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Insurance Web Portals and Online Self-Help

Sites such as Barnes & Noble's Quamut show that there's growing demand on the Web for trusted, expert advice. Why couldn't a carrier leverage its brand recognition and create a Web site for trusted insurance information?

Even considering wikis and social networking and user generated content, I still think the most important development to emerge from the Web 2.0 movement has been users increased tendency to go online for self-help and to seek educational opportunities to handle their everyday problems.This isn't earth shattering stuff, but in more and more cases, people are eschewing the more traditional ways of seeking out answers and, instead, developing trusted relationships with Internet sources.

Don't understand a word in a book you're reading? Forget Merriam-Webster and try dictionary.com.

Need to learn the basics before you start investing? Who needs a financial planner when there's The Motley Fool?

Have a book report due tomorrow on Isben's A Doll House? Why waste time searching Barnes & Noble for a Cliffs Notes, when you can check out SparkNotes?

Speaking of Barnes & Noble, the bookseller has recently made a major splash in the realm of online self-help with the launch of Quamut.com, a (poorly named) Web site that offers how-to information on a wide array of topics. Certainly, the concept of a Self-help Web site is not new.

There's already HowStuffWorks.com, not to mention Wikipedia, a site that can bring curious Web surfers up to speed on just about any topic or subject imaginable. However, as a recent New York Times article points out, B&N is banking that users will view Quamut's content as coming from a trusted source.

from the New York Times: Quamut is the latest brand to capitalize on what company executives said is a growing disinclination among Web users for amateur how-to advice. Whether that distaste can support a departure from Barnes & Noble's core business is a question investors will be considering. *** Quamut pays a team of freelance writers to create those, which are vetted by the company's editors. Those writers, Mr. Weiss said, are the other important difference between Quamut and sites that rely on self-proclaimed experts or site visitors for content. "We actually don't believe in the wisdom of the crowd," he said. "This is the old-fashioned publishing model."

Other popular Web sites have demonstrated a similar belief -- that users are more inclined to visit sites that can provide info from trusted, expert sources, as opposed to anonymous users. For instance, The New York Times Company owns About.com pays over 700 freelancers to cover 70,000 topics.

from the New York Times: According to Martin A. Nisenholtz, the Times Company's senior vice president for digital operations, About.com's authors go through a monthlong screening process that gauges the candidate's expertise in the subject and writing skills, and culminates in an ethics quiz and a background check. "There are a variety of ways people can get their questions answered online," Mr. Nisenholtz said. "But particularly when you get to very important categories, like health and others where the risk of getting a bad answer is very high, documents from experts are important."

A big part of the Web 2.0 concept is trust in numbers. That's why a site like Wikipedia -- with its seemingly infinite number of anonymous contributors -- can become a trusted source of information. Still, I can help but agree with people behind Quamut.com, About.com and other sites that actively seek to put some credibility behind their content. As users seek to educate themselves online more and more, a self-help site that can deliver piece of mind to visitors, by establishing itself as a clearing house for expert advice, could see its page view and unique visitor numbers sky rocket.

And that brings us to the insurance industry. To a typical person, insurance can be a complicated subject and also one with major implications to their financial and, in some cases, physical wellbeing. I know that if I was looking to make an insurance buying decision, I wouldn't want to just trust the online, anonymous masses.

I would, however, trust someone with decades of insurance experience... you know, like just about any insurance carrier with long-time established brand recognition. Maybe that's something for insurers to keep in mind when developing their Web portals. Capturing new business via the web is key, as are enhanced online customer service capabilities. Perhaps though, there's something more important to be gained by becoming users' go-to destination for trusted insurance advice and information.Sites such as Barnes & Noble's Quamut show that there's growing demand on the Web for trusted, expert advice. Why couldn't a carrier leverage its brand recognition and create a Web site for trusted insurance information?

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