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September 07 2011

Beyond BAC: How the Breathalyzer Is Poised to Revolutionize Medical Diagnostics

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

We all know about the Breathalyzer, a handheld device used by police officers to determine one’s blood alcohol level on the spot. But recent research has discovered some other interesting applications for the digital tool.

Breath alcohol testing devices were first developed in the 1940s, and in 1954, Dr. Robert Borkenstein of the Indiana State Police invented the patented Breathalyzer.

Since then, researchers have advanced the science behind breathalyzers to make the tool even more useful — it can indicate the presence of disease, according to Professor Perena Gouma, director of Stony Brook University’s Center for Nanomaterials and Sensor Development. Gouma and several other research teams around the world are making great strides in breath analysis and have high hopes for the application of the technology, since you can “monitor breath content for disease or metabolic malfunction.”

“I think breath analysis is the new frontier and the future of medical testing,” says Dr. Raed Dweik, professor of medicine and director of the breath analysis program at the Cleveland Clinic. Gouma concurs, citing it as a “disruptive technology” that could change the way people think about diagnostics.

Medical Testing

We breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide — but there’s much more in our breath than that. Science has advanced, and Dweik says we can detect byproducts of lots of things in one breath — our own metabolism, metabolisms of diseases that we have, and gases that entered us from the outside environment. “There’s a rich matrix of compounds that can tell a lot about the state of our health and what diseases we’re suffering from,” he says.

Breathalyzers are able to measure these gases and compounds even in very low concentrations — in the parts per million or even billion. Since all of our blood circulates through our lungs and the air we exhale comes from the lungs, one single breath contains a lot of information about what’s going on in our blood and in our bodies, helping doctors diagnose and monitor certain conditions.

Dr. Gouma’s team’s nanosensors utilize resistive semiconducting technology — they make for a scientific yet economic tool (roughly $20 per breathalyzer) that allow her to test for particular chemicals. “We have over 300 different gases in our breath, and we know some of them to be markers of disease,” says Gouma. For example, acetone is a marker that indicates blood sugar levels, so you can monitor diabetes with an exhale and avoid having to draw blood, and still know whether you should take medication. The possibility of exhaling instead of having to prick oneself to take blood samples every day could lead to improved compliance for blood sugar monitoring, and lead to an overall improvement in a diabetic patient’s quality of life.

The advantage of breath analysis is two-fold: It’s non-invasive and non-intrusive. A blood test and even urine tests are somewhat intrusive, but a breath test can be conducted almost anywhere, anytime. It can also be done repeatedly without adverse effects, unlike X-rays, which can lead to damage from radiation exposure.

The key to identifying disease is to develop a sensor for a gas that is only present in the breath of those who are infected. Once researchers can detect more gases and determine that a certain gas is exclusive to a disease, breath analysis will have even more applications for other ailments.


In addition to testing for the presence and levels of certain gases, there’s also breathprint analysis — examining the big picture of the thousands of gases in the breath and seeing how one’s breathprint is different from another’s. This could be useful to compare the breath of someone with the flu and someone without it, and the same goes for kidney or liver disease and eventually, many other diseases.

Dweik’s research has shown that breathprints can be quite different between lung cancer patients. Dweik uses an “electronic nose” with 32 sensors — each sensor reacts differently to different compounds in your breath. “When you breathe over these sensors, they change in different ways and create a smellprint that is quite distinct between people who have cancer and people who do not, with 85% accuracy.” Of course, medicine isn’t perfect, and the drawback to the electronic nose is that Dweik’s team doesn’t yet know what compounds in breath give that smell signature — they could say if there is lung cancer or not, but can’t currently indicate why or which gas indicates cancer. Dweik admits that the smellprint shows proof of concept, but is lacking the link to the biology of the cancer. It’s a promising field, and smellprints and breathalyzer sensors will need to be used symbiotically to help doctors develop the technology even further. Breathprints should help doctors figure out what gases and compounds are indicative of what diseases, and then attune sensors to detect those compounds.

For now, the lung cancer smellprint is a big step. Lung cancer typically presents itself late — a patient might cough up blood, then have a biopsy done, but by that point, the cancer has advanced. Unlike breast cancer, which can be detected and treated early with annual mammograms, there isn’t a screening test for lung cancer, which means that this breath analysis technology could go a long way toward saving lives.

Implications for the Future

“This is going to change medical diagnosis work,” says Gouma. An inexpensive, portable handheld breathalyzer can empower individuals to take care of their health. “And that means a lot of better health and welfare, for employers, for insurance, for physicians … I think it’s going to have a great impact, and very soon.”

Dweik says the diagnosis and monitoring of diabetes, lung cancer, and kidney and liver disease are the “low-hanging fruit” in this field, and that researchers are looking to get more sensitive sensors to broaden the scope of what a Breathalyzer can detect, including asthma, heart failure and hypertension. “Now the search is on for the next molecule — we’re in the process of discovery, trying to sift through and see which of those compounds are useful and which can be used in medical tests.”

“Almost any disease could be detected 40 years down the line,” Dweik says. “This is really a whole new field that has huge potential to revolutionize the way we do medical testing and monitoring.” And it has profound potential for global health.

Series Supported by BMW i

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, powerofforever

More About: gadgets, Global Innovation Series, health, medicine, Tech

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July 04 2011

Scientists Discover Large Deposit of Rare Minerals Used in iPads

ipad image

A huge deposit of “rare earth” minerals has been discovered on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, Reuters reports.

Japanese scientists announced their analysis of the deposits Monday, claiming the area around Hawaii is especially rich in minerals that help build iPads, LCD TVs and other electronic devices.

Prior to this discovery, manufacturers and environmentalists alike expressed concern over the limited and dwindling supply of rare earth minerals. However, experts report that the minerals found in the Pacific may reinforce known land supply by 1,000 times.

The mud is rich in rare earth minerals like gadolinium, lutetium, terbium and dysprosium, which are especially important in the manufacturing of technology like hybrid cars and flat screens. China, which currently produces 97% of the world’s rare earth metals, has at times threatened to cut exports of the materials, leading to fear that the prices of electronic devices could soar.

Now, China’s near monopoly is threatened as scientists say that ocean bed extraction from this particular region should be relatively simple using acid leaching techniques.

“The deposits have a heavy concentration of rare earths. Just one sq km (0.4 sq mile) of deposits will be able to provide one-fifth of the current global annual consumption,” Yasuhiro Kato, an associate professor of earth science at the University of Tokyo, said in a Guardian.co.uk interview.

More About: environment, ipad, japan, pacific, Science, tech, technology

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June 29 2011

3 Simple Ways Tech Can Grow Greener Cities

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

In the annals of urban design, Peter Calthorpe is a living legend. He is the man who made Portland, Oregon the bustling eco-friendly metropolis it is today by insisting on light rail links rather than the prior plans for a pointless (but symmetrical) ring road around the city. Here is a man who is helping to build China, three cities at a time (literally — that’s his current roster) while still advising the state of California on its future urban growth. He is a thought-leader and author, most recently, of Urbanism In the Age of Climate Change.

When it comes to technology, however, Calthorpe is a professional cynic. He chides city bosses for relying on technology to fix their environmental ills — providing cosmetic offerings like electric vehicle charging stations, for example, or iPhone apps that identify parking spots — rather than making greater, greener tweaks to the urban organism itself. “You can’t put the cart before the horse,” he says, “and the horse is the city. You’re never going to take away this social animal stuff. Proximity is more important to us than ever. Technology matters, but I don’t think it’s a substitute for fundamental urban design.”

That doesn’t mean a city has to make itself into Manhattan — though Calthorpe is well aware that such dense environments are the most eco-friendly human habitations, pound for pound. We don’t need to go that far to make our cities much more energy-efficient. Instead, Calthorpe points to a suburb of Oakland called Rockridge as his prime example: dense, leafy streets with plenty of shops, nice houses, mass transit and a high walk score. If we all lived that closely, he says, we’d make a massive dent in the causes of climate change — and we’d be happier, more social and more creative creatures to boot. “Even the high-tech, Internet-connected world wants to be in the same place,” Calthorpe says. “They’re not interested in living on a mountaintop. They want to crowd into places that are all about exchanges of ideas.”

How to Make It Happen

Having sampled the delights of Rockridge — and similar dense walkable suburbs, such as Cobble Hill in Brooklyn — we can’t help but agree with Calthorpe and his goals. But we do think there are a few areas where cutting-edge technology can help him reach them. Indeed, Calthorpe admits that as a 60-something, he is not as familiar with the tech world as he could be. So here are a few ideas:

1. Offer Wi-Fi on public transit. Calthorpe knows good public transit is essential to the kind of neighborhoods he wants (Rockridge was built as a “streetcar suburb” and still “has streetcar DNA,” he says), and he points to higher ridership rates in cities with high walk scores, like San Francisco. But anyone who spends time riding the MUNI in the Bay Area knows that it is an experience in dire need of improvement, and it isn’t attracting all the riders it possibly could. Meanwhile, tech companies like Google and Apple are running dozens of Wi-Fi-enabled shuttles from the city to the Valley every day so employees can noodle on laptops or stream movies on tablets as they ride.

So why not implement a bus-based Wi-Fi system? That’s the major advantage transit has always had over driving — you can do other stuff while you’re on it. And in today’s hectic work world, extra time online during the day is like gold dust. It wouldn’t even have to be free. Cities could provide it to riders at cost for a monthly fee, or get companies to sponsor it. They’d reap the rewards in massively increased white-collar ridership and provide an elusive sense that riding the bus is actually something to aspire to.

2. Encourage checkins. So you want to increase your city’s walk score? Then give people more reasons to walk around, using the tools they already have in their pockets. Indeed, get them addicted to it. That dovetails nicely with the purpose of location-based checkin services like Foursquare and Gowalla. Merchants could get a small tax break for being active participants on these services, especially if their checkins came with information on where you can walk next. Cities could dot the landscape with checkin posts that offer information on the neighborhood or track and reward you for being on foot. While you’re at it, these posts could offer transit details on nearby buses, and inform you how much money you’ll save getting to your destination on transit versus using gas, much as Google Maps does now.

3. Install more parking sensors. Yes, parking sensors have primarily been used for those iPhone apps that tell you where to park. But they could just as easily be used to change driving behavior. Calthorpe intentionally reduces parking spots in the cities he designs in order to reduce the number of cars on the road. You could get the same effect by upping the price at peak times and limiting the amount of time you’re allowed to park in a given spot before you get a ticket, forcing drivers to use their cars for crucial, timely trips only — and take transit the rest of the time. What’s more, parking sensor activity would be your best guide to where new transit services are needed.

How else could new technology help bring about Peter Calthorpe’s vision of tight, friendly, walkable suburbs? Let us know your ideas in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, andipantz

Series Supported by BMW i

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

More About: city planning, environment, foursquare, Global Innovation Series, gowalla, location-based networking, peter calthorpe, public transportation, technology, wi-fi

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June 08 2011

How Mobile Phones Are Saving Lives in the Developing World

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

You text your friends, you call your mom, you use your smartphone to upload pictures of your day-to-day life. But did you know your phone has a higher purpose? Even if it’s just a Nokia “candy bar” phone or a flip-phone, that handheld piece of machinery can save lives. And there are startups all over the world that are innovating and creating new technologies that will change the global health landscape in dramatic ways. Read on for two promising startups that are equipping health care workers in developing nations with souped-up cellphones, and helping them treat more patients, faster.

Medic Mobile

As an international health and bioethics student at Stanford, Josh Nesbit researched pediatric HIV and wrote his thesis on treatment initiation for HIV-positive kids in rural Malawi. His research inspired him to start FrontlineSMS:Medic out of his Stanford dorm room. It started with a pilot program in Malawi, in an area where two doctors were shuttling around to diagnose and treat 250,000 people. Nesbit provided Java-run $10 mobile phones to community health workers to decentralize the care and create an “SMS patient coordination network.” In short, the phones helped medical workers efficiently gather health data and follow up with patients.

“In six months, our pilot in Malawi saved the clinical staff 1,200 hours of follow-up time and more than $3,000 in motorbike fuel,” Nesbit says. Further, it doubled the number of patients who were treated for Tuberculosis (TB). Once treated, patient follow-ups were completed by SMS rather than an in-person exam, which saved time, transportation and money.

“We’re looking at how mobile phones can make the health care system and the people working in it more efficient, with the end goal of saving more lives,” says Nesbit. FrontlineSMS:Medic is now known as Medic Mobile and runs off open-source data from OpenMRS, Ushahidi, Google Apps and HealthMap.

Medic Mobile serves 4.5 million people in 11 countries, including northeast Africa, Honduras, Nepal and Colombia. But perhaps the most famous use of Medic Mobile was in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. Nesbit coordinated with the DigiCel Command Center on the ground in Haiti, and they created a 4636 database, where the 80,000 incoming texts to the number “4636″ were tagged and mapped to help the rescue effort.

Aside from crisis situations, SMS messages are also in use by governments, ministries of health and NGOs like the Clinton Health Access Initiative, which tracks vaccines via mobile phone (see flow chart above). Facebook has even jumped in the mobile health care game and created a SIM app. Nesbit hopes that’s only the beginning.

“It could be really exciting to have those health worker- and patient-focused apps developed so you can run them on $10 Nokia phones,” Nesbit says. “On iPads and iPhones, the killer app is the cool app — but in public health, the cool app is the one that everyone can use.”

And to that end, Medic Mobile just launched its first SIM app for global health organization PSI. Named Kuvela, it can operate on 80% of the world’s phones, whether it’s a $15 handset or an Android smartphone. This means data collection can reach a new level of accessibility and affordability, especially as mobile phone penetration skyrockets in developing countries.

But Nesbit hopes this is only the first of many Medic Mobile apps that empower health care workers and patients alike. He envisions applications that help patients schedule appointments, access remote consultations and get in touch with health care workers during a medical emergency.

“We’re getting close to that Walmart-like efficiency that we’d like to see in global health,” Nesbit says.

To get even more mobile phones on the ground where they’re needed, Medic Mobile has partnered with HopePhones. You can donate new or used cell phones by clicking the “Donate phones” button on the website. Just turn off and deactivate your phone, print a free shipping label and send the phone in. It will go to Medic Mobile and its affiliates around the world.

Mobile Diagnostics

UCLA Professor Aydogan Ozcan, 32, is also using mobile technology to improve health care in the developing world, but he’s turning the phone into an actual medical device. Ozcan is creating portable and lightweight microscopes that affix to cellphones, thus transforming them into a platform for conducting microanalysis of blood, bodily fluids and water samples. In short, your cellphone can become a mobile medical lab that can diagnose life-threatening diseases.

The microscopes are small, thanks to an innovative lens-free technology known as LUCAS — Lensless Ultra-wide-field Cell Monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging. The lensless design was made possible by recent advances in computer science and physics that allow scientists to understand how light interacts with various bacteria. So lenses are replaced by algorithms and computer codes that examine how light plays off the cells in question. Using light, Ozcan’s team can detect “digital shadows” of cells and bacteria and then compare them to patterns that are stored in a library of images to immediately detect TB, malaria, certain STDs, HIV and other diseases.

“With this toolkit, the patient will give the blood and the technician will prepare the microscope slide with the patients red blood cells on it, and our microscopes will quickly image it and enable remote and immediate diagnosis,” Ozcan explains. Not only is it fast, but it’s also “remarkably cheap,” costing just 10 to 15 cents per test.

The technology works on almost any kind of phone. For a cameraphone, you can install an attachment to make use of the existing camera, or you can install a separate unit that uses the cell phone as a vehicle to transmit the MMS images via USB — the cell phone essentially acts as an intermediary between a patient and a central PC station in a remote hospital. With the promise of immediate diagnosis, health care workers in developing worlds who shuttle from village to village and see hundreds of patients can provide an immediate diagnosis and plan of action right then and there, and they can record data and keep a record of the patient. This level of organization and efficiency doesn’t currently exist.

In Africa, one hospital might cover 1,800 kilometers — for a health care worker on a motorcycle, that’s a lot of terrain to cover and a lot of patients to treat. But MMS-diagnosis will improve health care in remote locations and circumvent having to physically go to hospitals, and yet hospitals will have far more of an impact on the lives of its patients by implementing mobile technology that can diagnose and treat at any distance.

“The concept of a hospital will diffuse away,” says Ozcan. It will no longer be a central hub where people come and go, but a central database that offers affordable, accessible and better quality health care.

Ozcan’s research is funded by millions of dollars from the NIH, U.S. Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation. But Ozcan’s group focuses on perfecting the technology, not manufacturing it for market. However, it recently received $400,000 from the NIH for commercialization, and it is working with a startup whose main mission is to commercialize Ozcan’s technology. Once it does get mass-manufactured, Ozcan says the cost per microscope will be $10 to $15, a very affordable price for such a revolutionary tool.

“It’s a very exciting time for all the researchers who are aiming to provide new solutions for global health with cell phones and computers,” says Ozcan. “They are creating a very interesting toolset for us to do cutting edge science and engineering at a fraction of the cost.”

What other mobile innovations have you seen in health care? Let us know in the comments.

Series Supported by BMW i

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, milosluz, DNY59, and Josh Nesbit, Medic Mobile, Ozcan BioPhotonics Group at UCLA

More About: Global Innovation Series, health, health monitoring, healthcare, LUCAS, medic mobile, MMS, Mobile 2.0, SMS, ucla

For more Mobile coverage:

May 09 2011

Just How Dangerous Is Sitting All Day? [INFOGRAPHIC]

Sitting down, which most of us do for at least eight hours each day, might be the worst thing we do for our health all day.

We’ve been preaching the benefits of stand-up desks for a while around here — and no one needs this good news more than social media-obsessed web geeks. A recent medical journal study showed that people who sit for most of their day are 54% more likely to die of a heart attack.

And our readers are receptive to the idea, too. In fact, in a recent poll, three-fourths of you said you already used a stand-up desk or you’d like to try one.

So if you need more convincing, check out these graphically organized stats from Medical Billing and Coding. We like it for the information it contains, but we love it for the Saul Bass, Vertigo-esque graphics.

Click to see full-size image.

Source: medicalbillingandcoding.org

More About: health, infographic, sitting down, stand-up desks

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10 Android Apps for Health & Fitness

Forget summer and swimsuit season; any time is a good time to get in shape. And for Android users, these apps will make that process a little faster, easier and more fun.

Last year, we told you about a few good Android apps to get your lazy butt in gear. But given the rapid evolution of the Android Market, the Android OS and the capabilities and variety of Android hardware, we thought that list needed a little update.

Here are some of the best Android apps for improving your health and fitness, both in terms of diet and exercise. Better still, some of them incorporate games and music to make your workout that much more fun.

In the comments, let us know what Android apps you’re currently using to keep tabs on your health and physical fitness.

Backpacker GPS Trails

Time to get outside, O nerdy one! Backpacker GPS Trails can help you find and explore awesome trails that will improve your health, broaden your horizons, and give you something cool to do with that 8MP camera of yours.


If music is your ideal motivator, try Nike BOOM. This app syncs your music to your workouts and throws in some audio-visual motivation from pro coaches and athletes along the way. You got this!

Instant Heart Rate Pro

For tracking just how much fat your body is burning, we suggest an app like Instant Heart Rate. It shows your heart rate measurements, a real-time PPG graph and your heart-rate history.

BMI Calculator

This free BMI Calculator will give you key information for setting or optimizing your fitness goals. And it should work for all but the most muscular of bodies.

Pocket Yoga

If your day could use some deep breathing and flexibility, try Pocket Yoga, which packs 145 poses in the palm of your hand. You can choose from three different practices, difficulty levels and durations for a total of 27 sessions. Namaste!

CrossFit Travel

If you're anything like us, you spend some time on the road for work and/or pleasure. Time on the road, however, means time for you to forget about your workout. CrossFit Travel comes to the rescue with an impressive list of exercises that can be done in a hotel room or other small space.


This one's for the ladies, and the name says it all. If toning your backside is tantamount to holiness, you'll want to check out Squats. The app will help you reach your goals of a hundred or more squats in a row, and the enviable posterior that comes with such an accomplishment.

Calorie Counter

MyFitnessPal offers this Calorie Counter for keeping track of your nutrition -- an important part of any health regime. This groovy app also comes with a barcode scanner, so you can easily find out exactly what nutrients and no-nos are hiding in pre-packaged foods.


Here's a bodybuilding app for the muscle-bound. JEFIT Pro is a highly-rated app to help you track your progress, time your workouts, and beat your own records, all without the hassle of pen or paper.


Fitness should be fun, and SpecTrek is the app that proves it. This AR game gets you out and moving around in the real world, hunting "ghosts" using your camera, GPS, and your own quickly-moving feet.

Interested in more Android resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

More About: android, apps, fitness, health, mobile apps, weight loss

For more Mobile coverage:

December 13 2010

Why More Health Experts Are Embracing the Social Web

heart apple image

Unity Stoakes is the co-founder and president of OrganizedWisdom, an expert-driven digital media company focused on health and wellness. OrganizedWisdom is building the world’s first digital mapping of online health experts to help people easily discover and connect with credible health resources.

Is your doctor easily accessible online, or does he or she believe that the Internet isn’t a resource for accessing health information?

If it’s the latter, it may be time to find another doctor. With nearly 90% of online Americans searching the Internet for health resources, it’s likely you and your friends and family already use the Internet to research health issues. It’s true that the web has a jumble of health information, and engaging online takes time, which most health experts don’t have. The good news, however, is that the increasing number of health professionals now embracing the Internet as an important and useful tool for health and wellness is beginning to change your options as a consumer.

Read on for some ways that social media can help doctors, health experts and everyday users.

Social Wellness Trends

sermo image

An exciting new social media trend is emerging that disrupts the standard view of health care delivery and will have a profound impact on us all. Thousands of doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, and health advocates are publicly engaging with people online. In fact, nearly 40% of Americans turn to social media for health information.

Patients (and a few early adopter health pros) moved online years ago to share health guidance, give support and find answers. But until recently, many health professionals have avoided using the Internet and social media as a way to help patients. This reluctance is changing, as savvy physicians, nurses, dentists and other health pros are realizing that if their patients are online, then perhaps they should be too. Health practitioners who were once too busy, inexperienced or afraid to share their expertise online, now actively share links on Twitter and Facebook, blog, write for online medical journals, engage on Q&A sites, or contribute to online health sites and forums.

For too long, health and wellness has been a do-it-yourself proposition for patients online, and people have been left on their own to determine how to effectively utilize empty search boxes. People have great access to lots of information, but they must sort through the billions of articles to determine the credible from redundant health encyclopedias, marketing web sites or sites with potentially unknown sources. Then, the task of deciding the credibility of the sources and articles has fallen on the patient alone.

While the number of health experts interacting with patients online is relatively small, there is a clear trend taking shape. A recent Manhattan Research survey of U.S. physicians shows an increase of Internet usage for professional purposes up from 2.5 hours per week in 2002 to 8 hours per week in 2010. More strikingly, while more than 100,000 doctors are using closed social health networks like Sermo.com and publishing in peer-reviewed journals online, thousands of health professionals are now blogging, using Twitter, and connecting with patients on Facebook in very public ways. So much so that this November, for the first time, the American Medical Association released a set of guidelines to direct physicians communicating and engaging with patients via social media. And earlier this year, the CDC also published its own best practices toolkit for how health professionals should be using social media.

Given that so many people now go to the Internet before, during and after their visit to the doctor’s office, the lack of guidance from credible and trusted health experts online is a growing problem. In fact, Manhattan Research shows that 61% of people now use the Internet instead of visiting a doctor. Thankfully, the tide is turning as thousands of health practitioners move online to do much more than interact with friends, family and colleagues and are instead using the social web to dispense their particular health expertise.

What This Means for Health Information Seekers

We are standing at the precipice of a new online revolution in health care. As more and more health experts embrace the Internet and increase their social media activity, health information seekers will undoubtedly benefit in profound ways. Based on conversations and surveys conducted with experts and health information seekers, here are some of the benefits associated with a robust online community of active health experts:

Interaction With Experts: In the real world, people seeking answers to important health, financial or legal matters look for guidance from the best experts. With a growing community of health experts participating in online discussions, people have access to more expertise than ever before at their fingertips.

Credibility and Trust: With doctors and other health professionals contributing information online in increasing numbers, it is important for a trust filter to separate credible information and sources from information that is not credible. The community of health professionals that is forming online will act as a system of checks and balances to separate good information and sources from the bad.

Transparency: It’s been a watershed year for increased transparency as government, big business, the financial services industry and other sectors have been shining a light into their operations like never before. Healthcare is taking a major step forward in this regard at the grassroots level, with an expert community being formed online by doctors, nurses and other health professionals across the country. As more doctors view social media as an extension of their professional reputation, you can be sure that they will treat their online interactions with the same care as they do in the offline world.

While the increase in the online activity of health experts is a welcome development, searching for crucial health information online remains an overwhelming and intimidating process for many. In the offline world, people searching for health information seek out the best experts — and now with more health professionals moving online, people will finally be able to connect with credible experts they can trust.

More Social Media Resources from Mashable:

- 4 Effective Tools for Monitoring Your Child’s Online Safety
- Social Media Parenting: Raising the Digital Generation
- 5 Fun and Safe Social Networks for Children
- HOW TO: Help Your Child Set Up a Blog
- The Case For Social Media in Schools

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, dcdr

More About: doctor, health, health experts, social media, social wellness

For more Social Media coverage:

November 25 2010

5 Important Tips for Better Eye Health in a Digital World

Eye Image

Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD, is a licensed VSP Vision Care provider based in Tampa, Florida specializing in children’s vision, computer vision, and orthokeratology. You can visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

In attempting to sum up the world in 2010, one word comes to mind: connected. Everywhere we go we carry devices that keep us connected to something important to us. Be it a sleek new tablet letting you share photos with the person helping load your groceries, or a smartphone making sure you don’t miss that late night e-mail from a colleague; we are now constantly connected to the world around us, more than ever before.

We’ve become dependent on these digital devices to survive both professionally and personally, and with the holiday season now upon us and digital devices topping most of our gift wish lists, the amount of time we spend with these gadgets will only increase. Yet many of us forget to consider two devices we are naturally equipped with that keep us more connected to the world than anything else: our eyes. Consumers often don’t think about the impact digital devices might have on their vision, and it can be to the detriment of not just their health, but also productivity.

In an effort to help consumers keep their eye health in mind this winter while enjoying these amazing products, we’ve put together five tips for creating a vision-healthy environment for digital device usage.

1. Customize Your Environment

You can adjust your environment when using digital devices to promote healthier eyes. If possible, use a large monitor or screen magnifier to reduce eye strain. Make sure your chair is close to your computer and you are sitting in a chair with adequate lower-back support. Position your chair so that you are comfortable.

Each person has a preference for his or her chair, so take some time to find what’s best for you. Making sure you’re comfortable before you start using a device will decrease the amount of stress you put on your eyes trying to find the best viewing angle.

2. Think About Lighting

For extended reading, change your monitor settings to a reflective lighting scheme. But don’t only think about your computer lighting.

Good room lighting isn’t just flattering. It’s also healthy for your eyes. So, keep bright lighting overhead to a minimum. Too much lighting overexposes and irritates the eyes, while too little causes the eyes to strain in order to see. Keep your desk lamp shining on your desk, not you. Try to keep window light off to the side, rather than in front or behind you. Use blinds and get a glare screen. Position the computer screen to reduce reflections from windows or overhead lights.

3. Adjust Your Reading Angle

Adjust the screen so you look at it slightly downward and are about 24 to 28 inches away. The center should be about 4 to 6 inches below your eyes. Also, make sure your screen is big enough and with just the right brightness and contrast so you’re not straining to see text or images clearly. Adjust the screen settings to where they are comfortable for you.

4. Magnify Text on Screen

For those with permanently reduced vision, magnifying the text and images on your device will help you avoid straining your eyes from squinting. Almost every device can be adjusted to display larger text, and for those with compromised vision, this can make reading much easier.

5. Blink and Take Frequent Breaks

Devices are set up for virtually nonstop work — but you aren’t a machine. You need to take breaks to recharge, and so do your eyes. Use the “20-20-20 rule.” It’s easy to remember: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break, and look at something 20 feet away. And don’t forget to blink! Blinking washes your eyes in naturally therapeutic tears. If you regularly wear glasses, also make sure you have proper lenses for the computer.

Follow the above tips, and you can enjoy your slick new technology without worrying about consequences to your eye health, productivity and overall peace of mind.

More Health Resources from Mashable:

- 5 Innovative Technologies Changing Health Care [VIDEOS]
- 5 Ways Social Media Helps Promote Good Health
- 8 Best Android Apps for Health and Fitness
- 4 Tips for Reducing Social Media Stress
- 5 Amazing Infographics For the Health Conscious

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Dmytro

More About: eye health, eyes, List, Lists, productivity, social media, tech, tips

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November 24 2010

5 Innovative Technologies Changing Health Care [VIDEOS]

The Smarter Products Series is supported by IBM. Find out more about how IBM is working to create a Smarter Planet.

The health care industry is a rapidly changing one, making it hard for the average consumer to keep up with the many innovations that are revealed every week.

From the operating theater to the patient’s bedside, there are new products being revealed all the time that make a real difference for medical staff and patients alike.

We’ve found five amazing innovations that are especially clever. Have a read and let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Are there any other medical innovations that are improving health care that you’d add to the list?

1. Intuitive Surgical da Vinci Surgical System

Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Surgical Systems help doctors with robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery. While the surgeon sits at a console, the remotely controlled robotic arms carry out the procedure. The system boasts better visualization, enhanced dexterity and greater precision. Complex procedures, such as open-heart surgery, can be carried out with one to two centimeter incisions, meaning less risk for the patient.

2. Life Recovery Systems ThermoSuit

Cooling patients down before treating them for a heart attack (or other emergencies that require resuscitation) has been shown to limit damage to the brain and save lives. The ThermoSuit cools patients with direct water-on-skin contact and offers cooling times of up to six times as fast as conventional methods. The ThermoSuit takes about 30 minutes to drop a body core temperature by three degrees, is portable, and can be used on a normal gurney.

3. Zoll LifeVest

Living under the threat of sudden cardiac arrest is a frightening situation, because it can happen at any time. The LifeVest is an alternative to invasive implant options that may be unsuitable for at-risk patients. It’s the world’s first wearable defibrillator that constantly monitors the heart’s activity. The LifeVest can quickly detect an arrest and then defibrillate the heart back to a normal rhythm — with no need for external help.

4. Vocera Communications System

The Vocera wireless communication system looks to have revolutionized in-house communications in the hospitals where it is used. The wireless badge worn by staff allows them to call and page other staff members and departments using intuitive voice commands (e.g. “Call Dr. Jones”), rather than leave a patient, find a phone and look up numbers. In addition, iPhone and BlackBerry apps mean the system can be accessed outside the building for off-site staff.

5. LightLab C7-XR OCT Intravascular Imaging System

This imaging technology enables much more advanced images, rendered much quicker, from within the heart using near-infrared light. A vast improvement from older technologies, the C7-XR aids in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. The system essentially lets cardiologists look in great detail inside a coronary artery before and after a procedure — something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

BONUS: The Hydrant

Showing that innovations don’t have to be high-tech, The Hydrant is one of those simple, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that ideas. Giving patients more independence, and just as crucially freeing up medical staff’s time, it helps prevent dehydration by giving the patient constant access to fluids, without them having to ask for assistance.

Series Supported by IBM

The Smarter Products Series is supported by IBM. Find out more about how IBM is working to create a Smarter Planet.

More Related Resources from Mashable

- 5 Technologies That Are Changing the Way We Drive
- 5 Ways Social Media Helps Promote Good Health
- 8 Best Android Apps for Health and Fitness
- 5 Amazing Infographics For the Health Conscious

More About: health, health care, healthcare, IBM, List, Lists, medical, medicine, Smarter Products Series, tech, video, videos

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November 11 2010

Can a Crowdsourced Apartment Design Save the Planet?

apartment design image

What do you get when you take one 420-square-foot New York apartment, one green living advocate, $70,000 in prizes and a crowdsourced audience of forward-thinking designers? Hopefully an apartment design competition that can help reduce a country’s environmental footprint.

The concept, called LifeEdited, aims to design an actual apartment that brainchild and guinea pig Graham Hill will inhabit. The apartment, just 420 square feet, must be able to accommodate a sit-down dinner for 12, comfortable lounging for eight people, space for two guests, a home office, a work area, hideable kitchen and necessities like bed, shower and bike storage (it is a green initiative, after all).

Hill, founder of Treehugger.com and VP of Interactive Media at Discovery’s Planet Green, is trying to live happily with less space, less stuff and less waste on less money, but with more design. If that wasn’t hard enough, he’s trusting his fate to the web with crowdsourced submissions that he and a panel of architects will provide with feedback. While Hill said he really wasn’t trying to start a business, the apartment must be replicable, leaving the door open for similar designs to pop up across the country if the project is successful.

Hill claimed 80% of the average footprint is related to the buildings we live in. He said recycling or using less plastic, by comparison, only accounts for approximately 5% of our footprint. While the goal is to reduce the footprint in every possible way, a greener, more efficient apartment can help cut down in significant ways. “People want to do the right thing, but the harder it is, the less likely they are to do it,” Hill said. “Every room you build, you gotta build it, fill it with things, light it, heat it… so if you have a dining room you use once a month, you might want to rethink that room.”

sample design image

To get the ball rolling, Hill submitted himself to the will of crowdsourced submissions. “We’re reaching out to the crowd to hopefully find some really great ideas and to get the conversation going,” he said. He and Shaun Abrahamson of project partner Mutopo hope that the idea inspires conversation regardless of professional background. Even people that can’t design from the blueprints Hill has provided can add their feedback to submissions, vote for a winner and raise awareness for the cause. “It’s nice to do [the design] publicly and build that conversation rather than just having that reveal [when it's done],” Hill said.

Digital technologies have also played a big role in the project. The more we can put online, the less we’ll have to store, print, or otherwise use to take up resources. This is especially true as green technology starts to develop. “I think overall it makes sense,” Hill said. “All we have to do is not replace our electronics every six months,” he added.

The submission period opened October 27 and will run until January 10. A winner will be announced just 10 days after that. Head to Jovoto.com if you’re interested in submitting.

What do you make of the project? Does it sound like an attention grab or a real way to reduce our collective footprint? Let us know if you plan on submitting or what you think of the projects huge designs in tiny spaces.

More About: Crowdsource, crowdsourced, design, discovery, environment, footprint, graham hill, green, lifeedited, new york, planet green, shaun abrahamson, treehugger

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November 04 2010

5 MP3 Players for Pumping Up Your Workouts

Whether you finish a triathlon before breakfast, speed walk around the block at lunch or do 50 laps before dinner, one thing that makes exercise so much more enjoyable is some music.

We all love listening to music to get us in the “zone,” but it can be a hassle to lug around a whole music library, or have your music player bouncing around in your pocket. If you’re looking for a new MP3 player, or an alternative to taking your expensive phone into the danger zone, we’ve got five options that are ideal for sporty types.

Have a look through our top five choices below and let us know which device you liked best — or if we’ve missed a model you love — in the comments below.

1. Sony Walkman W Series NWZ-W252

This wearable MP3 player from Sony fits neatly around the back of your neck, so there are no cables to get tangled. Lightweight and water-resistant, it’s ideal for joggers who run the risk of getting caught in the rain.

With up to 2GB capacity, it’s not the most capacious option out there, but that should be enough space for around 450 tracks; more than enough to see you through a run. File transfers are drag ‘n’ drop easy.

The W series claims to have an 11-hour battery-life, but even if you’ve forgotten to charge the device, there’s a very handy quick-charge function that will give you 90-minutes of juice from a three-minute charge — a very useful feature.

Cost: $59.95

2. Cowon iAudio E2

The stunningly good-looking iAudio E2 from Cowon proves that practical audio-on-the-go doesn’t have to be dowdy.

It gives the iPod shuffle a darn good run for it’s money with up to 4GB capacity, minimalist controls, brilliant file support, an 11-hour battery life and audio wizardry in the form of some proprietary tech to make your music sound amazing. All that tech snaps on with a metal ring that can be attached to a belt loop or your clothing with an optional extra clip.

Available in a rainbow of colors — white, black, orange red, violet, mocha brown, lilac silver, sky blue and pink — it’s the perfect audio player for people who dress up to go to the gym.

Cost: From around $50

3. Finis SwiMP3.1G

Doing endless laps can get tedious, so an investment like the SwiMP3 player might help you stay in the water longer.

Designed from the ground up specifically for swimmers, this completely waterproof player uses bone conduction technology — sending sound vibrations through the cheekbone to the inner ear — to avoid the muffled noise problems other underwater players can experience.

With 1GB storage (good for around 240 tracks), it attaches to your goggles or mask and offers basic controls. The 8-hour battery is rechargeable via USB.

Cost: $149.99

4. SanDisk Sansa Clip+

SanDisk’s Clip+ players (indicating a microSDHC memory card slot) are a popular choice in the budget MP3 marketplace.

The Clip is a great all-around player — there are no nasty file support omissions, it boasts good battery life (up to 15 hours) and performs well. At just 2.2 x 1.4 x 0.6 inches big, it’s small enough and cheap enough to throw in your gym bag and forget about.

The Clip+ is great for the gym. The clip on its back makes it easy to attach to clothes, and the small but bright display helps in navigating your song selection mid-workout. There’s even an FM tuner if you get bored of your own tunes. Though, with the capacity for around 2,000 songs on the 8GB model, you might never need it.

Cost: From $39.99 to $69.99 (but the 8GB model is currently $56.79 on Amazon.com)

5. Ryobi TEK4 AllPlay Jobsite MP3 Player

This rugged player comes from a tool manufacturer and is designed to withstand the rigors of a jobsite. Those qualities also make it ideal for extreme sports enthusiasts.

If you need an MP3 player that will not conk out if it comes into contact with dirt, water or suffers the odd drop or knock, the TEK4 is worth consideration. With all that action, its large buttons mean its also easy to control on the go.

It offers a 2GB storage capacity with file support for all common music formats. It also comes complete with a spring loaded clip as well as an armband and, best of all, boasts an impressive 72 hours of battery life per charge, which should see you through most outdoor sporting adventures.

Cost: Approximately $70

More Health and Exercise Resources from Mashable:

- 10 Essential iPhone Apps for Runners
- 8 Best Android Apps for Health and Fitness
- 5 Ways Social Media Helps Promote Good Health
- 5 Amazing Infographics For the Health Conscious
- 10 Free iPhone Apps to Help You Go Green

Reviews: Amazon.com

More About: cowon, exercise, gadgets, List, Lists, MP3 players, music, SanDisk, sony, sports, tech

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October 06 2010

Nobel Laureates and Digital Entrepreneurs Discuss Global Issues

The Conference of Nobel Laureates has brought in a set of new media executives and entrepreneurs to discuss the Middle East, youth education, economic development and a sustainable approach to corporate leadership. The conference is being held at New York’s 92nd Street Y in partnership with the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, Skype and Mashable. Join the livestream at 8 p.m. EST.

The 2010 Conference brings together Nobel Laureates in a variety of disciplines, including Professor Wiesel (Peace, 1986), Mario Malina (Chemistry, 1995), Roy Glauber (Physics, 2005) and Edmund Phelps (Economics, 2006) and leading entrepreneurs and advocates for change, including Arianna Huffington, Irshad Manji, The Economist’s Matthew Bishop and Mashable’s very own Pete Cashmore.

This year’s conference marks a change in attitude with the inclusion of young business leaders and entrepreneurs into the Laureate discussion. The new generation of business and media executives are an effort to match high thought with practicable, digital strategies.

A discussion between Nobel Peace Prize-winner Elie Wiesel and David Axelrod, Senior Adviser to Present Barack Obama will be livestreamed at 8 p.m., it is the final event of the two-day conference. The discussion between Wiesel and Axelrod will serve as a kind of summary and culmination of the two-day conference’s findings and debates. You can submit your own questions to the speakers via Twitter, email, and Skype.

Make sure to sign in at 8 p.m. to the livestream to hear Wiesel and Axelrod discuss the findings from this year’s conference and contribute your own questions to the conversation.

More About: 2010 conference of nobel laureate, david axelrod, elie wiesel, Nobel, nobel laureate, nobel prize, pete cashmore

For more Social Good coverage:

September 17 2010

How Social Good Has Revolutionized Philanthropy

Livestrong Facebook Image

The term “Social Good” has been bantered about, but pinning down exactly what it means in concrete terms can sometimes be tricky. Is social good the same as “the common good”? Is it the same as normal fundraising? Is it just online giving, or is it particular to social networks and web trends?

Social good is equal parts online fundraising and advocacy via social networks. While the Internet has been used before by non-profits and charities to raise money, social good implies more than just money changing hands. Social good campaigns often combine the ability of the Internet to find, introduce and bond communities around a common interest. That interest, in this case, is usually a problem worth fixing.

Where social good starts to get fuzzy is just how that problem gets fixed. Social good campaigns can be about building safe, entirely free, online support communities, spreading awareness through updates, raising cash, or a combination of all three.

There are concerns that social good is less effective at raising money than traditional fundraising — that smaller online donations and campaigns only cannibalize the already shrinking philanthropy market. Still, others see it as a new, rapidly growing field, ripe with opportunity.

Ultimately, social good is defined as much by its process as the end result. It is, however, more than just fundraising by using social media. So what is it? While it’s impossible to suss out every nuance of the phrase, we spoke with four non-profits in the social good space to better grasp what social good does well. They collectively and separately saw it in terms of community building, public advocacy, wide-reaching awareness, and low-cost social impact.

Community Time

livestrong image

Social networks are all about building communities, and social good is no different. Livestrong has long been on the social good radar with their active Facebook communities and online forums. “It has really helped us with our fundraising and recruiting efforts for our events,” said Brooke McMillan, Livestrong’s online community manager. “But it’s not our first task. Our first task is to have people become part of our community”

That community can lead to direct donations, but it’s through genuine interaction. Social networking enables non-profits to better know their donors and build long-term giving relationships.

Sometimes the community is the end goal, as with Livestrong’s anti-stigma campaign. McMillan said their highest readership days are when people share personal stories. “We’ve actually seen that our international Facebook fans are sharing their stories and speaking about their personal stories online,” McMillan said. “It’s a great way to spread the message of talking about cancer in a forum that’s safer than in a country [where they] might not be able to do that.”

While these discussions were initially a way to convert Facebook fans into donations, McMillan now sees those forums and social good as “the actions of the people in the community you’ve built… if the organization builds a place that the community comes to, the good will come out of it.”

Charity and Advocacy

change.org image

Social good is especially useful for mobilizing a large group of like-minded people. While this has normally manifested itself in flash mobs or group-buying, there’s a lot of potential for increasing public advocacy to solve pressing problems.

“Having 10 million people is more important than 10 million dollars,” said Ben Rattray, founder and CEO of Change.org. “For advocacy you need to mobilize people, and the web helps you mobilize people like never before.” Rather than see the community as the end goal, Rattray sees it as an important resource in the social good tool belt. “… People’s voices are more important than their pocketbooks.”

That mobilization, however, is earned. The goal is to find and cultivate life-long donors that feel invested in your organization. Donations for things like charity runs and other short-term projects are often given because a friend has asked for money, Rattray said. With long-term social good campaigns, companies can aggregate all those small donors and treat them like a larger donor. This is especially important for smaller non-profits with limited resources for donor outreach. That earned trust can pave the way for advocacy and systematic changes.

“The goal is not to make people happy about donating but to make change in the world and hopefully there’s a synergy between the two,” Rattray said.

Social Awareness

water.org image

Philanthropy has always been a balance between raising money and raising awareness for a cause. For Mike McCamon, chief community officer for Water.org, social media is making both possible at the same time. Much of that comes from raising awareness through social media: “It’s always been my theory that someone’s got to have an itch for me to scratch before I can scratch it,” McCamon said. “The goal is to use social media in a very passive way to spread the viral news — here’s the problem and here’s a company that is solving it — and people will self-select.”

Social good can bring attention to a cause and the companies trying to solve it without blindly canvassing for donations (or “the ask”). “I want to build a relationship with someone over the next couple of years,” McCamon said.

That support can take the form of sharing social space online. Last year, Water.org launched a campaign called OneWeekForWater where users could volunteer their Twitter accounts much like in-stream advertising. Instead of product ads, Water.org would broadcast information or promotions for its charities. 100,000 people came to the site with 15,000 signing up to volunteer.

Much social networking is based on raising personal social capital, and campaigns like OneWeekForWater helped users by associating with a good cause. Water.org also benefited by reaching thousands of new fans through social friend networks. Receiving an update in a highly personal way, from a friend’s recommendation, can have more reach than traditional blind mailings. Given its success, Water.org plans to repeat the campaign later this year.

While awareness is important, McCamon remained practical about the intent of social good: “The end purpose of all of this is to solve a problem and to do that we need to raise money. Everything we’re doing in these social media channels, at the end of the day, is to help them donate.”

Saving Some Dough

spiritjump.org image

Perhaps one of the best things about social good is its comparative cost. Social good, unlike traditional fundraising often requires far less money and resources to launch a viable, successful campaign. It’s because of this that many smaller operations have taken to social media to promote and support their causes.

That grassroots mentality drove Meaghan Edelstein to launch Spiritjump.org. Diagnosed with cancer, she initially started the site as a way to reach out to other patients. The site took off, despite starting on a budget of about $20. “You can reach a large group of people in a very short time, virtually for free,” Edelstein said. “And you can’t do that in traditional fundraising.”

Basing a non-profit on small transactions helps in a number of ways. Where larger companies might throw large fundraising events, low budget outfits can provide some financial transparency: “Mailings are expensive. Galas are expensive. Contributors are on to that and they don’t appreciate that,” Edelstein said. “They want to know their money is actually making a difference and not going to throwing parties.”

It also makes it easier to give. People don’t like writing a check for $5, but online, it’s much easier to just click a button and donate a dollar, Edelstein said. “You can reach out to people once a month, and yeah, it might be a dollar, but if you have a million fans and only half donate a dollar a month, that adds up.”

Moreover, large corporations are starting to get into cause marketing online. Non-profits with an online strategy could be missing out on a huge source of revenue.

As much as philanthropy often relies on money changing hands, Edelstein sees social good as “being conscious of what’s around you. It’s not necessarily writing a check.” Those other intangibles include community building and creating a real discourse around a problem. Social good also comes down to a feeling of participation. Donations are one-off payments — they are essential but finite. Social good, via social media, can help make those donors feel like they are part of the organization and part of the solution. It’s a win-win, where non-profits receive sustained donations and donors feel involved and engaged. If you don’t take those steps, said Edelstein, your audience won’t be there when you call for action.

Traditional fundraising certainly isn’t going to go away (nor should it), but social good does present a new set of philanthropic tools that can benefit donations, advocacy, and online communities. When asked about whether social good will stay separate from fundraising, Edelstein responded: “At some point it’s all going to be the same thing. It has to be.”

Brought to you by the Mashable & 92Y Social Good Summit

This post was brought to you by the groundbreaking Social Good Summit. On September 20, as global leaders head to New York for United Nations Week — including a historic summit on global issues known as the “Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs) and the annual General Assembly — Mashable, 92nd Street Y and the UN Foundation will bring together leaders from the digital industry, policy and media worlds to focus on how technology and social networks can play a leading role in addressing the world’s most intractable problems.

Date: Monday, September 20, 2010
Time: 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. ET
Location: 92nd Street Y, New York City
Tickets: On sale through Eventbrite

Register for Social Good Summit Mashable tickets in New York, United States  on Eventbrite

More Social Good Resources from Mashable:

- 5 Trends Shaping the Future of Social Good
- 10 Ways to Start a Fund for Social Good Online
- 5 Social Fundraising Alternatives to Facebook Causes
- How CrisisCommons Is Helping the Tech Community Help Others
- How Mobile Technology is a Game Changer for Developing Africa

More About: awareness, change.org, charitable giving, charity, livestrong, oneweekforwater, online giving, philanthropy, social good, spiritjump, water.org

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September 02 2010

How Social Data Built a Better Health Care App

pill image

Alexander B. Howard is the Government 2.0 Washington Correspondent for O’Reilly Media, where he reports on technology, open government and online civics. He’ll be reporting live from the upcoming Gov2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C., on September 7-8.

Every year, poison control centers get more than one million calls for pill identification. Each one of those calls costs nearly $50. Social software is helping biomedical researchers collaborate on better ways of identifying drugs. “Pillbox is a digital platform for communities to solve challenges related to pharmaceutical identification and reference,” says David Hale, the program manager. The National Library of Medicine’s mission is to gather, curate and distribute the world’s biomedical information, said Hale.

Pillbox is an open government initiative from the National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Food and Drug Administration that could transform how pharmaceuticals are labeled in the future. The interactive web application currently allows visitors to rapidly identify unknown solid medications, like tablets or capsules, based upon their shape, color and other markings. Pillbox remains a research and development project, so users should not be making clinical decisions just yet. Right now there are over 1,000 images of prescription drugs in the system, with many more to come in the next few months.

Beyond its usefulness, Pillbox is a public health platform that was created in a unique way — by utilizing open source data. Here are four ways the NIH approached this endeavor using the open and social web.

1. Connecting Open Data to Civic Hackers

Pillbox is a “collection of projects focused on a single goal: improving the health of citizens,” said Hale. That goal could be realized through social gaming mechanics, an area that’s familiar to Foursquare users and FarmVille players. “There’s a Facebook game in development based on the Pillbox API,” he said. After Hale attended Sunlight Labs’ Great American Hackathon last December, a developer took him to a D.C. Ruby users meeting. There, the civic hacking community got excited about using Pilllbox data in a game.

pharmville image

To move the game forward, the developers had to build a search interface in Facebook Markup Language (FBML) for Pillbox. “When they’re done, they’ll give the code for the pill ID interface to NLM,” said Hale. The game isn’t live yet, but Hale hopes to see an iteration online by the end of the year. As of the last build of the game, messages are scrambled between players “to protect privacy.” These messages come with a pill image. Players then have to use the Pillbox ID system to identify pills and unscramble message.

2. Sharing Code on GitHub

github image

“When these developers were building [Pillbox], they found it didn’t have any wrappers for the API,” said Hale. “So they wrote them in Ruby, open sourced them and shared them in a Pillbox space on Github, an online open source code sharing community. Now the wrappers are there for anyone to use.”

Subsequently, a Python developer who was at the meeting working on another project at the Hackathon, took it as a challenge to do it in fewer lines of code, said Hale. He also created Python wrappers for Pillbox and posted them.

“That’s the power of open data, ‘coopetition’ and social media,” said Hale. “Consider the development of hundreds of lines of code, Ruby and Python wrappers, and that interface. How much would it have taken to do this otherwise?”

3. Connecting Washington to Innovation

pillbox image

Hale has used social media extensively to collaborate with clinical staff, patients, and developers, empowering and enabling communities to solve health challenges. In particular, Hale is active on Twitter as @LostOnRoute66, where he tweets about patient safety, biomedical informatics, social media strategy, user experience, music, and food. “Social media was the key channel. It was through Twitter that we maintained these relationships and built new ones.”

One of the challenges for the government research community in Washington can be its distance from the technology communities in Silicon Valley, Boston, Texas and Seattle. “Pillbox was built outside with the community,” says Hale. That’s an important shift from the way traditional projects have been approached. “Due to [conferences like] HealthCamp and to connecting in the Valley, we saw a different way of approaching the issue,” said Hale.

Initially, there were just giant institutions called Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacies taking pictures of the pills, said Hale. “We realized it wasn’t just the images — it was the data behind them, and access to that data. When I talked with the community in the Valley, I realized there was more that was possible. We’re not just putting up pictures of pills, we’re putting up a platform, and thereby changing the ways that people work with government. It’s the information that’s important, not the website. It’s about understanding the power of adding an open API to your data.”

Additionally, an increasing number of government agencies and civil service workers are using SlideShare to disseminate presentations. Hale is no exception. His presentation on Pillbox from January 2010 is embedded above.

4. Call for Participation Using the Federal Register 2.0

This summer, a team of developers and designers relaunched the FederalRegister.gov, the online presence for the legal newspaper of United States. The Federal Register 2.0 is one of the better recent examples of open government, as it makes the often arcane business of government more transparent and understandable to citizens. Hale says that the NIH will be posting a “Call for Participation” where they ask pharmaceutical companies to send them samples of their tablets and capsules.

If the public-private relationship bears fruit, they’ll take high quality pictures based upon Pillbox’s process, send the images back to the pharmaceutical companies and, if approved, put them into Pillbox. Those images could then be sent to the FDA, where they coud get included on a label.

“That would enable images of drugs based upon a single body of standards, which could then enable identification through smartphones,” said Hale. “The secret sauce isn’t the images when this is done but the background processing. We’re creating tools and services which make open data available to everyone, accessible, and in the public domain.”

More Tech Resources from Mashable:

- 5 Open Data Apps That Are Improving Our Cities
- 5 Ways Government Works Better With Social Media
- How the U.S. Engages the World with Social Media
- How Social Media Can Effect Real Social and Governmental Change
- 6 Ways Law Enforcement Uses Social Media to Fight Crime

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Anykeen

Reviews: Facebook, Foursquare, Python, Twitter, iStockphoto

More About: david hale, federal register, github, hackathon, national institutes of health, national library of medicine, nih, NLM, open data, pillbox, Python, Ruby on Rails, slideshare, sunlight labs

For more Tech coverage:

July 13 2010

5 Ways Social Media Helps Promote Good Health

stethoscope image

Alexander B. Howard (@digiphile) is the Government 2.0 Washington Correspondent for O’Reilly Media, where he reports on technology, open government and online civics. He will share open source technology news at the OSCON convention in Portland, Oregon, on July 19-23.

This March, a report on chronic disease and the Internet by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the California HealthCare Foundation showed that people fighting such illnesses are using social media to find information and connect with others who suffer similar ailments.

While the research showed that people who have chronic illness are less likely, on average, to have Internet access, once they’re online they are more likely to blog about chronic disease and participate in online discussions or other forums. According to the report, “Living with chronic disease is also associated, once someone is online, with a greater likelihood to access user-generated health content such as blog posts, hospital reviews, doctor reviews, and podcasts. These resources allow an internet user to dive deeply into a health topic, using the internet as a communications tool, not simply an information vending machine.”

Finding the right balance between individual privacy rights and community benefit will, however, require online services to thread regulatory needles and provide clear guidance to users about how their information will be used. Below are five examples of online services, platforms or projects that are working to strike that balance, providing a means for patients and citizens to share their experiences.

1. Online Communities and Connections

patientslikeme image

Online forums where people voluntarily share data about symptoms, environmental conditions, sources of infection, mechanics of injury or other variables continue to grow, and there are now dozens of other social media health websites to explore.

As Claire Cain Miller wrote in the New York Times earlier this year, online social networks bridge gaps for the chronically ill. And as Stephanie Clifford wrote last year, online communities like Eons or MyWayVillage can provide a reason to “keep going” for elderly patients that are isolated by geography.

The same characteristics that make social media a meaningful way for distributed populations to communicate, extend social media’s utility to those searching for a community of people with similar health conditions. The poster child for this trend is PatientsLikeMe, which now has over 65,000 members. While patients turning to social media worries some doctors, their value to certain populations is substantial. As Clay Shirky observed recently in the Wall Street Journal: “PatientsLikeMe has assembled a larger group of sufferers of Lou Gehrig’s disease than any pharmaceutical agency in history, by appealing to the shared sense of seeking medical progress.” Similarly targeted websites, like social networks oriented towards diabetes patients, have also become increasingly popular.

Sharing information about personal health does carry inevitable privacy considerations for those whose conditions might expose them to discrimination in the workplace or a community. Hospitals, clinics and other entities that hold such medical data, for instance, operate under tough privacy restrictions. These restrictions govern the use and storage of data as mandated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. Thomas Goetz wrote eloquently about these tradeoffs in a 2008 New York Times Magazine feature article about PatientsLikeMe, including the business model behind the site.

In aggregate, the potential benefits provided to fellow patients through analysis of such data may well outweigh those privacy risks, especially for those who suffer from diseases or conditions that traditional medical research has not paid great attention to. For instance, this spring Emily Singer reported in Technology Review that PatientsLikeMe had predicted a drug outcomebefore the medical journal Lancet Neurology published a study showing the same result.

2. Twitter, Telemedicine and Hello Health

As reported last year in the New York Times, medicine in the age of Twitter now incorporates social media that goes beyond stethoscopes and sterile waiting rooms. While some doctors won’t even answer patient emails, others have taken to social media with gusto, such as Dr. @PaulineChen, the surgeon who authored the article. Dr. Christian Sinclair, a physician from Kansas City Hospice, is another example. Dr. Sinclair tweets as @ctsinclair and blogs about palliative care on his blog.

A major challenge for Dr Chen and other physicians lies in the void of formal training for social media. Dr. Daniel Sands (@DrDannySands), a physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass. co-authored the first set of guidelines published on using e-mail in patient care in 1997. In a profoundly public medium, doctor-patient confidentiality isn’t in the prescription pad nor locked in the inbox. New practices that combine health information technology and social media are springing up that rely on the discretion of the physicians. Hello Health, a paperless practice based in Brooklyn, New York uses telemedicine, email, IM, video chats and Twitter to communicate with patients after an initial visit. Dr. @SeanKhozin and Dr. @JayParkinson, who practice at Hello Health, tweet frequently. Dr. Parkinson’s talk on the future of medicine from this spring’s Gov 2.0 Expo is embedded below:

3. Socializing Community Health Data

communityclash image

This spring, the United States Department of Health and Human Services took a step towards making community health information as useful as weather data. When used to power health apps, the release of community health data could unlock business value similar to what happened with GPS data a generation ago.

Community health data is being mashed up by Google, integrated into Bing, and visualized by Palantir. It will also be the focus of an upcoming “Health 2.0 Developer Challenge,” featuring a series of code-a-thons and team competitions. It’s further spawned “Community Clash,” a Web-based game that engages players to compare healthcare statistics for different cities around the country. Community Clash includes a social media component that pulls in a “Health Twiver” based upon healthcare-related keywords from the geographic regions compared, adding a real-time window into the communities in question.

4. Healthcare Wikis

medpedia image

While Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook may be grabbing most of the social media headlines of the moment, relatively old forms of social media like wikis continue to play a major role in online healthcare communities. As Jenna Wortham reported in the New York Times last year, Medpedia is a collaborative encyclopedia for health care that combines information from medical professional with forums for engagement with consumers. Medpedia was created in association with Harvard Medical School, the Stanford School of Medicine, The University of Michigan Medical School, the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, and more than a hundred other health organizations around the world.

Launched in February 2009, the platform now has thousands of medical professionals contributing to its pages and has added many new features, including sections for clinical trials, answers, news alerts and analysis.

In late June 2010, Medpedia launched RareSpace, “an online knowledge sharing platform designed in partnership with the R.A.R.E. Project and the Children’s Rare Disease Network to advance research and share information about the rare childhood diseases that affect 22.5 million American families.”

5. Open Source and Connecting Healthcare Communities

connect image

Long before Friendster, Facebook, Twitter and MySpace connected hundreds of millions of people, listservs allowed distributed online communities to collaborate on open source projects like the code for the Apache Web server software. Brian Behlendorf, one of the primary developers of Apache, started an electronic mailing list in the mid-90s to coordinate the work of the other programmers.

More than a decade later, Behlendorf is now involved in another ambitious project: Developing and expanding an open source software gateway that allows healthcare practitioners to exchange health-related information called CONNECT. In 2010, those working on the project can use more than an electronic mailing list to collaborate; they also have access to a blog, developer forums, a wiki to submit code and an issue tracking dashboard for bugs.

More health resources from Mashable:

- 8 Best Android Apps for Health and Fitness
- HOW TO: Use Social Media for Better Health
- Top 10 Free iPhone Apps to Lose Weight
- Stop Smoking: 9 Resources to Help You Quit
- 15 Exercise Video Tutorial Sites to Pump You Up

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, peepo

More About: forums, health, open source, social media, wiki

For more Social Media coverage:

May 01 2010

8 Best Android Apps for Health and Fitness

Android Health ImageSpring has sprung, summer’s around the corner — it’s time to get outside and get in shape. We know your iPhone-owning counterparts have plenty of apps for tracking their calories and kilometers to stay in shape, but there are plenty of health-related apps in the Android Market, too.

Here are eight highly rated free and paid Android apps that will help you get and stay in shape. If you’ve got recommendations — particularly for apps that will help folks get outdoors while the weather’s nice — please let us know about them in the comments.

1. CardioTrainer + Racing

Rating: 5 stars
Price: $2.99
Downloads: 1,000-5,000

This app combines the free CardioTrainer with a racing application that challenges users to beat their own best times. Motivational features include a virtual race simulator, complete with a voice telling the user exactly how far behind or ahead he is. In addition to the racing module, the free CardioTrainer app can be enhanced with a weight loss module, which will cost you another $2.99 in the Android Market.

User comments:
“This works great since it’s so motivating! I’m easily beating my previous times. Well done on Droid!”
“The perfect running coach.”

2. Fast Food Calorie Counter

Rating: 4 stars
Price: $1.99
Downloads: 1,000-5,000

Even when you’re trying to watch your weight, it’s sometimes impossible to resist the allure of fast food. Whether you’re in a hurry or have a sudden craving for a Frosty, this app can help you mitigate the disastrous effects of too many fried, mayonnaise-drenched, delicious snacks. The app tracks and serves data for almost 9,000 items from 72 fast food restaurants. Data includes calories, fat grams, fiber, carbs and protein. There’s also a free version of this app, Fast Food Calorie Counter Lite.

User comments:
“Good resource, but needs to be updated more often.”
“Helps me stick to my diet since I eat out at times.”

3. Endomondo Sports Tracker

Rating: 4.5 stars
Price: FREE
Downloads: 10K-50K

This is a great application for runners, cyclists, joggers, rollerskaters/rollerbladers, or folks who simply like to take a walk from time to time. It helps you track your time, distance, speed and altitude, and keeps a history of your workouts. The app integrates with Google Maps and your audio playlist in addition to the website, to allow for a more detailed analysis of your progress.

User comments:
“Works seamlessly. Excellent social integration. Highly recommended.”
“The best. I have tried so many other apps of this style and none compare to Endomondo’s accuracy and speed.”

4. Calorie Counter by FatSecret

Rating: 4.5 stars
Price: FREE
Downloads: >250K

Here’s a simple tool for those who’d like to keep track of their calories and other nutrition facts. This app also figures the recommended daily intake for a user to achieve his or her fitness and weight goals, and has a built-in barcode scanner to make finding foods a snap. As they say, “The more you know…”

User comments:
“Really helps me stick to my diet, and it has a lot of foods.”
“So handy, and scanner function rocks.”

5. AllSport GPS

Rating: 4 stars
Price: $9.99
Downloads: 500-1,000

This app is on the spendier side of the Android Market, but many users rave about its capabilities. AllSport GPS allows users to track routes, distance, time, speed and calories burned. Users get maps, virtual races, downloadable routes, elevation and speed graphs. The app also lets you share workouts online, including on Facebook.

User comments:
“Great app.”
“Sometimes you lose GPS signal and it will give you inaccurate data.”

6. Beer Gut Fitness

Rating: 4.5 stars
Price: $0.99
Downloads: 100-500

If you’re worried about your intake of empty calories from all those frosty beers and caipirinhas you plan to drink this spring and summer, this might be the app for you. It tells you when you’re safe to have a drink — calorically speaking — and when you need to exercise. It even shows you what kinds of exercise you can do and for how long.

User comments:
“Walked 3 hours[...] and was happy to see I earned a crap load of beer.”
“Love finishing a swim and having it tell me how many drinks I’ve banked.”

7. Absolute Fitness

Rating: 4 stars
Price: $4.99
Downloads: 1,000-5,000

If you want an all-in-one app to track your food intake, exercise regimen and fitness goals, check out Absolute Fitness. It includes features such as stats, charts, food analysis and online backup of your data.

User comments:
“I love it! You have to make time to use it, but you will if you’re committed to it.”
“Would be perfect if you could scan in barcodes.”

8. Backpacker GPS Trails

Rating: 4 stars
Price: $9.99
Downloads: 100-500

For the true outdoors lover, or for those who need a little mobile support to feel at home in the wild, Backpacker provides a portable trip database and personal navigation device. You can track yourself, geotag pics and vids, share your trips and download maps. Best of all, users can find nearby trails, including thousands of trips endorsed by the readers and editors of Backpacker magazine.

User comments:
“All the hikes I read about now I can get on my G1.”
“Great app, it’s amazing how you can search for hikes around you, save to the phone and use for navigation!”

For more mobile coverage, follow Mashable Mobile on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

More Android resources from Mashable:

- HOW TO: Turn Your Android Phone Into a Killer MP3 Player
- 5 Amazing Android Apps for Baseball Fans
- 6 Free Android Apps That Will Make You Drop Your iPhone
- 5 Free Android Apps for Web Developers
- 7 Mind-Blowing Free Android Apps

Reviews: Android, Android Market, Facebook, Google Maps, Rating, Twitter, love

Tags: android, health, lifestyle, List, Lists, Mobile 2.0, mobile apps

April 22 2010

10 Free iPhone Apps to Help You Go Green for Earth Day

iPhone Tree ImageIn honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, we thought it fitting to compile a list of free green-inspired iPhone apps that promote continued environmental awareness. Although incredible progress has been made in this movement over the past few decades, the fate of the environment still hinges on immediate action from all of us.

By becoming more eco-friendly and making small steps to enact change in our daily lives, we will have a significant impact on the way natural resources are consumed and preserved. Take a moment to peruse the apps below and download a few that are useful to your environmental protection efforts — after all, they’re free!

1. iRecycle

iRecycle iPhone App

iRecycle is a great resource that allows you to look up locations for recycling 240+ materials in your area. Simply type in whatever object you’d like to recycle and nearby centers with contact information, hours of operations and any restrictions are listed. With this handy app, there’s no excuse not to recycle. 

2. Find Green

FindGreen App

Find Green provides information on local green businesses in your vicinity. With 23 industries to choose from, including health and wellness, retail/consumer, and dining, you can opt to patronize businesses that have made a commitment to improving the environment. Turn-by-turn directions to each business selected are also included in this app.

3. Consumer Change

Consumer Change App

Consumer Change is a simple app that collects and displays first-hand consumer feedback on companies’ environmental practices from its website, consumerchange.com. Any feedback, either positive or negative, is sent directly to the businesses in an effort to improve their sustainability practices. Reviews can be submitted directly from the app, as well as through the site. 

4. Greenpeace Tissue Guide

GreenPeace Tissue Guide

Yes, it’s an entire app dedicated to household paper products, but you’d be surprised at how much there is to know. The Greenpeace Tissue Guide ranks more than 100 brands of products in four categories — toilet paper, paper towels, paper napkins and facial tissues — and places them into “recommended,” “could do better” and “should avoid” designations.

5. Carbon Calc

Carbon Calc App

Carbon Calc is a simple calculator for tallying your footprint with home, car and airline usage. Although there could be many more variables included to get a more accurate estimate, this is a good starting point to give you a rough idea of your energy usage. The app also gives you an option to purchase carbon credits to offset your number. 

6. Mission Zero

Mission Zero App

MissionZero.org is an online community whose mission is to improve the global environment through collective action. Its accompanying iPhone app is a news resource that tracks sustainability issues in 14 different categories from more than 300 feeds. It’s a good tool for keeping abreast of the latest green news. 

7. Label Lookup

Label Lookup App

When you see a “free range” label, you may think that it is a better choice all around. However, many people aren’t aware that the USDA only applies this term to chickens, and that access to outdoors can be as little as five minutes a day. Label Lookup enables users to check the validity of label claims using a rating system of zero to three — zero meaning the claim has no validity, and three meaning that the claim is verified and meets rigorous testing standards — “USDA Organic,” for example. 

8. ClimateCounts

Climate Counts

If you ever wonder how the companies you frequently purchase from rank on the environmental awareness scale, ClimateCounts is a good app for you. Using a rating system and a 100 point scale, each company is scored on its climate impact and given a “striding,” “starting” or “stuck” ranking. Examples of striding companies: Anheuser-Busch and FedEx. Examples of stuck companies: Air Tran and Capital One.

9. What’s On My Food?

Whats On My Food App

Put that apple down and review its pesticide count on this app before taking a bite. Between a conventional apple and an organic apple, there is a 24 count difference in total residues found. There are 93 foods listed in this app with a breakdown on the general pesticides that can be found on each. 

10. GreenSpace Map

GreenSpace Map

GreenSpace Map utilizes information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to list any sites in your vicinity that have known environmental issues or are designated as hazardous areas. This would be a great app to have while house hunting.   

For more mobile coverage, follow Mashable Mobile on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

More iPhone resources from Mashable:

- 10 Great iPhone Apps for Growing a Garden
- 5 Fantastic Free iPhone E-book Reader Apps
- 10 Essential Money-Saving iPhone Apps
- 10 Essential iPhone Apps for Runners
- 10 Best iPhone Apps for Dog Lovers

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, AVTG

Reviews: Facebook, Twitter, iStockphoto

Tags: apps, earth day, environment, environmentalism, green, health, iphone, iphone apps, Mobile 2.0

April 21 2010

5 More Ways to Go Green for Earth Day

Earth Bulb ImageGeoff Livingston co-founded Zoetica to focus on cause-related work, and released an award-winning book on new media Now is Gone in 2007.

There are many ways to take part in the environmental movement on the social web. With Earth Day rapidly approaching this Thursday, we decided to revisit our post from a few weeks ago on ways to go green with social media.

Here are five more non-profit and corporate social responsibility programs to promote environmental action on Earth Day.

1. Participate in the Earth Day Revolution

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has partnered with the Earth Day Network to launch the the Earth Day Revolution petition. The effort pushes Congress to revise energy policy and foster a clean energy revolution.

In addition to the online revolution, NWF has organized a rally in Washington, DC on Earth Day. Further, college campuses can participate in climate activities with the Chill Out. And for families celebrating Earth Day, there is NWF’s Get Your Kids Outside effort.

“Earth Day is about people from all over coming together to make a difference for our planet,” said Julia Marden, Online Grassroots Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. “It’s a day in which all of us can take action as individuals, and see big results. We aim to help wildlife enthusiasts become part of a big shift in our country’s energy and climate policies, and there’s no better time to do that than Earth Day.”

2. Save the Ocean During Earth Week

Earth Day Image

For the past month, the Nature Conservancy has been engaged in pre-Earth Day activities focusing on daily actions people can take to save the oceans. The effort has culminated this week with trash bags on Monday, seafood on Tuesday, gardening on Wednesday, and Earth Day on Thursday.

“Our Earth Day effort will specifically impact the health of our oceans and marine life,” said Amy Ganderson, online marketing manager for The Nature Conservancy. “Individuals can make a positive impact by taking simple actions to protect our oceans. For each one of these items, we’re providing supporting content that shows how these little decisions make a big impact on our oceans. If you think twice about how your individual choices affect marine life, then we’ve made an impact.”

3. A 45 Day Earth Month Calendar

Volt Assembly Image

Most people know about GM’s Volt initiative, but most aren’t aware of the company’s more than 60 land-fill free manufacturing plants, and other sustainability initiatives. To drive further green activity within and outside the company, the auto manufacturer has launched a public interactive 45-day calendar on its GM Media website that will run from Earth Day on April 22nd until June 5th, which is United Nations World Environment Day 2010 in Pittsburgh.

The socially-integrated calendar features environmentally friendly stories, tips and news events focused on GM products, places and people from around the world. Five to eight items will feature live actions during this period while the remaining days will discuss actions that have already happened.

“We want to show that through GM people, products and places, Earth Day really is every day somewhere in General Motors,” said Mike Robinson, GM vice president of environment and energy policy. “We first thought about Earth Month, but then someone mentioned the U.N. World Environment Day on June 5th, so Earth Month became 45 days instead of 30.

“One way we’ll know this effort worked is if people working on their own thing learn what others are doing and take an interest in something they are not directly involved with,” said Robinson. “On a bigger scale, every time another plant stops sending waste to a landfill, or we find a way to use sludge from a paint shop, GM is positively impacting the environment.”

4. Kids Green Their Parents

Green My Parents Image

Green My Parents focuses on kids that want their families to reduce environmental impact at home by saving $100 per household via green initiatives. The collective goal is to save $100 million, and the program will launch on Earth Day with a youth-led webinar via the National Wildlife Federation’s SchoolTube videos. The webinar is scheduled for 1 p.m. EDT.

“The goal of the webinar and book launch is to jump start the campaign and to reach as many people as possible,” said Tom Feegel, founder of Green My Parents. “If we can get the 100 kids we already have totally engaged, and we can demonstrate that kids can get quickly started in saving money for their families, it will be a success.

“We think the kids will prove that they can use their favorite social media tools to organize each other and teach others how to help their parents save $100 or more at home,” added Feegel. “[They can do this] by making practical behavioral changes that result in financial savings that they can share in together as a family, and that help the Earth.”

5. Offset Carbon Footprints

Compact Flourescent Lamp

RarePlanet will use its blog and network this week to highlight compact fluorescent lamps’ (CFLs) ability to reduce carbon footprints.

Users can learn about carbon offsets daily on the Rare blog. The organization will post photo montages of communities around the globe that have received CFLs.

“Rare has distributed 20,600 compact fluorescent lights as part of a program to offset all of our carbon emissions from employee activity, a total of 744 metric tons of carbon,” said Lark Dunham, vice president, RarePlanet.org. “We have distributed 15,600 bulbs in China and 5,000 in Indonesia. We leveraged our ‘negative’ environmental impact to make a direct positive impact on the work we do around the globe.”

Full Disclosure: I serve on RarePlanet.org’s community advisory board.

For more social media coverage, follow Mashable Social Media on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

More social media resources from Mashable:

- 5 Ways to Go Green for Earth Day with Social Media
- 5 Ways Non-Profits Can Increase Engagement With YouTube
- 4 Ways Non-Profits Can Use Google Buzz
- Why Sex-Ed Remains a Challenge for Social Media
- 5 Ways Mega Charity Events Can Harness the Power of Social Media

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Claudiad

Reviews: Facebook, Twitter, iStockphoto

Tags: BLOGS, earth day, environment, environmentalists, gree, green, social good, social media

March 27 2010

HOW TO: Support Earth Hour With Social Media

The World Wildlife Fund’s now annual Earth Hour campaign is great way for individuals to take a stand against climate change. Something as simple as switching your lights off for one hour can make a visual statement of your support for the global sustainability movement.

Begun back in Australia in 2007, last year’s event saw such world famous landmarks as the CN Tower in Toronto, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Colosseum, and The Eiffel Tour flick the switch on their illumination, not to mention the millions of people across the world who did the same on a smaller, but no less important scale.

Earth Hour 2010 takes place today, Saturday, March 27th at 8:30 p.m. your local time. As well as turning your lights off for the allotted time, here are some other social ways you can show your support for Earth Hour.

1. On Twitter

A global “lights off” event is planned for everyone’s favorite micro-blogging service Twitter with a click-through app you can activate now that will automatically turn the lights off on your Twitter profile picture for Earth Hour. The app auto-tweets out a get prepared message to your followers as you activate it, and will do the same when the hour begins. You can also add an Earth Hour “Twibbon” to your Twitter avatar.

2. On Facebook

Just like the Twitter lights off option, there’s one available for Facebook too created by Fennek & Friends. As with the previously mentioned version, this one-click app will turn the lights off your profile picture at the correct time. Another Facebook option is an app that installs a virtual light switch — one that’s customizable, as well as shareable — which can be found via the “light switch” tab on Earth Hour’s Facebook Fan Page.

3. On Your Website

You can create and embed a virtual lantern on your website with some simple HTML code, available to copy and paste here. There’s another embeddable widget from Call2Action that can also be posted on your website or blog, or can be e-mailed or shared via the usual social networking channels.

4. On Flickr

There’s a dedicated Earth Hour account on the photo sharing service Flickr that will show pictures of various lights out ceremonies. Don’t forget to subscribe now and check back for some great shots when the lights come back up. Tagging your own relevant pics “earth hour” on the site will add them to the pool.

5. On YouTube

There’s a great Earth Hour YouTube channel that offers some amazing clips from years past. They include both overview videos about the movement, and footage from individual events around the globe. Subscribe, watch, and be inspired to get involved and spread the word!

For more social media coverage, follow Mashable Social Media on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

More social media resources from Mashable:

- 6 Easy Ways to Score the Best Deals with Social Media
- How the Fashion Industry Uses Location-Based Marketing
- How Companies Are Using Your Social Media Data
- How Twitter in the Classroom is Boosting Student Engagement
- How Musicians Are Using Social Media to Connect with Fans

Reviews: Australia, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter

Tags: BLOGS, earth hour, environment, facebook, flickr, List, Lists, social media, twitter, wwf, youtube

March 26 2010

4 Tips for Reducing Social Media Stress

laptop stress imageSoren Gordhamer is the organizer of the Wisdom 2.0 Conference, April 30th-May 2nd in Silicon Valley, which brings together staff from Google, Facebook, and Twitter, along with Tony Hsieh from Zappos and many others, to explore living wisely in our modern age. Mashable readers can use code Mashable for a discount when registering.

We used to only be digitally connected via computer for part of the day, but today’s hand-held devices enable a “constantly connected” lifestyle. This presents huge benefits, and its share of challenges. An important question to ask yourself is: Are you going to be constantly overwhelmed by “Stress 2.0,” or can you successfully translate this lifestyle into “Wisdom 2.0?”

We are all well aware of the benefits of the social media age, but the challenge is finding a balance, and living a healthy and rich life both online and off. If we are not careful, our increasingly connected life can take a negative toll on our mind and body.

Below are four steps to go from a stressful social media life to a wise one, as well as the apps to help you do it.

1. Take Time to Disconnect

ev tweet stress

I do not know anyone who, after a number of hours looking at a screen, does not experience some level of “brain freeze.” For some it is two hours, for others four, but there comes a time when we just cannot process any more information. The best thing to do is step back from the computer and take a break.

Go outside, get something to eat, spend some time with a friend. When you return to your computer you will do so with a much more open and creative mind.

App to Live By: If you know how long you can go at the screen before you need a break, you can schedule them from your desktop with a number of apps, including Dejal Time Out.

2. Breathe

If there’s one thing that just about every health-conscious person can agree on, it’s that deep, full breaths are a good thing. Think of a time when you were nervous or frustrated — how was your breath? And think of time when you were totally at ease — how was your breathing then? Most likely in the former, it was shallow and tight, and in the latter it was full and expansive.

In fact, even as you read these words, you can bring attention to your breath. Notice the breath coming in and out of your body. This attention to your breathing can help lower cortisol levels, increase oxygen levels, and lower your stress level.

The challenge, of course, is remembering to do so.

Apps to Live By: One way to help bring awareness to your breath is to set a bell to ring every so often as a reminder. When you hear the bell, pause, take a few moments to focus on your breathing, and then return to work. A few apps that can help with this include ProdMe (Mac), and Mindful Clock (PC).

3. Eat Food that Adds Energy

How many times have you scarfed down an unhealthy lunch while you stared at your computer screen, and soon after noticed that you not only had a stomach ache, but that your energy had been zapped?

Unhealthy food may bring short-term pleasure, but it generally decreases your energy level and ability to focus. There are healthy foods however, that taste good, and at the same time increases your energy level and ability to concentrate. Of course, strong caffeine or a good dose of sugar may give you a quick hit, but soon your energy drops — until you get another hit, and the cycle continues.

There is a place for enjoying unhealthy food, but when it becomes a habit, you won’t be able to live and work at your optimum level. Eating healthy food, and taking the time to do so slowly, increases your ability to fully engage with whatever you’re doing, be it a phone conversation, a meeting, or writing a tweet.

Apps to Live By: We tend to eat healthier when we make our food instead of getting take out. Whole Foods lists numerous healthy recipes. They also have an iPhone app. The next time you feel like you could use some nourishment, try making a healthy meal for yourself instead of ordering that slice of pizza.

4. Awaken the Body: Move

yoga journal iphone app

If there has been one major change in people’s lives in recent years, it may well be this: We are more stationary than any previous generation. Many of us sit at desks for hours and hours each day. The New York Times references a number of studies that revealed that just working out once a day is not as helpful as integrating movement throughout your day.

This means that when there is a chance, get up and move. Work standing up for part of the day, walk instead of drive to lunch, ride a bike to work if possible, and walk over and talk to a colleague instead of shooting off an e-mail to him or her.

Apps to Live By: There are a number of yoga and stretching apps you can download. The challenge is to integrate them in your day. Try making a commitment of five minutes in the morning, at lunch, and before going to bed to do some stretching. Yoga Journal has more information in this category, and an iPhone app with stretches.

Conclusion: Learn to Surf

It is extremely unlikely that the pace of information we consume is going to slow down. In fact, it is likely to increase, as our friends not only post what they are doing, but also where they are at any given time.

The challenge is finding a balance within the information stream. There is an old saying: “You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” We are not likely to stop the waves of information coming at us today (nor would we want to), but we can find a balance; we can live consciously and connected, with an active social media life and a healthy body and mind.

For more social media coverage, follow Mashable Social Media on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

More social media resources from Mashable:

- 4 Steps for Managing Social Media Attention
- 5 Levels of Effective Communication in the Social Media Age
- Zen and the Art of Twitter: 4 Tips for Productive Tweeting
- The Tao of Tweeting
- 5 Tips for Building Lasting Online Friendships
- 4 Steps for Effective Online Networking

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, jhorrocks

Reviews: Facebook, Twitter, iStockphoto

Tags: apps, fitness, health, iphone apps, List, Lists, social media, stress, twitter

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