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    Online forums are one of the earliest means of group communication on the internet. Since the dial-up bulletin board systems of the 80’s, this type of social software has exploded in popularity. Even today as more and more systems for communication spring up, forums remain one of the most prevalent. But when businesses look at implementing forums some concerns may hinder the process.

    Two of the most prevalent are the questions of who will moderate the forum and how. The fear of a few disconcerted individuals damaging the company by publicly posting unfavorable comments can give rise to these concerns. And consequently, some may determine, the protection against this sort of attack is to require that all postings be reviewed before going public or shortly thereafter, promptly removing all unsavory comments. After all, we control the forum, right?

    Wrong. This argument, however well-intentioned, represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what a forum is and how it can benefit businesses. The first and most important principle that we must all understand and accept before proceeding with such an initiative is this: the web is not ours, the people on the web are not ours, the conversations happening on the web are not ours, and therefore, our forum is not ours.

    A forum cannot exist without the users who contribute to it. And we will not have users if we put ourselves between them and their conversations. While we will have moderators, their roles will focus on maintaining the integrity of the forums not selectively censoring the opinions that cast a harsh light on our company. And since moderators generally focus on how users communicate and not what they say, moderators can come from any department or level of expertise. For a concise overview of the responsibilities of forum moderators read the wiki on forum moderators.

    That being said, it is important that our experts actively participate in the forum so that our knowledge and efforts are represented accurately and frequently. And certainly, what is true for external users is true for internal users- we must not try and restrict or require approval for postings from our employees. Any attempt at a broad approval system for messages that reach the public through our forum is not only a tremendous waste of resources but a mistake that would damage our response time, credibility, and influence on the forum and off. Those of us who will participate in the forum will do so at their own discretion. And we should encourage them to be as open and as honest as possible. Besides, if we do not trust our people to faithfully represent us then maybe they shouldn’t be our people.

    This could mean that as the forum grows the demand on our staff to respond to the contributions of others will surpass our willingness or capability to do so. At which point the threat of an opponent coming in and showering an unchecked hail of criticisms may seem very real. How appalling would it be if our own forum overwhelmingly decried our faults and persuaded the world we are little more than pseudo-scientific miracle workers? Perhaps this is the most acute reservation that some of us hold against public exposure- our potential inability to represent ourselves well enough under the scrutiny of the public eye. Indeed, I’m rather curious myself about how well some of us will embrace the responsibilities of this form of communication.

    But that is a challenge, not a limitation. No business is perfect, we will make mistakes and we will be exposed of them. And we will be accused of mistakes we never made. But no matter how great the opposition, our voices will be heard. We’ve never let fear of failure deter us from what we knew to be right before. Why start now?


    The revolution of the web is transforming the way businesses communicate with their customers. An idea that was before frightening or practically infeasible is becoming a common-place goal of businesses that cater to online customers. Transparency between businesses and consumers (or the appearance of it) is popping up all over the web with astounding consequences.

    Robert Gorell discusses the need for it and offers some useful tips in his Transparency Imperative. Larry Prusak discusses trust and social capital within the organisation. Biztalk has a take on online transparency. Wired recently published an article describing one under-dog’s triumph over competitors with the aid of a series of unrelentingly honest blog entries. And there are many, many more…

    Some of the key points that I have found are:

    The attraction of global word-of-mouth marketing marginalises the risks of publicly acknowledging a company’s faults or mistakes. Word-of-mouth marketing is free, and with the web it’s more powerful than ever. By engaging users who are willing to speak out, you encourage them to continue, thus perpetuating the conversation and expanding our reach and relevance.

    “Showing that your business is willing to address the customer’s concerns generates positive word-of-mouth.” People who receive direct and honest responses to their complaints, even if the company has been unable to resolve the issue, are more likely to continue using the company’s products than those who don’t. This is straight out of the Customer Service basics manual. But when this exchange is publicly documented, such responsiveness and care is appreciated by many more than the one directly touched customer.

    Online conversations about our business are already happening. Not providing a forum where people can discuss your services does not prevent them from doing so- it might instead force them to go to competitor’s site where the audience is biased against us, or a forum where other such shunned voices gather to decry our silence (and implied guilt). The impact of conversations we are not a part of will be far more detrimental to our cause than those that we create, contribute to, and encourage.

    “Transparency will give people a context for change, allowing them to accept it more quickly.” By communicating our efforts, passions, and ideas the world is far more likely to support the paradigm shift we see happening. And there’s no better medium for this exchange than the web.

    Censorship and transparency are like peanut butter and mayonnaise. “Nothing will send the external blogosphere into a hair-pulling tizzy like negative comments being censored out of corporate self-interest. One of the surest ways to lose credibility is not to take the good with the bad and the ugly.”

    Sincerity predicates transparency. “Nobody wants to read a blog that’s essentially just an advertising vehicle. At best, this approach is worthless to the customer; at worst, it’s a disingenuous turn-off that can damage brand affinity.” Any company that attempts to speak with a human voice must try really hard not to sound like a robot.

    And I leave with this: transparency is the child of necessity in this age of interconnectivity. How businesses traditionally communicated with consumers was shattered by the web, and to survive we must begin to openly persue the values we’ve built our company on: honesty and integrity.

    Web conversations and mainstream medicine

    The company I work for, Metametrix Clinical Laboratory, is on the leading edge of research in etiologically-focused medicine. We develop tests that help identify the root cause of chronic illnesses, an area of medicine known as functional medicine. This approach to patient care, while not widely accepted or endorsed in large part by the mainstream medical establishment (or their drug company financiers), is fundamentally obvious and intuitive when taken at face value. Consider this analogy: when your car engine light comes on, do you try and figure out why the light is on and fix the problem, or do you simply try and turn the light off- ignoring the cause? It is deeply depressing to me that many people do not view most drugs as such: a mechanism for turning off the warning signs.

    Why do such few people know about functional medicine? Why is our industry only a very small niche of the largest industry in the world: health care? Why don’t more medical establishments teach and promote the constantly developing science that supports etiological medicine? Why are we killing ourselves with over prescribed drugs and ignorance of nutritional and environmental influences?

    Health care is divided into two categories: disease management, and disease causality. Disease management focuses on applying a canned ‘diagnosis’ and prescribing a treatment that mitigates the signs and symptoms of the disease. Whereas disease causality focuses on identifying the underlying cause of the disease and applying treatment at that level. Symptom-relief vs. Disease-relief.

    Unfortunately, the vast majority of medicine focuses on disease management. Why? Well, disease causality is infinitely more difficult to identify, it’s not a very good business model- consumers overwhelmingly prefer fast-food medicine, and… people just don’t know about the alternatives.

    But truth will prevail. A paradigm shift is on the horizon- supported by the scientific community, growing numbers of doctors and clinicians fed up with the fast-food medicine, and the alarmingly high rate of chronically ill patients discovering that the fast-food approach to medicine is not only inadequate but has actually contributed to their deteriorating health.

    Read one doctor’s take on this Transition in Clinical Medicine.

    All of us at Metametrix feel the often overwhelming potential that exists in this new paradigm of medicine. We’re nervous and excited and hopeful. The research we are a part of can not only save peoples lives but can vastly improve the quality of life on this planet. As we strive to fully understand the extraordinary complexity of the body and perfect our methods of measuring the body’s metabolic, genetic, and cellular function, we continually move towards complete solutions to disease. This is the future of medical science and health care.

    Right now mainstream medicine is stuck on the idea that we can artificially make super humans- just take this drug and you won’t need your mitochondria to function all that well. Just take some amphetamines and you’ll be able to concentrate unnaturally well. Problems with sleep? Here’s some downers, you’ll sleep like a log.

    Why not concentrate our efforts on helping the body function the way it has evolved to function, instead of making it function the way that’s convenient for us right now? Sure we have done remarkable things and saved many lives with advances in drugs. But drugs should be relegated to the domain of emergency care. Use them if you have to, but don’t delude yourselves that there’s a drug fix for every problem.

    However, for certain powerful interests that is a very hard pill to swallow. Drug companies want you to think that they’ve got all the answers. For any problem, just ask your doctor about pill xyz and you’ll be back to ‘normal.’ It’s sick, really. These people are killing us, and they know it. Where large sums of money are involved, ethics fly right out the window. They come up with half-baked studies that ‘prove’ thesafety and effectiveness of a drug then bribe, coerce, or cajole the powers that could prevent the product’s launch. And when they finally have a stamp of approval from the FDA, they choke one-way media with adverts so thoroughly that you can’t watch and not agree.

    But there is hope. The world is changing in more ways than one. The rise of the Internet and the explosive growth of the web offer new possibilities for truth to prevail. As the old marketing principles born in the era of industrialization slowly fade to irrelevance, the new media of the collective web is supplanting it at a rapid pace. We now live in a world where an idea can spread like wildfire, even if the idea hurts powerful financial interests. Practically every human can have a voice- and any voice will carry just as far as we need it to. Humanity yearns for truth and growth and survival, and the more we learn to give humanity a voice the more we will see what our society truly needs.

    As individuals we understand our limits- we cannot be experts at everything, so we rely on others for help. This fundamental characteristic of humanity is largely responsible for our species survival. And as our numbers grew we invented ways of disseminating to the masses the information from the experts. We discovered print media, radio, and tv. And we continued to thrive and grow into ‘developed’ nations of individuals. But the only way this growth was possible was through a top-down hierarchy, where a few powerful individuals decided what the majority needed to know. This is still largely how we operate.

    But the web is starting to change all of that. The web is a decentralized network of individuals. There is no one power that decides what is important and what is not. We all do. We no longer have to sit passively and accept what the establishment deems important enough to occupy a time-slice on tv, or a section on the front page of the newspaper. We actively seek our sources of information- we search. And by choosing our sources, we impact their visibility, and effectively delineate useful information from garbage. There has never been a medium of communication and information dissemination that rewards quality, relevance, and importance as much as the web does.

    This is why I believe the web is our strongest ally in this battle against fast-food medicine. Here we have a voice, and here all the voices of the hopeless chronically ill, discouraged doctors, and forward thinking practitioners can come together and converse. And maybe we’ll discover that the paradigm shift is well underway.

    Why I Love the Web

    I don’t need to tell you why the web is important. I don’t need to list all the various success stories and revolutionary advances in web technologies and how they impact our world. You already understand, if only subconsciously, the tremendous power of a world of interconnected human minds. Together we are changing the rules of business, economics, innovation, growth, communication, and self-fulfillment. You can feel it in your gut- the anxiety of knowing that an explosion is about to happen, but you don’t know exactly when or what to do after. This is a natural feeling- we have it so that we act when the world needs us to. And right now the world is needing massive change.

    This new era began (for me) in the early 90′s. Raised on an Apple computer, I discovered the wonderous online world when we signed up for AOL on one of the early Macintoshes. I remember the day distinctly- the screeching of the modem, the AOL pyramid, and the key that opened it… magic to the eyes of a 8 year old. That day marked the beginning of my growth as an internet savvy technophile. Some years later I would host my first server on Hotline over my 56K dial up. I established my first alias, HackMac, worked my way into the ‘underground’ crowd and made some smart friends. The top dog at the time was a fellow named The Weasel who ran the popular HackAddict server and e-zine. We all looked up to him, desperate for the scraps he’d throw us now and again when he’d make an appearance. Besides, he was the preeminent Macintosh hacker on Hotline- think Crash Override from ‘Hackers’- he was uber rad. When I began email correspondence with him over an article I wrote for HackAddict describing methods of ripping off coke machines and payphones, I thought I had somehow ‘made it’ and I was ‘connected’ to the underground hacker culture. Pure adolescent nirvana- Christmas paled in comparison.

    When The Weasel moved on to bigger and better things (his life) we all felt a void. Well, maybe I more than most. I decided to try and continue his legacy and edit the next generation of Macintosh hacking e-zines: Happle. It was pretty much a flop. I was just getting into a life of my own, and hormones were telling me that trying to get laid was a more important endeavor than trying to find writers and readers for a little known hacking e-zine. I passed the buck onto a british friend named Jambo (who went on to publish another 4 more editions) and completely dropped out. That was over ten years ago.

    That, like all first experiences of an important passion, left an indelible impression on me. For the first time in my life I connected with individuals from all around the world, and we accepted each other for our common interests and the pleasure of interchanging ideas. I didn’t realize it then, but this was more than just a neat way to communicate with distant peoples, this was the beginning of the future of human interaction- the infancy of a fully-realized world of interconnected minds.

    Hello World

    I’m back to the world of blogging! This time with a vengance. Let’s hope the blogosphere is accomodating…

    That’s the funny thing about the web, though. You can be assured they’ll be space for you. It’s just the matter of finding the space in your life for the web that gets tricky. I wonder what drives some people to become prolific bloggers? It’s not that hard to imagine, I suppose… the idea of conversation among all connected individuals sharing common interest, the unrestricted realm of ideas, the power of viral content, and the promise of recognition… or maybe people do it simply because they can. And by writing they discover worlds they never knew before… worlds within.

    It’s something different for everyone, I’m sure. For me, what keeps bringing me back, is the potential of a presence on the web- the faint but steady hope that someday these writings will be worth something. Not a $ value, but the value of achievement, recognition, and influence. Part of me screams that this is no worthy motivation- this is a selfish and ultimately useless motivation. But the other part, one I can’t ignore, tells me to press on with desire and accomplish what I’ve been set here to accomplish. And the whole of me waffles… today I write, what for? Who cares. Today I’ll create the product of my desire. Today I act.

    Hello, world.

    Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.