Dimmi: Match.com with a Cause

Amina Olajide:
Is there a particular reason you chose the word “dimmi,” Italian for “tell me?”
Amy Gallager: Our company, Consolidated Shoe Co. (CSC), has a background in shoe development; work which requires us to travel throughout Europe, quite often Italy in particular. In Italy, when you try to express yourself, Italian people often say to you, “dimmi, dimmi, dimmi” or “tell me, tell me, tell me.” We heard it so often that it grew on us and we realized it would serve the purposes of our mission: to develop a social networking site that connects people who are looking to find answers, support, or just tell their health related story.

AO: Why did Consolidated Shoe Company create dimmi? When did it begin, and for how long has it been active?
AG: Dimmi was created in memory and in the spirit of the late Dick Carrington IV, a member of the CSC family, who passed away from ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease). He had an uncanny way of welcoming people into his life, sharing his passions, communicating, remaining calm in complicated situations, and instilling perseverance. His character inspired his family to fight ALS even after his passing, and has empowered us to help continue his legacy by creating a social networking platform where people can grow, communicate, and advocate for a cause dear to them. Dimmi has been in development for 3 years and was beta launched in January of 2011. It continues to operate in beta.

AO: How did dimmi grow from conception to its present day status?
AG: We created an advisory board of 9 individuals made up of people who are active, passionate advocates for a health related cause. Once the basic idea for the site was there, it took a lot of brainstorming, research, and hard work to get to where we are today. The growth of the site continues to be cultivated on a daily basis.

AO: To sustain dimmi—did it require a particularly vigorous outreach to patients and the chronically ill, or did it develop more organically?
AG: The site is still growing and we continue to reach out to health organizations and groups that we feel could benefit from dimmi, such as college students. We have worked a lot with the ALS association, but the site is really meant to embrace people dealing with any and all health related causes that have affected their life.

AO: What is the current size of dimmi’s user community?
AG: Dimmi has around 500 users.

AO: How does the typical person discover dimmi?
AG: Because the network is still growing, people would likely hear about dimmi by word of mouth and through grassroots marketing efforts. We are currently focusing on college students because not only do we feel that dimmi would be a valuable arena for students to interact with others about the stresses affecting their lives, college students by nature are social and embrace technology. Our hope is that they will find value in dimmi and share it with their network of friends. We are currently working closely with schools such as Liberty University, Randolph College, and USC.

AO: Is dimmi non-profit?
AG: Yes.

AO: Why does being diagnosed with an illness or disease enable one to reach out to similarly afflicted people? AG: Communicating with others who have gone through a similar health related situation can be beneficial in many different ways. It is a great way to seek information from real people who have faced similar circumstances. It is also very comforting to know that you are not alone. Support and encouragement from people who fundamentally understand what you are going through can be just as valuable as the support of your loved ones.

AO: Do you believe that the loved one of one who is ill is less likely to understand what he or she is experiencing than someone who shares or is familiar with that person’s illness?
AG: Perfect example: My brother’s daughter has aplastic anemia. From the dimmi network I was able to get information and advice on how to be supportive of him and encourage him through her blood transfusions. Disease doesn’t just affect the patient, but the whole nucleus of people concerned for the patient. I think that everybody wants to help; the thing about dimmi is that it offers help to the whole nucleus around that person. We need to have more users though for this process to really work. When it starts to hit that tipping point, it’ll be magical. With a small group of people you’re relatively limited to who you can connect with, but with a larger group you can have a broader outreach—that’s why I call dimmi Match.com with a cause!

AO: At Princeton, a considerable amount of students aren’t comfortable admitting that they are unable to cope with the amount of stress their academic and personal lives cause them. Do you think that sharing the distress and anxiety one feels is cathartic or do you think that it only legitimizes and in some cases exacerbates the pain? AG: I think the former—that it’s cathartic—it’s 100% the philosophy of dimmi. Through opening up and communicating you can heal. It’s amazing how emotional healing can cause physical healing! To have someone reinforce that you’re not alone is very powerful. Learning about how others deal with similar situations can also encourage a new avenue for personal growth. I think everyone is looking for a solution, a light at the end of the tunnel and I think dimmi offers a platform for people to connect and move forward.

AO: In one word what do you suppose the personal benefit of telling one’s story is?
AG: Relief.

AO: Do you believe that regular communication with those in the recovery stage facilitates recovery?
AG: Emotionally, I would say yes. Again, it shows you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

AO: What would you like dimmi to become?
AG: I hope it’s becomes a valuable resource for people to connect with others and better cope with their current situation.

AO: What new strategies will it develop or what outlets will it use to broaden the dimmi user community?
AG: Right now we’re focusing on reaching out to colleges and students. There is not a social network out there designed for young people to communicate specifically about health related issues. We hope to fill that gap and provide a valuable free service.

AO: What has been dimmi’s most memorable moment?
AG: Well, I’m waiting for it. I think everyday has a memorable moment. I’m excited about the future; seeing dimmi really take off. When it does, it will be amazing to watch and see real people reap the benefits. We’re hoping that students at schools like Princeton will be among those that contribute to the dimmi spirit.

Miss Gallagher was an absolute pleasure to interview and her enthusiasm for dimmi was so infectious that I myself spread the work to people I knew who would be interested. If you or anyone you know would benefit from dimmi, spread the word too!