The entrepreneur who helped revolutionize advertising on the Internet is now taking his talents to the world of social networking and online therapy, giving people a much-needed place to go when they are in need.
When Eytan Elbaz was working at Applied Semantics, he conceived of and managed AdSense, which puts targeted ads on websites. The company was later acquired by Google, and now AdSense ads are on virtually every site on the web.
Yet that giant web of commerce just can't measure up to helping those who need access to therapy.
"While ad networks may be a great profit center on the Internet, it doesn’t have the power to affect the world," Elbaz said in an interview with Smart Planet. "I wanted to work on something that I knew could directly make a positive impact on people’s lives."
In looking for such a project, Elbaz said he and his business partner Vic Belonogoff noticed there was no social networking site that dealt with such issues as addiction, depression and medical problems.
"I was driven by a personal experience," Elbaz said. "Somebody close to me was dealing with a serious issue, and I felt like I didn’t know anybody with which I could appropriately talk to. I sort of built this site both for me and for the person with the issue, in the hopes that it would help my friend seek treatment, and give me an opportunity to speak to others in a similar situation."
So Elbaz developed SupportGroups.com, a site where people can go to connect with others who may be suffering from similar problems. People might be able to find such help on traditional social networking sites, but Support Groups offers something different.
"Many of our users are dealing with very serious, personal issues that they probably don’t feel comfortable sharing with their social network. A great percentage of our users are dealing with family issues specifically so they may not be comfortable discussing with their family," Elbaz said, adding, "About 70 percent of our users do not upload a personal photograph, or use their real name as their username. We believe that the anonymity allows them to more comfortably deal with issues without having to reveal their own identity."
The success of the two-year old site has led Elbaz to spawn TherapyHub.com in October, at which people can connect with professional therapists.
"Ultimately, Support Groups is not a replacement for professional help but it certainly helps people who are feeling alone connect pretty quickly. (In a survey we conducted), 82% of our users would use an online therapist. It became clear what our next step was," Elbaz said.
Word is starting to get out. Support Groups has tripled its number of users over the past year to 100,000 unique visitors per month. But Elbaz said the work has just begun.
"We are focused on continuing to grow Support Groups. It’s a very important site, but I don’t think enough people know about yet."
If AdSense is any indication of Elbaz's ability to reach a mainstream audience, Support Groups will reach -- and help -- a lot more people in the months to come.