Innovation doesn't always have to be about flashy features or giant leaps. Sometimes it's just about tackling a basic, but pervasive, problem simply and elegantly.
Take CareZone  for example. If you have aging parents, or a child with a chronic illness, you know about the challenges involved in trying to coordinate their care with several other caregivers--your spouse, your siblings, or an in-house nurse, for example. Information about their medications is tucked away here. Contact information for doctors is stored there. Legal documents like living wills and powers of attorneys are stuffed in the backs of file cabinets. Voicemails about whose week it is to do what are floating out in the ether.
How much simpler would it be if you could just keep all that information in a single hub that everyone could access, anytime, anywhere? Well, now you can.
CareZone, which launches today and which was cofounded by former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz, is like Yahoo Groups  for managing information related to caring for a loved one.
Each "group" is organized around the person who's being cared for, and you can add as many "members," or caregivers, to each group as you like.
Instead of sub-sections like Messages, Files, and Photos, you've got places to track medications, important documents, and contact information. There's a bulletin board-type system for threaded conversations with your fellow caregivers, and a to-do list where you can assign tasks like taking your loved one to a doctor's appointment or picking up medication.
The features are fairly simple, and it's not hard to imagine how Schwartz and his team, which includes cofounder Walter Smith, a software architect from Microsoft and Apple, could have added more bells and whistles. But for this first release, Schwartz tells Fast Company, the system was reduced to its core essence: "We wanted to reduce the anxiety and burden associated with caring for people."
Among those concerns is privacy. Users interviewed by CareZone said their top priority was protecting information about their loved one. For that reason, few wanted to use an existing social tool, like Facebook. Completely insufficient privacy protections, Schwartz says. That's why it made sense to build a completely new, stand-alone tool.
Similarly, CareZone doesn't use an advertising business model. Instead, the system charges monthly fees: $5 to manage the care of one "beloved," as CareZone refers to the person being cared for, or $48 a year. (Though, to goose adoption, the site is offering new users free accounts for up to three "beloveds," for a year, with the opportunity to assign as many caregivers to each account as they like.)
The system is currently self-funded, to the tune of slightly less than $2 million. Former Intuit CEO Steven Bennett, former Yahoo CMO Elisa Steele, and University of California, San Francisco epidemiologist Clay Johnson are advisers.
If it seems odd that the former head of an enterprise behemoth like Sun would tackle such a seemingly simple consumer product, consider this: About 25% of children in the United States have a chronic condition, as do about 90% of adults over 65. That's a lot of people needing care.
And CareZone isn't limiting themselves to the U.S. market. Plans are in the work to translate the site into Spanish, Mandarin, and Portuguese. "We're attacking population centers," Schwartz says, adding with a smile, "wherever we can find families."
Expect CareZone also to grow the site, adding more features that help families manage expenses and calendars. "Each thing in that left menu," Schwartz says, pointing to the sub-sections like "Medications," "To-Dos," and "Notes," "has a lengthy roadmap of things we can do."
[Image: Flickr user Sherif Salama ]