Monthly Archives: November 2007

Is Communispace-type Community “Real” Community?

This is interesting. I’m very grateful to Julie Wittes Schlack from Communispace Corporation who commented on my blog entry from last week talking about emergent community and elaborating on Communispace’s perspective. She also gracefully corrected a few misconceptions I had, and shared lots of information, for which I thank her. I recommend you read through her comment before proceeding with the rest of my entry so that this train of thought is running along smoothly.

Julienotes that Communispace’s average member participates much more than the average member of an organic online community. She also notes that Communispace members build strong ties to the brands whose communities they participate within. Those are important differences. In organic commuinties, deep attachment to the brand usually but not always precedes participation in a brand community. When participation leads to deep attachment, this sounds a bit more like marketing, and I wonder if Communispace may be offering a hybrid of promotional WOM community with marketing research community. As Alice might say, interestinger and interestinger. More on this point later.

As she does, I think this is a productive and provocative discussion. I’m not trying to be critical or overly-confrontational here. I want to state at the outset that I think that Communispace offers companies a very valuable service. I also think that there are many, many ways to work with an study onlne consumer communities. Many ways to conceptualize them, gain insights from them, research them, and incroporate them into corporate strategy and tactics.

But I’d like to take this a step further. Asking the question above, about whether an intentionally constructed online community made of monetarily motivated individuals can provide the same insights and benefits as a community that has evolved of its own accord is a legitimate question with practical and research implications. Or, maybe it’s interesting to ask about what kinds of community seeding there are as options, and what their implications are.

Here is my thought on the topic. Off the top of my head, I believe that there are five important differences bewtween the “Communispace”-stype constructed community and the organic variant that arises on its own, which I have been participating in for the last two decades (I was a dedicated Compuserve member for a while in the 1980s, and participated in BBSs long before the wonders of Mosaic, deja.com, and usenet readers) and have been studying for the last 12 years.

1. Motivation. I question the difference in participation and information that extrinsic (rewarded by corporate payments, as with focus groups, panels, depth interviews, and so on) and intrinsic rewards (I love or hate the brand and want others to know about it and share in it).

2. Anonymity. Online anonymity is paradoxical. There are so many tags, cookies, trails and tracks that the online world can be a control freak’s dream. In many ways the Internet has turned into a gigantic panopticon. However, this tracking is counterbalanced by an amazing freedom. I think that a balanced combination of freedom and loss of privacy creates a very fruitful level of engagement in onlin communities, one that has a decade-plus long history. People will have multiple identities to express different ideas, or to flame other people. They play fluidly with identities as part of the communal interaction. But I wonder what happens to this balance when it is shifted into the constructed community model.

3. Contributions. Organic community members want to contribute. Sponsored community members are compelled and directed to contribute in certain ways–and perhaps want to contribute in those ways. As Julie’s comments make clear, it is the needs of the company which are paramount in Communispace, not the needs of the community. In sponsored communities, as Julie’s comments indicate, this leads to a more productive and efficient atmosphere. But communities are not necessarily about productivity and efficiency–those are economic goals. Sponsored communities do have wider contributions, less hierarchy, and probably more discussion around interests of focal concern to companies. But what is different, or what is lost?

4. Commercial orientation. Online communities come in many sizes, shapes, and forms. Many lifestyle communities provide very interesting, contextually-embedded informaton on brand uses, choices, and relationships. By “managing” the format, and directing it into an online brand community, the sponsored community model constructs a particular kind of interaction and commuity experience. That is useful, but again, it may not be what we’d see emerging in a natural online discourse. I suggest that we are less likely to see resistant discourse and anti-corporate or anti-brand pushback. We may be less likely to see wider contexts, or to be able to discern how incidental, noncentral, or unimportant our products and brands may be to people. I also think that these elements might be valuable to know. Julie’s comments suggest that perhaps these elements can be managed and play a part in the Communispace experience.

5. Community Restrictions. Do people in sponsored communities form strong alliances? Do they take them offline? Do they move them to SNS as well? Are they free to email each other? Can they make their own rules, control their own community experience as much as they would like? Can they discuss the topics that concern them (for instance, politics, religion), or only what concerns the brand and brand managers? Are people being put into an artifical “brand community” box for the convenience of market research data gathering? How open is that box, if it is pen? What are the effects of that closedness or openness?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I’m suggesting that we need good, qualified, third-party academic studies of the differences between prompted or sponsored community and organic or grassroots community. This is parallel to studies beginning to emerge about word of mouth marketing, which compare the managed or constructed variety of word-of-mouth marketing with the prompted or synthetic variant. 

We would all benefit from a more systematic understanding of these ideas, and rigorous research. We are heading into a new age of online communities in which we recognize and understand their use in management and marketing.

We need to devise classificatrions of the tpes of communities, the types of management of them. In the past, I have always advocated a “light touch” apprach to managing organic online communities. But companies need more specific and precise advice than this. 

I think that Communispace is a very valuable experiment and contribution to this field. It may combine the management of a promotional-type of brand community with the interests of a captive audience marketing research forum, a type of interestingly communal panel or ongoing focus group.

We have lots to learn, and valid roles for all sorts of communities, including the managed varieties. 

eTribes and Emergent Community

I’ve been solid busy with some big projects that have required my full attention this week. On Monday and Tuesday I was speaking to an International Consumer Insight Summit. They wanted to know all about….you guessed it, netnography, and that presentation gave me a great opportunity to develop some of my thinking about online community marketing and eTribes.

eTribes is a term I coined early on as a sort of abbreviation term, but now that I’ve worked with it, I am finding that it really can mean something significant and important about online tribes. Calling them tribes rather than communities is an important move for me, because tribes connotes an anthropological view that is different from the sociological view connoted by the term communities.

One of the assertions in that presentation is that the “E” in eTribes can stand for “Emergent.” I argued that eTribes spring up organically, naturally, by themselves. They don’t need to be prompted, seeded, or activated. But for many companies, the idea of seeding and creating “their” communities is extremely tempting. Doing so makes online community fit into the familiar C3 model (command and control consumers). It makes online community much less of a threat, an unknown.

It’s like a light goes on in the boardroom: “Oh yeah,” someone says. “We fence them in, we moderate them, and then they won’t criticize us and say bad things about us.” And when they ask questions that are relevant only to them, they still get some answers. Voila, instant voice of the consumer. We knew they thought the same way we did.

Companies, you want to control you consumers better. But in this Brave Net(worked) World, you’ve already lost control.

That raises a big question for me. Is there a difference between the kind of “community” or tribe you get in a “community” that is created or sponsored by a website and the one you get emerging spontaneously, implicitly motivated and flowering on its own.

Communispace is a fascinating company that pays people $10 a month to form an artifically constructed brand community (and yes, they use the brand community terminology). They sell “private” (as in gated and controlled) online communities. Every consumer is fully identified and accountable. “Bad” (non-participating) members are bumped off. Messages are moderated. Communispace act sas the buffer zone between the world of real consumers and the corporate customers.

They’ve been quite successful selling companies this model. And why not? It’s neat, it’s clean, it’s controlled. The “wild west” (as someone at the consumer insight summit called it) of eTribes is tamed and its threat contained (and there are real threats). But I wonder exactly what it is they are selling. Is this really a tribe? Does it have the hallmarks of genuine community? Or is this a dolled up panel–still valuable, but not really a community after all?

Is anyone aware of any solid research that might shed some light on these questions?

What Facebook is Up To: A Netnographic Perspective

I’ve been a big fan of Facebook for quite some time as a user. I like SNS and think it offers consumers a valuable service that helps demonstrate the linking power of the Net and some of the innate and intimate possibilities of online communities. But I’ve always subjected any class discussions of SNS and Facebook in particular to an interrogation of their business model. After all, how do you monetize those 50 million plus users? It’s cool to see them sending messages and connecting, but what do you *do* with them? Advertising is a natural play.

Well, flush with Microsoft’s cash, Facebook just yesterday revealed a part of their grand business plan, which they call “social advertising.” You can read about the story here from the New York Times. I’ll quote that story a little bit here as a set up before providing my own opinion.

“Yesterday, in a twist on word-of-mouth marketing, Facebook began selling ads that display people’s profile photos next to commercial messages that are shown to their friends about items they purchased or registered an opinion about. For example, going forward, a Facebook user who rents a movie on Blockbuster.com will be asked if he would like to have his movie choice broadcast out to all his friends on Facebook. And those friends would have no choice but to receive that movie message, along with an ad from Blockbuster.”

They can call it “social advertising” but as the article infers, this is just tarted up word-of-mouth marketing. It’s not blazingly original, but there it is. One of the main problems I see with this execution is the issue that I see with all WOM marketing: it’s a different animal from “naturally occurring” WOM. We know a lot about “organic” WOM–still very little about the prompted variety. I suspect that it is received differently. Like other forms of social business, it does blur the increasingly blurry lines between social interaction and marketing-business-advertising moment. And I suspect consumers read it differently. And maybe start to read their “friends” differently. On Facebook, where a click also disconnects (yes, you know who you are, those who I’ve ‘defriended’), it remains to be seen how people will react to being barraged by a bunch of ads by their former pals.

Really, am I to assume that when you recommend a movie to me in person because you loved it, or even when you write in a email to me about a movie you just saw that you loved, that I’m going to treat that the same way that I would one of these tacked on ads in Facebook? It’s a decent empirical question.

Let me take a moment to look at Facebook from a netnographic perspective. From that perspective, I view the rise of online community as a social phenomenon but do so from the lens of marketing. Advertising is most certainly not the whole story, and is just the tip of the iceberg. Although it does have the implication to seriously dent the Titanic of online communal interaction. I do see a range of other interesting opportunities to use Facebook and SNS as marketing tools. And they are matched by just as many challenges. Some random thoughts I could easily expand upon in future:

  1. Facebook is awash in marketing research and consumer data: big opportunities, especially when combined with Microsoft knowhow
  2. If Facebook starts using consumer data profligately, odds are consumers will turn away (anyone remember the Windows 95 experience?)
  3. Facebook is a very branded and corporate place already, in terms of its “Feel”
  4. Gen Y and Millennials are only just so tolerant of corporatizing and commoditizing before they tune out the messages (and maybe the medium)
  5. We still know very little about the way word of mouth as a “push” marketing form works (I have a major study underway, with three co-authors, that sheds some new light on this topic)
  6. There are many ways for community to form, and SNS seems to be only one particular kind–how could it be combined in interesting ways with other forms of community, like virtual worlds, or blogs? We’re just beginning those explorations/exploitations
  7. The Facebook experience seems to be fairly surface-level for the most part, but wide–not a lot of deep conversations on the publicly accessible level; lots of bite-sized comments (maybe this is ultrapostmodern life?)
  8. Facebook’s corporatism hides some interesting anti-branding and anti-brand communities that are every bit as significant as the rah-rah recommendation engine idea
  9. These are called “New Media” for a reason: the rules of the game are still being made up as we go…
  10. What really comes after advertising? What is traditional advertising morphing into? Not just social advertising, but something truly different, and extensive, inclusive of all prior forms, but growing, reaching, broadening in scope. I think Google is moving around the edges of these ideas. I think Facebook may have many more ideas in this vein as well. These are certainly interesting times to be working in the realm of web2.0, online communities, and netnography. What do *you* see?

Extending Netnography: Researching Online Communities

netnography.jpg

I’ve begun writing a bit about netnography. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, netnography is a set of guidelines for researching the communications, cultures, and communications that manifest through online or computer-mediated communications. I prepared a detailed wikipedia entry on it under virtual ethnography, but some smarmy undergrad ninny kept on editing out my entries. Isn’t that just a classic irony of online community?

Anyways, the method has been received enthusiastically and rapidly gained legitimacy as one of the premiere methods of investigating online communities and cultures within marketing. Netnographic guidelines have informed and spawned over a dozen thesis dissertations. There are currently over a dozen publications that list netnography as their primary methodology, and this number is growing quickly as many move through review. The method is featured in influential methodological volumes such as the Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods in Marketing and the Sage Dictionary of Social Research Methods and is inspiring a new generation of cultural researchers who almost automatically turn to the Internet as one of their field sites.

However, using the Internet as a field site created important challenges. The Internet is a dynamic forum of activity that is constantly shifting and changing. In the decade since I developed netnography, there have been many important changes to the research context that require investigation and further development of the method. I’m excited about the potential that these changes hold.

Netnography is faster, simpler, timelier, and much less expensive than traditional ethnography. Because its data is unelicited, it is more naturalistic and unobtrusive than focus groups, surveys, or interviews. However, my research and development have used Internet newsgroups—a forum whose use is declining—as the chief site of the method. Recently, I have been adapting the method to other online forums, such as Internet blogs (in the Belk Handbook chapter, above), but this development needs to continue and intensity. To remain relevant and useful, the method of netnography must continue to change and develop.

In addition, a range of for-profit companies have arisen that are using content analytic methods similar to and sometimes derived from netnography, including Accelovation, MotiveQuest, Cymfony, Umbria Communications, and Neilsen Buzzmetrics. These companies use software solutions to perform a type of data-mining operation on the qualitative information available on the Internet as a form of marketing research. Those methodologies are less selective and cultural than netnography, but offer greater representativeness and quantification of online data. We very much need to learn more about these companies and what they have to offer.

In past considerations of netnography, my research has considered that

  • netnography’s use of information that can be considered personal and private may post ethical issues,
  • that the massive amounts of data are often overwhelming,
  • that cultural understandings of the data require considerable researcher acuity,
  • and therefore that overviews of the data (such as the prevalent content analytic approach in business) can invite superficial and decontextualized interpretations that could lead to poor business decisions.

How does the method of netnography account for the development of the Internet since the methods original development eleven years ago? How will it account for the blogosphere, virtual worlds, SNS, mobile, and software-driven content analytic research methods? How should netnography adapt to best serve contemporary researchers and practitioners?

Just as dozens of academics and a range of actual firms have used the original netnography method, so too will all of these complex forms and adaptations be needed and useful to a range of academics, such as those in marketing and consumer research, and to businesspeople, such as marketing researchers, consultants, marketing research firms, and companies with in-house marketing research, innovation, R&D, and other teams that benefit from having access to novel consumer insights.

The Business of Netnography

I haven’t blogged very much on netnography, or on practical, workbench marketing very much so far. That’s all about to change, as I start blogging about the doing of marketing and how I see it changing, particularly with the introduction of methods of online community marketing research.

In the last few months, I’ve been hearing increasingly from individuals and companies who are both interested in using netnography to increase their access to consumer insight, and those who are actually using it. It’s not a big part of the market research business yet, but it is growing very rapidly.

Netnography, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a marketing and consumer research method that uses the information that is publicly available in online spaces in order to gain insights into consumers that are useful for research or practical purposes. The term is a portmanteau which combines the anthropological method of ethnography with the “Net” site of online community and cyberculture. But it is moving beyond its initial contexts and broadening its base.

Ever since I introduced netnography to the market research field in 1996, I have been developing and broadening the method. I developed it initially for bulletin boards, but I recently broadened it to include blogging, and am working on adapting it to the study of mobile, gaming, social networking sites, and virtual worlds. Each “realm” has its own characteristics that require customization, and I’m always looking for partners in this work (corporations, fellow scholars, Ph.D. students). I’ve been fortunate to have a few new Ph.D. student join me recently to continue and broaden this work.

In terms of practical impact, the method is beginning to spread. Not only are there a number of great academic articles being published using netnography, but a number of market research firms and companies are deploying the method.

One firm I’ve had the good fortune of being in contact with is Accelovation, an exciting new startup out of San Francisco run by MIT/Sloan MBA Grad Michael Osofsky. Yesterday, Michael published this very interesting and well-informed piece on netnography on imediacommection that you might be interested in. This version of netnography uses automated tools to help with data collection. You might also be interested in Michael’s excellent blog, in particular this entry where he talk about my work, and where he calls me (in very stately fashion I might add) “The Father of Netnography”).

At ACR in Memphis last week, I had the good fortune to meet and spend some time with two professors (Johannes Gebauer and Johann Fueller) from Munich who are also selling netnography services to businesses in Germany, though their very interesting marketing research company “Hyve.” You can read about what they offer and call “Netnographic Insights” in this entry from their web-site.

Is there anyone else out there doing netnography?

I know that there are a lot of companies doing related types of data gathering using online communities, companies like BuzzMetrics and Cymfony. I’m going to start overviewing these firms and their offerings, and would love to hear from companies and people who are doing related work so we can share ideas and so I can profile you on my blog. I’ve taught the method to hundreds of MBA students over the years, so I’d be surprised if the method hasn’t diffused quite a bit into industry. Someone recently told me that General Mills is using the methods internally.

I’m going to start blogging more on this topic of netnography, which is probably the single most influential area that I work in. So look forward to hearing more about Michael Osofsky and Johannes Gebauer soon. And to lots more from me on the elaboration and development of netnography, the method of online anthropology.

Organic Intellectuals: Is “Organic-is-Better” a Branding Scam?

Last week I posted a question that I have been wondering about in my daily life as a consumer. Are organic foods really “healthier” or “better for the planet” in some ways than conventionally grown foods? Can these assertions be reasonably supported? What about veggie and fruit washes? Are food washed with them actually freer of pesticides as compared to organic foods, or not?The topic also cuts to the heart of some of my recent postings. First, because it involves an important consumer choice that more and more people are making. In particular, if I don’t really want to “choose” to eat a range of invisible dangerous chemical pesticides and to release them into the environment, and I don’t want to “choose” to eat and support genetically modified foods, then I need to choose to buy and eat organic food. Secondly, thinking and writing about organic foods seems to me to be a good practical way to demonstrate what Gramsci called the “organic intellectual” engagement with real issues in the real world, treated in a serious and thorough way and shared openly through public forums, of which the Internet is the participative public forum par excellence.

There were two very interesting comments that were posted, one by Greg Dunlop and the other by “L Scoop.” I’d like to share them with you, and expand the topic a little bit, based particularly on Greg’s comments to me in a recent email (which he agreed to let me share).

First, let me share with you a little of Greg’s background. He has “both an Environmental Biology background and a Marketing background” and is very interested in “the whole area of environmentalism, green marketing and consumers.” He says that I “struck a nerve” with him when I used the word “organic” in my blog and posed those questions.

On my blog, Greg’s comments about organic foods were pretty skeptical. “When it comes to organic food, science goes out the window and hype and marketing take over,” he said, stating that he doesn’t “buy the basic premise that organic food is healthier washed or unwashed!”

“In fact I can argue you should wash the organic produce more as organic production relies on organic fertilizer (aka cow dung) whereas conventional can use either synthetic (man-made)or the natural (cow-made)fertilizer. You don’t need a microbiology degree to know that manure is laced with E-coli and other harmful bacteria. I digress though… what I really wanted to do was to bring this into a marketing context. “Organic” has become a brand … what do you think about when you hear the word organic. Healthy, safe, pesticide free, small family farms, better for the environment. The organic industry, and yes it is an industry, has done a good job at branding. But these are all myths (and mostly urban ones at that!)

  • Myth 1 – Organic food are healthier - Study after study has confirmed that their is no difference in the nutrional value whether or safety of organic food. I can supply the references on request.
  • Myth 2 – Organic farmer don’t use pesticides – Wrong! - they use so-called organic pesticides. They are approved for organic production because they are not synthetic or man-made. The list of approved organic pesticides includes nicotine, tin and copper based compounds, sulfur etc.- some of these are being pulled from the market because of heavy metal buildup in the soil. An organic grape grower in CA has to apply 10 – 20 applications of sulfur at 20 pounds per acre in each spray to control fungal diseases. A conventional grower uses maybe 5 sprays of a modern highly effective and highly tested synthetic fungicide at ounces per acre. I know which one I would prefer to get my wine from.
  • Myth 3 – Organic production methods are better for the environment - There is so many ways that this is wrong! First – there are no organic herbicides used in food production – they simply do not exist. Organic growers must rely on mechanical cultivation that burns fuel and can lead to greater soil erosion or the use of fallow and/or cover crops thereby taking land out of production and reducing yields. Organic production has lower yields. All the land that can or should grow crops in the world is being used to produce food. If low yield organic farming techniques were to be used throughout the world we would need to drain the swamps and cut down the forests to make way for more land. High yield farming prevents environmental degradation by producing more on an acre of land. There are other myths relating to organic production that I won’t get into here but the basic premise behind the organic craze is this the biggest myth of all … natural good, synthetic bad! This argument has nothing to do about science … it is about philosophy! If it make you feel better to eat an organic apple … washed or unwashed then go ahead. But don’t tell me that an organic apple is healthier. Both are healthy and that is the point. Eating apples or other fruits and vegetables is the best thing we can do to fight cancer. The process behind getting it to you is unimportant. We are lucky to live in an affluent society (made this way ironically because of modern agriculture) and debate the nuances about the food we eat and not have to worry about our basic sustenance.

Greg gives a reference article here on the topic of Marketing & The Organic Food Industry http://www.cgfi.org/publications/Marketing_The_Organic_Food_Industry and suggests that interested thinkers might consider picking up a copy of the book “The Truth about Organic Foods” by Alex Avery.

Keeping an open mind is a good thing, and difficult when we really have no at-hand and reliable sources of information about the pros and cons of one particular food choice (or other kind of choice) over another. Potter and Heath, in their excellent book “Rebel Sell,” assume a similarly skeptical posture towards organic, calling the organic certification process, in effect, a legitimation scheme that was controlled and railroaded by a bunch of radical hippie extremists.

In his email to me, Greg expands on his ideas and links them to branding and marketing. He then advocates a more moderate position, where extremism is not seen as a sensible path. It strikes me as pretty sensible, in fact.

“In a generic sense, people use labels as a short cut to understanding the complexity of the world around us. They come to believe certain “truths” based on their values, experiences, emotions and of course the influences of government, NGO’s, companies, media, authority figures, peers, neighbors, family and friends. Ideas or issues become like brands. Organic is a brand. Ethanol is a brand. Fair trade coffee is a brand. These are just as much brands in today’s world as a Big Mac, and in many ways shape consumer choices both directly and indirectly much more so then what McDonald’s could ever dream about. But I like to dig deeper into some of brands, like peeling back the layers of an onion, and with my science background to understand the scientific “truths”. Just as we know the truths about the fat content of a Big Mac and that a steady diets of Big Macs is not too healthy, we also recognize that a Big Mac once in a while is not unhealthy either. With fat, sodium, sugar or whatever people are concerned about in their diet are people starting to recognize the idiom “the dose determines the poison” and therefore “everything in moderation please”?

So, that’s Greg’s perspective. L. Scoop actually had a very different perspective which was much more favorable to organic foods and the organic brand as a signal of real food quality and nutritional difference.

I’m no expert on this but I think there are two different things going on here. One, the thing that you’re talking about, is the safety of the food that you are eating….in that vein, you need to consider the type of fruit or vegetable that you are eating. In some of them, where the skin is very thin or you are likely to eat the entire fruit (including skin), you are more likely to have a situation where the fruit might not be that safe with or without a wash…for instance, if I were to buy something non-organic, it would be something like an avocado or a melon (where I discard the thick skin) rather than any type of berry or green bean where I would eat the entire thing. But, let’s say you’re careful and maybe with non-organic pesticide free produce or produce that is specially washed, you can get rid of all or most of the chemical concerns. Next, and more important in the long term, is the NUTRIENT VALUE of the fruits and vegetables that you are eating. And that’s where Organic produce has incomparable value compared to other types of produce. Do some research and that’s where the real value of organic produce lies. Victoria Boutenko has some of this information in your books, and I’m sure you can also find it elsewhere.

Now, I did look up the Boutenko site and apparently this is a family that has some serious health issues a while back and decided to switch to a diet of raw organic food. Apparently, this made major differences to their health. The site and associated books seem to me to be an advocacy site for an eating style that involves raw, rather than cooked, food, and there is no doubt that raw food has a superior nutrition profile when compared to cooked food. But does organic food really have a superior nutrient profile? That claim seemed suspect to me so I investigated it further.

I recently bought a book called “What To Eat” by Marion Nestle. Nestle, who doesn’t seem to be connected to the Swiss food company, is a nutrition professor and she has offered in this book a very thorough, well-documented, scientific but also eminently readable guide to what foods to ear for what reasons. The recommendation by Michael Pollan (and author whose work I like very much) on the cover certainly helped to sell me on the book.

Dr. Nestle says in her book that testing such assertions proves extremely difficult, but that it is likely that organic produce, grown in better and richer soil, may be slightly higher in nutritional value than matched produce grown in poorer soil conventionally. That’s isn’t really a very strong assertion. According to her fruits and vegetables are “better” because they are organic, “but not necessarily for nutritional reasons.” She cites a former head of the nutrition department at Columbia University who says that people should probably choose organic for reasons other than that they might contain “a little more carotene or zinc” (which, considered in the long run and in the entire nutritional picture, amounts to something fairly insignificant). Instead, it is the preservation of natrual resources, the reduction in water, air, and soil pollution, and the solution of environmental problems that are the bigger attractors. So, actually,nutritional benefit is apparently *not* where the real benefit of organic lie.
We’re getting two very different pictures here. The skeptics, who are informed. And the advocates, who are informed. I’m certainly not insisting that all of my food be organic, but I know several people who are. I have been shifting more of my food consumption to organic, but it’s really still just a small fraction of what I eat. But I’m wondering, each time I grocery shopping in fact, what I should do. And those decision, multiplied over hundreds of millions of people, are having major impacts on the food industry. Do they make sense? What is the opportunity cost of the money we collectively spend supporting organic agriculture?

What do you think? Who should we believe? How should we be making these important choices?