According to Mashable, Google Wave will be released to a limited number of people on September 30, 2009. Many people are excited about this. I am one of them. For background on my thoughts on Google Wave and the medical product industry, see my prior postings on the subject – one on Google Wave generally, and one on what Pharma should be thinking about, which are necessary prerequisites to understand what I'm about to talk about.
I'm always willing to admit when I think I might be wrong, or when I've turned out wrong. I don't think I'm wrong about Google Wave. I think it is a tool that will revolutionize the way we communicate, both socially and in business. I believe it will be one of those things that we wonder how we lived without before it was invented – like air conditioning, like television, like – well, the computer. And forget crazy town hall meetings with constituents, members of Congress will open up Waves and have all debates of all kinds with constituents without ever leaving their offices.
Now Mashable also reports a very interesting innovation by Wave. It is called the Embeddable Wave, and Mashable suggests it may replace comments on YouTube. What does that mean? It means that once a Wave that has been created, can be embedded in another site allowing others to view and participate in the Wave as if they are in the original Wave. The embedded Wave is as fully functional as the original. That means that those with a Google Wave account will be able to view it, drag and drop content into it, edit it and play it back to see how the conversation unfolded. Mashable also reports that WordPress has created a simple plug in so that you can embed a Wave onto your blog.
What is that going to do to blogging dynamic? Why wouldn't I want to open a Wave on Eye on FDA and allow you each not only comment singularly to postings, but to comment collectively and amongst one another. A newcomer could hit playback and see the conversation unroll and you could click and drag in content to the Wave, which would make it a much more dynamic forum rather than the static, one-way role that comments now play. In fact, commentators would be as much authors of the blog as the author would. You can bet that Eye on FDA will be one of the first blogs to embed a Wave as soon as it becomes technically possible.
What should the medical products industry be thinking? Well, you folks are still dipping your toe in the water with blogs. Some, like J&J and GlaxoSmithKline have started blogs. Most are afraid to. Some are monitoring blogs, many are afraid to. Well, while your still grappling with that problem, you now have to start thinking about whether or not your blog will remain relevant if you don't insert an embeddable Wave. And will a pharma YouTube channel that doesn't contain an Embeddable Wave be less attractive to viewers than one that does?
But if you do insert an embeddable Wave in your blog or YouTube channel, how will you deal with the possibility that someone could mention an adverse event with a particular product. And if Eye on FDA embeds a Wave and people are talking on it, will pharmas read the posting content but not the Wave content for fear of seeing an adverse event? Is a Wave that is edited after a pharmaceutical company has participated in it make the company responsible thereafter? Can a highly regulated industry like the pharmaceutical industry actually embed a Wave and will they be responsible for any and all content that is put there by any third party?
Don't expect any answers from DDMAC, a part of the FDA stuck in the past. But there do need to be answer to these and the many other questions that come up. Because if Google Wave is pervasively used, it is going to be a venue in which brands are going to be shaped and once again, pharma will have no input or control. This is all the more reason why industry needs to demand that FDA's DDMAC consider the changing environment and translate how it is going to regulate communication in these and other aspects of emerging media. In not doing so, industry is just as much at fault as DDMAC for the regulatory drift.
And lastly, just because DDMAC hasn't kept pace with communications developments, it doesn't mean the rest of FDA won't start implementing a more comprehensive way to communicate with stakeholders using Google Wave. The agency has embraced, as mentioned yesterday, widgets for example to update consumers on recalled lines of products, and has a YouTube channel. So it may find ways to employ Google Waves to reinforce safety reporting. For example, the agency itself could create Waves for the reporting of adverse events directly from patients. Everyone needs to think about these possibilities now, not later.
You wrote: “What is that going to do to blogging dynamic? Why wouldn’t I want to open a Wave on Eye on FDA and allow you each not only comment singularly to postings, but to comment collectively and amongst one another. … which would make it a much more dynamic forum rather than the static, one-way role that comments now play.”
We can already comment on your blog, and on one another’s comments — and you can already reply to our comments.
I just don’t see how this is going to have as much impact as you seem to expect — there are already many online tools that have been around for years that could be used for collaborative communications but are not. I am a freelance medical writer, and for years I have been trying to get my clients to use things like wikis and online forums to collaborate and exchange information, and no one is interested. I looked at the google wave demo, and the main thing it reminded me of was Facebook. In other words, a massive time waster that gives people the illusion that they are actually doing something.
I just don’t see how embedable waves benefit pharma companies at all. Go to any health forum and there’s always someone complaining that they took some drug and their ears fell off. Now you’re going to move those discussions from the fringes of the internet to J&J’s website? Sure you are …
Addendum — one of the industries where there has already been close communication between customers and companies is the video game industry. Game companies have for years had online forums where gamers could discuss games, trade tips, etc. Go to any game forum and there are always a lot of people complaining. Some of the complaints are well founded but a lot of it is just people who like to gripe. A game company can delete negative posts and ban users if they want to — can a pharma company do the same thing if someone posts negative comments on their “wave”?