Taraneh Razavi is not your ordinary physician. She's the doctor at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, where she's in charge of maintaining the Googlers in good health. But she's also interested in how tech trends affect our health and preventive care in general. A few months ago, she started a very well-done and informative blog about these subjects, Dr. Razavi's Good to Know Info. And she was nice enough to answer my questions about her multiple activities and how she feels about blogging while working at Google. Below is a transcript of the long exchange I had with Taraneh, who wants to make the world a better place.
Roland: Why did you start your blog? Did you only want to help Google employees or other people in the world?
Taraneh: When I started working at Google, I realized that I had a "captive" audience (that is, I could reach out to employees via general email) whom I could update on health information. It was easy to see that Googlers -- and every one else in this industry -- works very hard.
Despite our best efforts at Google to create options for balancing work and play, sometimes Googlers neglect preventative measures to health -- that can take a back seat to their work because they are so engaged. So they need reminders to take care of themselves. I also realized that those who go to the Internet for medical information often came to me with invalid or confusing information.
So I started by sending general health advice -- about ergonomics at work, dealing with stress, advice for people who fly a lot, and so on -- to employees via general email. Sergey Brin is the one who suggested writing the blog so that others could benefit from it.
Roland: Did you start your blog just after being hired by Google or after several months?
Taraneh: I started it after a year. I didn't even know what a blog was when I started at Google. I felt like Dr. McCoy on the Starship Enterprise, a little out of place. However, a Googler named Simon Field helped get me started, and now I rely on three others in the company when I have questions about the high-tech aspects of the blog: Karen Wickre, Eric Case, and Todd Markelz. Initially my posts were featured on the official Google Blog, but as I started writing more posts, then I created my own blog under my own name.
I was glad to have started with the official company blog as the legal department made me aware of the possible liabilities involved with offering health advice to the general public. I was fairly naive about those implications, but now I know about the importance of making the right disclaimer in the blog itself.
Roland: Blogging takes time, especially when you have to deal with health and to check your sources of information. Do you blog on your own time or during the 20% of the working time allowed by Google to its employees to work on personal projects?
Taraneh: You are so right about the heavy time requirement especially for health topics. I reference everything so that takes even more time. (Apparently this is not done too frequently on health and medical blogs -- backing up opinions with current research is more labor-intensive for sure.) I do it on my own time.
When Sergey first suggested blogging to me, my response was half jokingly, "What, more work?" But now I'm hooked. Not to be a "company woman," but what makes me willing to spend the extra personal time is the genuine idealism of our founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and their goal of making the world a better place. It's easy to be on board with that. Unfortunately I'm too busy at work to have that extra 20% time.
Roland: Are you happy with your blog's traffic (inside and outside Google)?
Taraneh: I didn't have any expectations when I started the blog. I am happy to have any one read it, even one person, although I put so much work into it that it would be nice to have as many people as possible read the information.
At this point I know that I'm reaching more people on a daily basis via the blog than I can reach by seeing patients at my office. Sometimes I check Google Blog Search and other blog search engines to see how far and wide my posts are being linked -- that's exciting. I believe I have had about 60,000 hits since April.
Roland: Do you have positive -- and private, by email -- reactions of people reading your blog?
Taraneh: Yes, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of positive feedbacks that I have received. That also helps to motivate me. Here are a few comments.
- "Hello, I have been reading your blog for a few months and felt that perhaps I should let you know that I appreciate it. Thank you for taking the time to inform those of us who may not have knowledge of the information you blog. I enjoy reading your blog and look forward to move to come."
- "As a former public health nurse epidemiologist...I am thrilled to see this type of info online. Way to go Dr. Razavi! ..."
- "It's so awesome to have a real doctor amoung [sic] us!"
- "I too am new to your site and it is wonderful! Such awesome info! I wish I would have had this info when my family was camping last year. My husband had a "tick attack" and it was pretty scary when you don't know what to do. Great job!"
Roland: As people don't read a blog for a long time (15 seconds according to Jakob Nielsen), how can you be sure that people REALLY read your advises?
Taraneh: This is a good question. I was not aware of this 15 second rule. I will have to make the blogs even shorter which is very hard to do when I'm trying to explain medical information in layman's terms. I suppose that most of the regular readers are going to the site because they are interested in this particular type of information so they are more likely to read the complete blog.
Then again, even in my office, I'm not sure that all of the advice is heard. There is a study that says patients in doctor's offices (even if they are physicians themselves) only hear 20% of the information that is given to them. At least with a blog they can always go back to it.
When you receive Google employees in your medical office, do you hear people telling you "Don't talk about what I have on your blog"?
Taraneh: No, no one has asked me that. Googlers seem to be all for sharing information -- as long as it's done anonymously, in the case of medical information, of course.
Roland: Are there any particular health problems at Google because of long working hours or because of the food now that the star cook has left?
Taraneh: Actually we have a number of chefs now, not just one, and many cafes. All of them focus on healthy food now, less junk food, less salt, etc. I have found the chefs to be very responsive to any suggestions that I've had. There is also a nutritionist on staff with whom I discuss the menu occasionally.
I think that the long working hours is the plague of the Bay Area, and possibly all technology companies, and not just of Google. As mentioned earlier it often leads to neglect of preventive health measures and a more sedentary lifestyle. I think that one of the reasons that Sergey wanted me to start this blog is that the health problems Googlers may be developing are shared by other companies.
Roland: I've seen on your blog that you seem to enjoy quizzes. Are these posts more popular than regular advises?
Taraneh: It depends on the topic. I think people -- especially those who are in this industry or in the blog world -- may pay a little more attention to this format.
Roland: Speaking of quizzes, did you have to solve some math puzzles or riddles before being hired?
Taraneh: No, I did not, although I know that some people are asked these types of questions. If I were asked a riddle then I would have had to ask them a medical question :)
I have to say that I have also benfited from having a blog. By writing the posts, I reinforce the information that I have read, and I am more motivated to read after a long hard day at work.
Roland: Taraneh, I want to thank you for the time you spent with me -- and for the long hours of work you put to publish your ecellent work.
[Disclaimer: As I didn't want Taraneh to get into trouble for publishing her views outside Google, I've asked her to be sure our exchange would be approved by her company. So this interview has been read by Google PR department.]
Source: Taraneh Razavi, August 3, 2006
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