23andMe is a service that does genetic testing and delivers the results in tangible, understandable ways. No predisposition for graduate level biology needed for things to make sense. It involves sending in a DNA sample via a vial of saliva, then viewing a report online that is generated through analyzing the tens of thousands of DNA samples in the 23andMe database.
I heard about this project when I went to TedX Berkley two years ago. Then I heard about special pricing because Colin Loretz posted about it on his Facebook page. It was a one-day, sign up now for a deep discount deal, it costs me nine bucks a month. In other words, I learned about it in a random way and signed up because it was discounted.
The 23andMe report tells me the diseases I have an increased chance of getting and the ones I don’t need to be concerned about. It tells me about traits I likely have, like a tendency to smoke more cigarettes than the average smoker and drink more caffeine. My genes, apparently, also make me prone to not learning from my mistakes (that study was done on 26 Germans so I’m not taking it too seriously. Possibly another mistake).
This is a map of where my mom’s ancestors lived over the past 500 years. I don’t know where my father’s family was hanging out because that would be revealed by a Y chromosome, and I don’t have one of those. I need a male relative to participate for me to learn about the paternal side of my family.
23andMe also gives me an opportunity to find and connect with relatives. The site lists possible relatives as “2nd to 4th cousin, with 5 matching segments.” You can send introductions to all of these long lost cousins. It is the opposite of friending on Facebook, it is finding your people based on vial you fill with spit (a spit kit) and send to a geneticist.
I am totally psyched about this project. It is fascinating and full of insightful information about one of my favorite topics— me. If we are friends I have probably told you about it, some of you have even caved to pressure and signed up.
Here is my point: 23andMe is not capitalizing on two valuable social powers of it’s product
1. Passionate advocates: I talk about this program a lot. And in a good way.
2. Network scaling effects: I have a vested interested in people participating, especially my family members.
But they have never asked me if I know anyone who would sign up for the program. They have not sent me any “share this discounted rate with two family members” plan. Very few products are such direct social objects— the more people participate the greater the value to everyone. If 23andMe would help me spread their word, it would be like a Living Social or Groupon that gives you an additional taco for each person you share the taco deal with. The more genetic information and health history in the 23andMe data base, the more complete everyone’s insight into their own genetics will be.