Link Post (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The Cost of Employing

If you are interested in why the job market (outside of Rails developers in Silicon Valley, but that’s another story) is so anemic then read this piece:

He’s referring not to wages, but to regulation: He has no way of telling what new rules will go into effect when. His business, although it covers several states, operates on low margins. He can’t afford to take the chance of losing what little profit there is to the next round of regulatory changes. And so he’s hiring nobody until he has some certainty about cost.

Part of the problem is something that Carter explains in a later paragraph, public policy academics and politicians alike think of businesses as abstractions and therefore have little actual insight into what it takes to create and grow a small to medium sized business, the foundation of employment in the United States.

Another part of the problem is that the only people who really appreciate the true cost of an employee are the people who hire them and they are in a minority. For employees they see one line item, their salary and while wage growth has been stagnant for much of the last decade the fact remains that the fully loaded cost that includes the expenses that the employer covers, as much as 40% of the base salary, has been rising steadily.

All employers are required to cover the following taxes on each employee they hire:

  • Social Security/FICA: 6.2% of the employees gross pay to a wage cap of about $110k.
  • Medicare: 1.45% of gross pay with no salary cap.
  • Federal Unemployment Taxes (FUTA): 6.2% on the first $7k earned per employee.
  • State Unemployment Taxes (SUTA): Much more complicated to calculate and varies by state.
  • Workman’s Compensation: Varies by state, from below 1% to as much as 8% of each employee’s gross pay.

The above are tax laws and much has changed with the implementation of Obamacare so the above numbers, which are for 2010 may be out of date. In addition to taxes employers cover a large percentage of benefit costs for employees and they include:

  • Health Insurance: This is the elephant in the room because the average employee can expect their employer to cover approximately $600 per month of healthcare insurance coverage in addition to what the employee has deducted from their paycheck.
  • Retirement: This is highly variable but typical 401k style programs have an employer matched contribution, or in the case of defined benefit systems a contribution and administration cost.
  • Life Insurance: May be covered whole or in part by the employer.
  • Long Term Disability Insurance: May be covered whole or in part by the employer.

The employee cost landscape has changed dramatically for employers in the last year and laws covering worker safety and training, disclosure requirements, healthcare benefits, existing tax law changes (e.g. taxing of healthcare benefit plans), and then there are local taxes (e.g. San Francisco County’s 1.5% tax on payrolls and health insurance tax for over 50 employee companies).

The complexity and changing nature of the tax and regulatory environment is the problem, not the taxes and regulations themselves. Employers need stability and predictability of future costs in order to make investments like hiring and if public policy academics and politicians fully understood this then they would be better at policy making as well as predicting future economic prospects (how many times have you read “unexpected” in economic reports?).

Governments or Social Networks?

French President kicked off the gathering in Paris, hailing the assembled players as the leaders of the “Internet revolution”, but warning that with their power comes great responsibility.

He hailed the role of the Internet in helping protestors organise recent Arab uprisings such as the revolutions in Tunisia and  but insisted it must be underpinned by “values” and “rules.”

I read this today and found myself wondering… in recent years who has done more to advance the cause of freedom and liberty for people across the globe, governments or the private sector? If you accept, as I do, that we have waged war for the purpose of defeating fascism and tyranny then it is a complex question to consider, but the fact that social revolutions are being powered by, much to the dismay of Malcolm Gladwell, the connectedness that social technologies proliferate makes this a fair question to ask.

The cynic in me believes that governments of all stripes desire to restrict and regulate the Internet precisely because they see the implications of an Internet that is socially empowering combined with a media landscape that is greatly emasculated and they feel threatened.

Take the infrastructure and services that social networks enable to provide services that governments are traditionally vested with and it is a really interesting scenario to ponder but of course it would be absurd to suggest that something as abstract as a social network could better provide actual services. However, I am asking a different question, which is what if social connectedness makes obsolete some of the institutions that governments traditionally undertake as their own (e.g. currency). I don’t have an answer, I am simply asking the question.

Social networks, behaviors, and content are coming together to radically transform how we relate with each other and institutions in general… why should we assume that sovereign governments are immune when the power they exert is a function of what a citizenry permits?

Services I Like

Lately I have been trying a wide spectrum of personal productivity tools, mostly out of curiosity for what is out there but also because I need some efficiencies.


I have a lot of bookmarks but I’m not very organized about them, and in addition that problem I regularly let my browser overflow with tabs that “I’ll get to later”. Instapaper doesn’t work for me and is a question mark given the change in ownership; after asking around I settled on Diigo and so far it’s proved to be quite useful. The Chrome extension is really useful and I just set up a rule to draft a blog post once a week with all my bookmarks tagged with a keyword.

Lookout Mobile Security:

This is a really neat mobile app for Android that scans applications for malware and provides additional features like phone location, backup, lockout, data wipe, and more. This was an easy $30 (the premium version has some nice extras) to fork over given how effortless the app is.

I’m not sure I like this fully like this app yet but the integrated messaging client that runs as a Chrome app is pretty nice. Time will tell if it is better than Adium but I have been using Skype more so that may end up being a  defining feature.

Skype and Google Voice:

Okay this is two apps and neither are exactly new but I recently bought a Skype number and about the same time I switched by Google Voice number to my Sprint wireless number. The latter is very slick because it fully integrates Google Voice with Sprint, and on my Evo the combination is pretty much everything you could want.

I couldn’t figure out why my Skype app was ringing with my cell phone and then realized I had added my Skype number to GVoice and my cell phone was ringing both at the same time… which turned out to be really useful when sitting at my computer. It gets a little wonky when you have the Android Skype app running and your cellphone rings through your Skype number but I don’t find myself using the mobile Skype service that much.

I have had Google Voice since the Grand Central days and have always struggled with the extra phone number aspect… but now that my Sprint number has ported over I feel that I can finally integrate GVoice into my daily routine in a very useful manner.


More on this topic (What's this?) Read more on Productivity at Wikinvest

Link Post

Vendor Influencers, the New Category on the Block

Yep there is definitely a redefinition of what it means to be an “analyst”. Gone are the days when analysts did hardcore research against markets and used that data to both define and predict the market direction, today an analyst is someone who has influence. I don’t think this is good or bad, it is a reflection of a diffuse online media and the increasingly complexity and dynamism of software delivered as service. Paul’s post is both thoughtful and insightful.

The Most Important Page on Flickr

A fascinating dissection of Flickr’s user experience by a designer… at Flickr. It is candid and honest, I admire her for posting it but wonder if the reference to Flickr as “they” instead of “we” is a subconscious statement.

Customer Service Through Twitter – Sustainable?

Yes and no… to call any interaction of company and customer through Twitter “customer service” is a great dialing back of what it means to provide customer service. Twitter is very useful as a communication channel and ultimately as a funnel that feeds your customer support work process… it is apparent that Twitter is the first place people go to complain these days. If you are a customer service organization you need to have a Twitter listening channel but insofar as engagement your best best is to get people out of Twitter as quickly as possible when they are engaging with you.

Understand More About Social CRM

Neville Hobson reflects on the Social CRM 2011 event held in London.

Evernote: The Salesforce Admin and Developer’s Other Brain

A great expose on the ever increasing ways that people are using the popular Evernote application. It really impresses me how this notetaking app has expanded into a center stage position for people’s work routines.

The Age of Social Sharing Has Reached it’s End

This deserves a dedicated post and I violently disagree with the thesis being presented but I do agree, with equal enthusiasm, that the age of blunt force sharing is not productive.

When Did Everyone Decide To Pay Themselves Last

This is a profound observation about the value of content to a company – a brand – and how increasingly media-like interactions through the management of earned and sponsored media before the owned channel is suboptimal. There’s a lot going on in this post, if you are like me you will have to read it a couple of times and just let it sit for a while.

Popularity is Not Influence

Read this today:

In 24 hours, Athar went from someone who jokes with friends on Twitter and invites people to his coffee shop to someone who broadcasts his thoughts to more than 86,000 followers.

How did he become so influential so quickly? How does anyone? It takes the right piece of information at the right time, passed across small overlapping social circles, starting with just a few hundred people.

Poynter is typically pretty well written stuff, and this article is actually quite good, but on this point they fall into a common trap that attracts so many commentators on social technologies…. having a lot of followers does not make one influential.

Influence is power, it is a currency that is devalued when printed on cheap paper by the ream. Having a large number of followers is secondary to who those followers are and your ability to transform broadcast into action. This context is what is lacking in social networks today and why social analytics (aka socialytics) is one of the most interesting technology research areas pursued today.