Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Minus the Wonk

I'm a huge fan of both and Politifact.  Both do great, important work.  So I'm pleased to see that featured an email from me in this week's Mailbag!

Unfortunately, I'm guessing due to space or time constraints, they chose not to publish the full email which included a bit more information and analysis on what I felt was a missing component of their coverage of the healthcare summit.

I've copied my full email below for anyone interested:


You did a great job covering covering the healthcare summit and I was particularly pleased to see your section "Premium Costs, Up or Down" laying out the facts on the exchange between Obama and Alexander.  I dug into this subject myself, debating with a friend, and found your analysis to be quite accurate.

There was one thing, though, that was missing that I wish you'd taken up.  Obama basically suggested that the reason average premiums go up in the individual market is because people are paying more for more comprehensive insurance.  As you note, this is partially because of the mandate and partially just because if people can suddenly afford better plans, some will opt for them.

You also write:

And as we’ve seen, the bill generally would require more generous coverage than is currently provided, at higher cost. Overall, premiums in the individual market would go up, not down. Some in the nongroup market might choose to keep their current policy, with no changes. The legislation would permit that for a few years.

But I would have loved to have seen you take up what happens to the price tag of a policy in the individual market, comprehensive enough to meet the mandate, if the legislation passes.

In other words, Obama pointed out that people are paying more because, for various reasons, they're getting more.  Hence the story of "average premiums" rising.  But what happens to the price tag on a comprehensive individual policy if the bill is enacted?  If I'm reading this paper (pdf) by Jonathan Gruber (based on CBO #s and analyzing the Senate bill) correctly, that price tag goes down significantly - by about 20%.

But I could be misinterpreting something.  I would love to see you amend your post to include just a couple sentences on this count.


Walter Frick

As I noted, I could be missing something.  However, Politifact covered this as well, and addressed my concern.  Here they are relying on CBO numbers, as is Gruber in the paper I linked to above:

• Average premiums would be 7 percent to 10 percent lower because of a net reduction in costs to insurers, mostly from the changes in the rules governing the individual market.
• Average premiums would be 7 percent to 10 percent lower because of a shift in the types of people obtaining coverage. Most of that change is tied to an influx of healthier people with below-average spending for health care, who would purchase coverage because of subsidies and a new tax penalty for failing to purchase insurance.
As Politifact notes, this was the basis of Obama's claim that individual premiums would decrease 14 to 20%.

UPDATE: An AP fact check examines the issue.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sponsored Convo Twitter-style

So, as my Social Networking & Business class is over I am definitely not posting much these days. I'm hoping to be live with a new site/blog within the next month or two.

But in the meantime, here's a follow-up on my post on sponsored conversation: sponsored tweets.
Izea is planning a launch of a new ad platform called "Sponsored Tweets." And just like it sounds, this new spinoff will pay people to tweet.

In my post on sponsored conversation I really tried to be open-minded about the whole concept and to respect Chris Brogan's argument that it's important to experiment with ways to monetize blogs. But I fear that the desperate throng of people and businesses focused purely on monetizing the social web may destroy the norm of authenticity which has helped make it so great in the first place.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Class is over

My Social Networking & Business class is over now, so it's unclear whether or not I'll be updating this blog with any frequency.

I'm planning to launch a new blog in the near future, focused on the internet and the public sphere. In the meantime, while that is in the works, I may post intermittently here. Or you can follow me on Twitter @wfrick, though I am not a particularly prolific Twitterer.

Re: my previous post - Second Life was absolutely fascinating/insane. It was like World of Warcraft + The Sims + a chat room. I don't know that I really found it all that enjoyable, but I am going to try to make time to log in again soon and explore a little more to try to make sense out of the whole thing.

Blogging for this class has been a lot of fun and I appreciate all those who have come by the site and especially those who have left comments.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The "Avatar Age"

This Wednesday I'll be trying Second Life for the first time during the final session of class. While my professor and classmates will all be in on campus trying it out, I will be in Baltimore at a conference and so I'll be joining them "in world."

I can't say that I really know what to expect. I don't know where to place virtual worlds like Second Life within the broader Web 2.0 phenomenon. What really distinguishes a person's or a company's presence in Second Life from their presence in the blogosphere or on social networks? An avatar? I'm guessing it's much more than that and I hope to have a better sense of what it's all about after Wednesday's class.

Jackie has a post about how "in world" meetups differ from in person meetups but I guess I'm even more interested in how virtual worlds differ from other types of social networking platforms.

What can you do in Second Life that you can't do elsewhere on the web? I know you can buy things, talk to people, and even attend classes "in world." But you can do all that online with a variety of other tools as well. So other than the avatar, what is it that makes virtual worlds useful?

Anyway, I'm definitely still in the "I don't get it" phase with virtual worlds. But unlike Zaid, I won't knock it til I've tried it!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

With 'experts' like this, who needs amateurs?

Andrew Keen is one of the better known pop-critics of Web 2.0 and he is worried that the internet is creating a culture that no longer values expertise.

Keen is completely dismissive of claims by so-called "digital utopians" who he believes see in Web 2.0 the fulfillment of their Marxist, libertarian, relativist, post-modern, or counter-enlightenment philosophies. (If web 2.0 could create agreement between all of those camps that in itself would be impressive.)

Says Keen:
These enabling technologies have simply reopened America’s old wounds about the role and meaning of intellectual authority, economic privilege, social class, cultural authority, and political power. The debate about the value of social media is really a conversation about the legitimacy of our free-market meritocracy.
I believe in a meritocracy in which our individual worth is valued by our professional accomplishments.
But regardless of whether or not you agree with him about meritocracy, Keen's arguments are simply not convincing on his own terms. Even if you accept his preference for traditional expertise, his analysis of the web gets it wrong on both the theoretical and the practical level.

First, the theoretical:
I argue that Web 2.0’s gatekeeper-free media—without professional fact checkers, grammarians, and publishers—is by definition less accurate, reliable, and honest than professionally edited newspapers, encyclopedias, or books.
There are a couple of things worth noting about that statement. First, the claim that we now live in a gatekeeper-free media environment is controversial. Sure, everyone can publish their views, but not everyone's views are heard equally. Google is a new kind of gatekeeper, but Keen doesn't bother to consider what this means for his argument.

Second, I take issue with the claim that today's media environment should be viewed as, by definition, less accurate, reliable, and honest than our pre-2.0 media.

Personal blogs, Twitter, and Wikipedia exist in a media environment alongside traditional sources of "expert" information like The New York Times. Keen refers multiple times to Harvard professors whom he trusts more than anonymous teenagers. But the web has empowered the Harvard professor every bit as much as it has everyone else. (He admits as much towards the end of the article.)

The question, then, is whether an information environment containing both traditional experts and amateurs is intrinsically worse than an information environment that contains only the former.

I argue that it is not.

In practice, Keen is concerned that all the amateurism of web 2.0 is keeping us from finding quality expert content:
We really are all journalists and writers and filmmakers now—which means, in practice, that genuinely valuable journalism and writing get lost in all the self-authored junk on the internet.
But this statement isn't borne out by the literature on the structure and organization of the web. If anything, it's the self-authored "junk" that gets lost in the process of organizing content through search and through link patterns, which follow a winner-take-all power-law distribution. (Expert analysis on this topic here here and here.)

In fact, it's never been easier to find expert content. Universities are making their courses available for free online and professors from all over the world are blogging.

Thanks to the web, we are living in the age of Public Intellectual 2.0.

But Keen seems content to ignore the fact that amateur expression lives alongside of expert content, and that the web makes it easier, not harder, to find experts.

He'd prefer to exist in his own narrative in which he stands for the preservation of quality, culture, and intellectualism.

And that's fine. Thanks to Web 2.0 he can publish all he wants.

But given how easy it is to find more serious (and, yes, more expert) analysis of the way the web really works, I won't be adding Andrew Keen to my RSS reader any time soon.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Elite Social Networking

In the fall of 2006, during my senior year of college, I took a career class that aimed to help students recognize their interests and successfully navigate the job search process. During the course my teacher invited us to join a new, invite-only social networking site called Doostang.

At the time, the invite to Doostang seemed like a great opportunity. Time Magazine said it was "Facebook for the Morgan Stanley crowd." Though I had no interest in Morgan Stanley or the world of finance, the exclusivity of the site still somehow seemed to be a feature rather than a bug.

But the site proved difficult to use. Many of the job listings could not be accessed unless you had successfully brought in 10 new users to Doostang. This was only a couple of years ago, but most of the people I knew thought of social networking as a quick way to lose a job, not get one.

Unable to attract the requisite number of new users, I soon stopped signing into Doostang, and I had completely forgotten about it until the class reading on LinkedIn.

It appears that Doostang still exists, and perhaps it fills a niche. But I think I'd of been better served if my teacher had just sent me to LinkedIn and insisted I join.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Just say NO to social media

This article in BtoB, a marketing magazine, outlines a few situations in which companies should avoid using social media:

You're in a high-ticket business. If you can count your customers on your fingers and toes, and if those customers spend tens of millions of dollars with you each year, you're probably better off using the phone, the golf course and the dinner table to deliver your message. This also goes for financial services firms with wealthy customers who prefer to keep their activities—and that of their financial advisers— private.

You fight with your employees. I recently consulted for a client in the heavy equipment industry. More than 80% of its work force is unionized, and management-labor strife is a constant. This is not an environment for encouraging direct interactions between employees and customers. While opening up the lines of communication may work in industries with a motivated and highly technical work force, it's a potential disaster if employees use that channel to trash management.

Management skepticism. In a recent study of 50 early adopters of Web 2.0 technology, McKinsey & Co. concluded that the key characteristic of successful organizations was high-level support. Social media strategies demand transparency, and employees accustomed to years of careful message filtering are understandably suspicious of being asked to speak openly. If management doesn't encourage and reward participation, the initiative will fail.

Strategic vacuum. One of the most common mistakes marketers make is to launch a social media campaign without having any idea what they're trying to accomplish. Very often this approach is driven by fascination with a tool, but tools are no good unless you know what to do with them. If you don't have an objective, then you don't know what to measure, which means you have no way to determine success. Your social media project will be cut in the next round of belt-tightening. And an objective shouldn't be to launch a product or distribute a press release. If you do it right, conversations should continue for years.

Privacy and regulatory concerns. While a few health care companies have started blogs and social networks, most are proceeding with justifiable caution. If you're in an industry where people can go to jail for what they say in public, you should be careful. Much as I hate to say it, you should probably get the lawyers closely involved.
Items 1, 2, and 5 seem to me to be good reasons not to use social media. But items 3 and 4, Management Skepticism and Strategic Vacuums, are just reasons not to jump into social media right now. They're not necessarily proof that social media won't be valuable.

So convince management, come up with a coherent goals-oriented strategy, and get to it!

[Via ReadWriteWeb.]