making a profit?” I agree, nothing at all is wrong with making a profit, as long as the owners are upfront about it. Disaboom is. Likewise, I see nothing wrong with a social networking site that observes its own privacy policy, and shares individual information and access only when explicitly permitted to. Disaboom users I’ve heard from say that Disaboom does just that. That’s good.

(Disaboom, at least as of this date, is not making a profit, though. See below.)

But there is a host of other things that still, and newly, bother me about Disaboom. I found the medical information available to be lightweight, poorly edited, and poorly presented. For example, under Conditions: Muscular Dystrophy: Introduction, two paragraphs appear. They’re a slapdash intro to the disease, followed by these lines:

The specifics of these diseases are outside the scope of this discussion, but readers are encouraged to look at the links listed below for further information.

Well, pretty much everything about muscular dystrophy is “outside the scope” of this “discussion”, especially since there are no links below to follow. That’s careless editing, of course, but typical of the general approach to the content. There’s no justification, need, or even any point to having these unsatisfying articles on Disaboom: Type “muscular dystrophy” into your browser’s search box, and you’ll instantly find thousands of articles with more, and more useful, information that you’ll get on Disaboom. Or take the mainstream approach and just go to WebMD, where you’ll find a slew of information well- presented and easily accessed.

Disaboom’s “lifestyle” articles seem equally pointless to me. Consider, for instance, this article: Successfully Support Your Significant Other’s Fitness Goals. Pick up any women’s magazine at your local supermarket, and you’ll find a similar article. Curiously, there’s nothing whatever in the content that is remotely disability-related. What’s the point of putting it on Disaboom? It’s not new art; it has nothing to do with the specific issues of Disaboom’s target market; it isn’t particularly informative. (How do you support your significant other? News flash — be nice.)

Then there’s this article on being a “football widow”. This post does happen to feature people who are living with SCI, but, once again, this advice is straight out of every women’s magazine ever printed. The featured issue, and advice, have nothing at all to do with SCI or living with any other disability. These articles are just slapped-together filler for a site that has little content-commitment to its putative target audience.

Even when there’s a nod to disability issues, it’s often feeble. Consider, for example, this article called 10 Tips for a Romantic, Accessible Valentine’s Date. The author suggests that you phone ahead to make sure your restaurant is accessible — that’s the extent of the relevant “tips”. Otherwise, it’s all suggestions for activities that are in no way disability-specific. If you have a disability that requires it, and you’ve been to even one restaurant since you began living with your disability, you’ve probably already learned to call ahead. You don’t need a lame article on a website to remind you.

What’s the harm, you say? Think I’m being kind of hard-nosed here? Maybe, but articles like these, which are content-poor, but pretend to address the specific needs of a defined population (but don’t) seem cynical to me. Nobody needs to come to a “disability” site for relationship advice that anyone can follow. Implying, by providing content like this, that the human needs all people share can only be met for people with disabilities on a site specific to that sub-group, is mightily offensive to me. Having a disability usually implies a need for some specialized knowledge; it doesn’t remove anyone from the pool of all humans who populate the world.

Perhaps a more serious objection to Disaboom has to do with questionable content that looks a whole lot like blatant public relations blurbs. There’s nothing dishonest about making a profit, but passing off what are essentially advertisements as editorial content is at least a little sleazy. Here’s one article that looks like it’s straight from the Chicago Chamber of Commerce. Or this one, from Scottsdale, Arizona. I believe that “articles” like these should be identified as exactly what they are: ads.

Ads, and PR releases, aren’t particularly useful in and of themselves. Commercial content that isn’t edited, vetted, or critiqued isn’t particularly useful. They’re just enticements or promises. Shouldn’t a site dedicated to the needs and desires of a population living with disabilities do more than reprint uncredited ads? I think so. Otherwise, what’s the point? You can type “Chicago disability travel” and get a whole bunch more information on your own browser in seconds than you’ll get in Disaboom’s PR reprint. Why on earth would you limit yourself to the information on one, self-serving, website? I wouldn’t.

Moving on to a genuinely disability-related topic, Disaboom’s “Consumer Guide to Adaptive Vehicles” isn’t a legitimate “consumer guide” at all. And, surprise, surprise, it’s also self-serving — in this case, the “self” is the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Assn.. Need an adaptive vehicle? Here’s what you should do:

The first step is contacting a dealer or retailer in your area who is knowledgeable about evaluating both your physical needs and the best adaptive technology solutions for your individual circumstances.

When I required adaptive equipment for a vehicle (and later, when I required an adaptive vehicle), the first thing I discovered is that the dealers were the worst place to go. They knew how to sell, but next to nothing about individual needs or options. I was able to get what I needed only by thoroughly educating myself, and then returning to the dealer and ordering exactly what I specified. That’s the consumer advice I’d give everyone. Dealers exist to push what they’ve got to sell, not necessarily to find or provide what you need. This advice from Disaboom is essentially useless; you might as well be reading an ad. Which, of course, is exactly what you are doing.

And then there’s Disaboom’s “Jobs” section. If you believe that Disaboom has, as they claim, a “list of over 500,000 jobs” for people with disabilities, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. I didn’t sign up, so I don’t know which job site they’ve affiliated with, but it certainly isn’t their own, and your individual chances of finding meaningful, full-time work won’t be any better because you’ve signed up on Disaboom database than it will be on Monster or any other job site.

Disaboom wants you to sign up to bolster their numbers, but they’ve got nothing special to offer you, and it’s dishonest of the site to pretend it does. Claiming that there are “over 500,000 jobs” under the disability umbrella is highly misleading; these are the same 500,000 jobs for which everyone is competing.

The generic information Disaboom provides about employment looks like a poor re-hash of readily available government information. Why not get it directly from the source?

Those are (still) my beefs. Disaboom’s ability to succeed is very much tied into the idea that a huge proportion of people with disabilities will look to Disaboom, and only Disaboom, for information, advice and social contacts. There’s simply no reason for any sensible person to limit him- or her- self to only one “disability” site as an information resource. As for social networking, it’s fabulous for the users, but it’s just another internet bubble that will burst for investors — if it ever manages to reach the point of having any economic value in the first place.

This is an expensive website with little original or novel content. According to the most recent SEC filings, Disaboom still isn’t making any money; it still looks like a tanker to me. Investors, save your pennies. Social users, have at it: You’re at no risk at all, unless you’d really like to know where editorial content ends and ads begin. Enjoy it while you can; I’m still guessing that Disaboom is going to be a black hole for its investors. From my point of view, Disaboom is trying to fill a need that doesn’t exist, and is doing so not-very-honorably.