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.

11 replies on “Disaboom, Take Two”

I’ve also been irritated by the big pocketed corporate/medical arrogance that Disaboom has been tossing around since before their site even launched.

“When the site launches in September of 2007, it will transform the way people with disabilities live their lives. …’s goal is to become the single most important website for those living with disabilities.”

“… the first interactive online community for Americans living with disabilities…”

Give me a farking break. It’s odd that Disaboom thinks they’re doing something new or unique. They’re neither.

“J. Glen House, M.D., …a quadriplegic and leading voice for the disabled community…”

I’ve been a member of “the disability community” for 22 years, and I never heard of Greg House… until he promised to transform my life.

Disaboom claims to be this great resource for PWDs. But a search shows mostly info about their investors, their stock prices, their celebrity hob-nobbing, etc.

Disaboom has the marketing down. They managed to woo mega-bucks advertisers and go public WITHOUT a finished product. They obviously know how to “be seen” and sell an idea, so they have some big talkers in their camp. And they’re top notch at raising money. But being successful at raising money is one thing. Being successful at developing a website that will become the single most important website for those living with disabilities and which transforms the way people with disabilities live their lives is quite another. Not only is the latter extraordinarily arrogant, it’s also highly unlikely.

IMO… Disaboom is a money making business that hopes to capitalize on an “untapped market” and maybe share some disability related content along the way. They’re puffed up and full of themselves, like many doctors and venture capitalists are.

Disaboom is trying too hard. Actions (and website content) speak louder than press releases and write ups in Forbes. But Disaboom is all about “viral” marketing and driving traffic to their site, while they should be working on giving visitors something meaningful to see when they get there. Lay off the overbearing marketing blitz. If you build it, they will come.

Great comment, Steve; you’ve detailed so much of what really bothers me about Disaboom, too. Thanks for contributing a fuller picture, and adding details I didn’t have room to add.

I, too, had never heard of this heard alleged “leading voice” prior to these attempts to market him and his site. The dreamy/visionary photographs of him creepily remind me that the site is as contrived as his photograph. It doesn’t help that his dewey-eyed photos are also reminiscent of the pathetic pictures of “disabled children” of the 1950s which were so often used by charities soliciting donations. How does Disaboom manage to strike so many wrong notes?

You’re so right, Steve, when you write “they should be working on giving visitors something meaningful to see when they get there.” Too bad the commitment wasn’t to content first, marketing second.

I think Disaboom is a great site! The disaboomer community is very helpful and responsive. The site just launched some time late 2007. I find it very unrealistic to expect them to be the end all be all so soon. I appreciate that I constantly see the hard work being put into the site. It’s constantly evolving. I’m excited the direction Disaboom is headed. Their marketing, while obviously essential to the continuing growth of the site, also helps place issues regarding disability in the public eye. The majority of people are uncomfortable or just don’t understand these issues. I applaud Disaboom for their continued support of our community.

I feel much the same way about it. It’s so slick and corporate, without being really usable. It struck every wrong note I have!

“Throw money at it, and a magic Community shall arise” where community means marketing demographic – but then ignore what it takes to really have a community.

Maybe not being a boomer means also … can’t put up with crappy site design & weird marketing-speak.

In contrast, I look at Patients Like Me and really like it. I just wish they had more categories and stuff, but for what they set out to do, it is pretty cool.

Oh and Steve I agree with you too. And have to trash Disaboom just a bit more. (Trashing by praising sites that are better.)

When I poked around Disaboom the 2nd time all I could think about was the guy who runs Wheelchair Junkie forum and built up a whole giant web site and seems to just do it all himself. Why not find some awesome people like him, and give HIM 6 million dollars of VC money to burn. He could hire some other people to expand out what he has, collect some marketing data for his VC people and you would have something way cool. (I mean, it already IS way cool.)

I also think Ouch BBC does a pretty good job.

Keith, I’m glad that you are finding something positive at Disaboom. However, I think you’re a bit confused about Disaboom’s marketing. It’s doing nothing to help “place issues regarding disability in the public eye”.

Disaboom’s marketing is targeted to investors, and meant to convince them that the disability community will make them rich. This in no way affects people who “are uncomfortable or just don’t understand these issues”.

In addition, if you were an investor, as opposed to someone who uses the site for free, and has no financial interest, I suspect you’d be a little less patient with its failure to have developed more effectively.

Liz, you wrote:

“Maybe not being a boomer means also … can’t put up with crappy site design & weird marketing-speak.”

You’ve really nailed another good point: there’s a whole new demographic out there. It’s not confined to “people with disabilities”, either. Old-style marketing, and old-style demographic approaches, just don’t apply the way they once did. (And that new demographic even includes a whole lot of ‘boomers’, though not, apparently, Disaboom’s inventors.)

Misunderstanding that new demographic often seems to go hand-in-hand with not getting how the web works in 2008. As you also wrote, Disaboom’s approach seems to be this:

“Throw money at it, and a magic Community shall arise” where community means marketing demographic – but then ignore what it takes to really have a community.

Which is a sure prescription for failure. Great points, Liz!

While their marketing is targeted at investors, I’ve seen it more predominantly on the internet reaching out to users. While marketing is just that…seeing an advertisement that talks about a person’s love life not being over just because of a new disability is putting that message out in the public view. Many people are scared to death of what might happen if they ever become disabled. Having the message that that is not the end and there is a life outside original expectations is refreshing and an important message for everyone to realize.

Also Liz to your point, Disaboom was started by Dr. Glen House who has been a wheelchair user since around the age of 20. I wish they had more info on him as he seems to be the driving force behind Disaboom.

Keith, Liz’s point was that Wheelchair Junkie is a community that was grown from one person’s efforts, not as a for-profit marketing scheme. Whether the founder of Disaboom uses a wheelchair or not isn’t really relevant to that point. Her point addresses the concept that Internet communities are grown, not bought, and that they grow when the content reflects the interests of the users, not that of the investors.

My husband’s workforce counselor told him about Disaboom and asked him to sign up to look for jobs. Boy were we disappointed. The job listings come straight from Career Builder…and these are not jobs specifically for people with disabilities. it is just a straight feed with the exact same job listings.

The first thing I noticed was that the health info seemed to be copied from articles I had read elsewhere.

My husband signed up for some work-at-home info from Disaboom, and now he gets spam from them! The latest one was a letter from Rebecca Kingsley, supposedly the Work at Home Group Chief Editor at Disaboom. It was a spam letter trying to get him to sign up to make money doing online surveys! But it looks like she is trying to help…”don’t get ripped off. This is the ONLY legitimate online survey company.”

That wasn’t even the worst one…but too much to tell.

My personal opinion is that the people running this website are vultures preying on vulnerable people who are desperately looking for help. If you aren’t in that category, then that is fine…enjoy!

If you are disabled and looking for work, look elsewhere. Just sign up for CareerBuilder because you will have to anyway to apply for the jobs listed on Disaboom.

By the way, anyone can purchase content and set up an RSS feed from a job site…this site to me is a front for someone who thinks they found a new crop of fools to bilk. I wouldn’t give them a penny for anything. I’m upset that they have my husband’s contact information.

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