Geek Speak: Emma Cochrane, vice president of Tyze Personal Networks

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      Emma Cochrane believes people are starting to move away from large public social-networking services and toward smaller private networks. She’s the 40-year-old vice president of strategy for Tyze Personal Networks.

      Tyze was created by the PLAN Institute for Caring Citizenship in 2008. The Vancouver-based company, which has a staff of about 15, launched its product two years ago. People use Tyze to build “secure private online personal” networks that connect themselves with professional and informal caregivers. A Tyze network costs $129 a year.

      Born in England, Cochrane is a former Vancouver resident now living in Seattle. She’s spent her career in developing online communities. In 1996, Cochrane founded the Wired Woman Society, which she served as president until 1999. She recently attended the 15th-anniversary party for the organization, which works to empower women in technology across Canada.

      The Georgia Straight interviewed Cochrane by phone.

      What is Tyze?

      Tyze creates online networks of support that coordinate care between formal and informal care providers. A more casual way of saying it is between community and professional caregivers. Eighty percent of care in Canada is provided unpaid by friends, family, neighbours. The idea is to sort of remain unabashedly rooted in that informal care, but give them as much support as we can by building real connections between the doctors, social workers, hospitals that are understaffed, underfunded, and looking for ways to leverage all the care that friends and family are willing to provide.

      What kind of people use Tyze?

      It started in disability. We very quickly started doing quite a lot of work with seniors. We did a 13-organization roll-out in California that was specifically for seniors. But then, at the same time, we would get somebody who was on bed rest with a pregnancy signing up, and 30 of her friends would spring into action immediately and organize food, help, diaper shopping.

      Chronic illness is now another very significant area of growth. So, we’ve now started selling to hospitals. For instance, we just started working with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Our lead physician there says he wants to do something for the one percent of patients who keep him up at night, and that’s the same one percent that accounts for 49 percent of the costs at that hospital, and that’s not unusual. That’s about regular across North America and Europe.

      We had an amazing story earlier this year. A network member, Nancy, created a network for herself. She had cancer. She wanted to make sure that her son, who was just in his early 20s, had support as he, in turn, supported her. One example is that when she was discharged from hospital she couldn’t get into her house because there wasn’t a ramp. So, the network got together, built her ramp on the weekend, and she was able to get home a couple weeks earlier than she would have otherwise. When you look at the state of health care and the cost of a day in hospital, that’s a big deal.

      Do you think private online networks are going to play a bigger and bigger role now?

      I do, in lots of areas of our lives. I think we’re seeing lots of it now. Even the new Google+ services and even the big social networks. Even as we think about the fact that numbers of people using Facebook are finally starting to decline, the interest in a huge, publicly available, everyone-can-search-it network is shifting.

      As one would expect, people are interested in quality over quantity. It’s not necessarily how many people you know. It’s the quality of the relationships that you have with the people you know the most.

      I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of influence. If someone posts something on Facebook, it’s highly unlikely that I even look at it. If one of the 10 people who I really trust on a particular subject matter suggests it, I’ll look and probably buy, right? Yeah, I think we’re seeing a shift from quantity to quality in all things, including the way that we live our online lives.

      How would you sum up what the Wired Woman Society has accomplished since you founded it?

      It’s interesting, because 15 years ago, the key impetus was that women were coming to me and looking for advice on how to get into technology careers. High-school computer-science teachers were calling and saying, “Please come and talk to our girls. No one’s signing up for computer science.”

      The number of girls interested in taking computers was decreasing and had been since the ’80s. So, it was very much then about generating interest and excitement about technology at all, at the very beginning. Now, back to Facebook, that solved some of that, because most teenage girls want to use a computer.

      So, then Wired Woman really had to shift to the more important topic, which is about encouraging women to not just use technology but to shape it. How are we actually going to help to design the software, structure the networks, and so on? So, I think it’s now doing a lot more mentoring, a lot more advancement work. How can we support women to move higher through the ranks at their technology companies, so they can have more and more influence over the kinds of technologies that we’re creating?

      Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? You can tell Stephen Hui on Facebook and Twitter.