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Some thoughts concerning the GoodGuide's 'about us' page.

The 'about us' page asks the following questions:

  • What chemicals are in your baby shampoo?
  • Was sweatshop labor used to make your t-shirt?
  • What products are the best, and what products should you avoid?

These questions are similar to those suggested for pubwan, and GoodGuide indeed appears to be a decision support website for the consumer public. Here we will consider the similarities and differences between GoodGuide as implemented, and pubwan as proposed.

The first question is addressed at a crude level by the databasing of ingredient lists. A more thorough approach to the problem involves lab analysis, with of course the results placed in the public domain in a pubwan-type information system.

The second question concerns sweatshop labor. Country-of-origin labeling and 'union labels' are of course well within the reach of manual data entry and simple markup. Again, the methods of disclosure are suspect. The sweatshops of the South Marianas Islands qualify for the 'Made in U.S.A.' designation, and there have always been 'yellow dog' unions. Questions of this type concern 'supply chains' and as long as supply chain information is considered proprietary, questions about what business practices a consumer is party to are of a forensic nature, and getting answers to those questions must be treated as an adversarial process. There is some hope concerning third-party certifications. The value of such certifications depend of course on detailed disclosure of the criteria.

The third question, of what products are the best, is a subjective question. Best for whom? Pubwan treats it as subjective, by starting with the assumption that each pubwan participant has their own normative criteria against which product data might be queried.

It appears that GoodGuide is serious about the part of pubwan that is about offering decision support for consumers. What remains to be seen concerning GoodGuide:

  • Is information dispensed in retail or wholesale quantities? According to the blog entry

Environmental Information to Support Behavior Change at the GoodGuide blog, GoodGuide currently offers what they term a 'firehose.' This is a good sign.

  • Is GoodGuide itself a black box? Who gathers the information? Who maintains the database? Who does the research?

It looks as if the consumer plays a passive role as simply a recipient of information. If a reader of the present page understands this impression to be wrong, please edit this page with corrections.

It appears that GoodGuide is not a full implementation of the pubwan concept as defined in the present wiki. Pubwan is analysis OF business BY consumers, whereas GoodGuide is itself a business, albeit of the newfangled 'B Corporation' type. Pubwan is about making meta-data visible to the public along with data, and would allow bulk downloads of raw data in tabular form.

The flip side of course, is that GoodGuide is at least partially implemented, whereas pubwan still exists only 'on paper,' in the present wiki. One in the hand is worth a lot more than two in the bush. We wish well the principals and other participants of GoodGuide!

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