Pioneer switches from blog to paper

JAZIAL CROSSLEY
Last updated 05:00 01/12/2012
Richard MacManus
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
PERSONAL CAUSE: ReadWriteWeb blog founder Richard MacManus has type 1 diabetes, which has spurred his interest in healthcare apps.

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One of the most-read writers on the internet, Petone's millionaire technology blogger Richard MacManus, is writing an offline book that will be published on paper rather than the web.

"The last thing I want to do right now is start another blog," said MacManus, who last year sold the ReadWriteWeb blog he created in 2003 to American company Say Media for a reported $6.79 million.

The site covered social media, product innovations and the changing internet landscape as Web 2.0 evolved and user behaviour online adapted to more personalised websites such as MySpace, then Facebook. With 5 million page views a month, ReadWriteWeb was one of the most popular blogs in the world with 19 staff writing from the United States, where more than half its readers were based.

He finished working on the website only about a month ago. ReadWrite, as it is now known, is being run by gregarious technology journalist Dan Lyons, who was behind the notorious parody blog Fake Steve Jobs.

MacManus, wildly intelligent but a more reserved personality, is happy with the slight tweaks made to the website since he stepped back.

"It felt a little bit like seeing my baby grow up and do its own thing. It is definitely a big change but on the other hand it is very exciting for me. I've always wanted to write a book and I wanted to be able to change the style of my writing to do something less focused on day-to-day news, to dive deeper into a subject with a book."

After a decade of getting up at 3.30am to start working on his globally read website, MacManus now has the chance to sleep in for the first time in 10 years but he has not taken much of a break before getting started on his next project: a book about how technology is changing healthcare.

Five years ago, in his 30s, and with no history of the illness in his family, he developed type 1 diabetes seemingly out of the blue while going through a stressful time in his business and personal life.

"It made me aware of my own body and what its limits are and what technology could perhaps offer me in the future," said MacManus, who tracks his blood sugar levels throughout the day using an iPhone app.

"I'm particularly interested in what's happening with genomics [DNA studies] and I'm really interested in how technology is in the process of revolutionising healthcare, making it much more personalised."

At the Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco this year he found out more about 23 And Me, the company of Google co-founder Sergey Brin's wife, Anne Wojcicki. It sells spit kits for people to do at-home DNA testing to reveal both their genetic heritage and their level of risk for developing diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, endometriosis or even dyslexia and alcohol dependency.

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It also tells people whether they act as carriers for diseases such as cystic fibrosis or polycystic kidney disease that could be passed on to children.

"With the level of information we get from genomics, it enables you to do a lot more to prevent disease and to treat any condition you have. With these personalised health trainers like the FitBit [a wireless device that monitors calories burned and quality of sleep] or Nike Plus shoe, you get so much daily data about your activities, how you're feeling, what exercise you're doing and what you're eating that it is all adding up to people having a much deeper knowledge about their own healthcare. That's going to change the way healthcare systems are run."

Through his book, MacManus aims to tell the changing story of healthcare technology from the points of view of those developing apps and doctors whose jobs will change because of them.

Maybe in future people will track their healthcare through various apps and that data will be accessed through the cloud by doctors.

Perhaps GPs will receive alerts when their clients' healthcare measures record any significant changes. Keeping a record of their healthcare through technology should be more reliable and accurate for doctors than a patient having to remember when they noticed health changes.

"There is a real sort of buzz and excitement about what these technologies will do to the healthcare system. It will give people a much deeper knowledge of their own body and put doctors in a better position to prescribe medicine based on your own unique genetic makeup. It's kind of very early but there are a lot of start-ups building products based around personal health data and genomics."

If he'd had the technology available several years ago to test himself for potential diseases and found out he was at risk of diabetes, he would probably have made lifestyle changes to eat less sugar and cut down stress that could have warded off the illness.

MacManus, who is divorced, lives in a comfortable villa that gives no signs of his new wealth.

The living space is a cosy size, with a treadmill and leather couches facing a modest-sized television. He will consider doing some angel investment once the book, which he plans to spend the next year writing, is finished.

It has taken a few weeks to wind down after being responsible for such a widely read website for so many years but he has been enjoying having more time to spend with his 11-year-old daughter at the weekends, and is teaching himself to play the guitar from videos on YouTube.

Of his new lifestyle, MacManus said it had been a bit of an adjustment. "But it is much less stressful and more relaxed. I might come back to blogging in the future but for now I definitely need something a bit different. I still check in to ReadWrite every day to make sure my baby is doing well."

- The Dominion Post

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