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Pundits, prognosticators, philosophers, and practitioners: the exotic species of the health conversation on the social web

In addition to patient, healthcare professional, and provider voices on the social web, I can identify at least four other groups of participants: pundits, prognosticators, philosophers and practitioners.

Whilst no-one is really sure what the first three groups do, I offer the following notes from my field studies for the taxonomically inclined as a spotter’s guide:

The pundit’s stock-in-trade is opinion, of which they have an inexhaustible supply. You will find them more than willing to provide you with as many samples as you may require. Pundits are invariably self-employed on the basis that nobody wants to pay to be subjected to an interminable stream of passive-aggressive jibes, yet no-one knows how pundits make a living. It’s one of the great mysteries of the health conversation on the social web.

The prognosticator’s medium (no pun intended) is fortune-telling. As the colourful cultural history of sideshows and snake oil reminds us, some people, presumably incapable of making it up for themselves, have always been prepared to pay for speculation.  Whilst we’re all too polite to point it out, rather than being ‘Futurists’, the scintillating soubriquet they favour, prognosticators are ‘Nowists’, generalising about what may or may not happen at some indeterminate point in the future by extrapolating from what is happening in the present.

Yes, I know. Anyone could do this.

However, what sets the prognosticator apart from those who refrain from indulging in hypothetical heroics is their skill in convincing you to take them seriously.

The philosopher is a breed apart. Their ambition knows no bounds. Changing the world? Tweeted; completed! Philosophers don’t have opinions; they have gospels. They’re comfortable talking about their genius, and are happy to compare themselves favourably with gifted athletes, famous artists, and real philosophers.

The pragmatic practitioner is a rather drab creature compared to the other exotic phyla of participants in the health conversation on the social web.

The practitioner is aware of the fact that praxis trumps strategy, and embraces the notion that beyond the determination of a certain set of initial criteria (why, when, where, how, and with whom) defining the purpose of each health-related undertaking on the social web, everything is bespoke: built for a purpose, and adapted as it develops, from the inside.

The practitioner appreciates that metrics have little meaning within the health conversation on the social web unless they are recording self-reported quantitative or qualitative improvements in patient outcomes. Beyond that, practitioners are happy to publish reliable, relevant, discoverable content for other people to measure, should they feel compelled to do so for some inexplicable reason.

The practitioner is focused on the idea that the reception and ultimate success of any activity will be determined by how well it serves the needs of the user, not the needs of the publisher.

Communities are built day by day, follower by follower, exchange by exchange, and outcome by outcome. With this in mind, the practitioner recognises, owns, and acts upon the belief that the co-creation of care isn’t a catchphrase: it’s a methodology.

Pundits, prognosticators, philosophers, and practitioners: perhaps there is a little of each of them in all of us.

And yet whilst we may have four options, there is only one real choice.

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