Thursday, May 8, 2008

Is financial blogging like Open Source development?

Via naked capitalism this morning

The lightbulb went off only today. This debate has very strong parallels to the arguments between traditional software developers and the open source crowd. Admittedly, there are also big differences, because developers are out to address very specific needs with code, while (one hates to say it) the purposes of journalism and blogging are less clear cut. Journalists like to think that their job is to inform, but what does that mean, exactly? Like it or not, a fair bit of entertainment has also crept into the profession. And perhaps most important, the decision of what is and isn't newsworthy is very much swayed by a media outlet's posture, prevailing social/community values, and (the dirty secret) the need to play by the rules of access journalism.

Hmmmm... having invented professional open source with JBoss :) I feel compelled to comment.

Blogging in general is similar to OSS in the way its output is based on others people input. Blogging is quick and because it is NOT VETTED it presents opinions across the spectrum faster than traditional media. It is the instant commentary mechanism that I find valuable. A news item comes out and the blogosphere churns out an output that is distributed across a bell curve of opinions. In that sense the Bazaar is there.

I like to sense opinion by looking at the distribution. For example let's say there is a news item on markets movement, I like to read blog commentary to see how much people agree or disagree on whether it will go up or down next week, there is a distribution and to me it is not only the "average" but the actual distribution that is interesting. If the opinions are tightly grouped and there is no dissent then it is a "fairly safe assumption" in how I manage my investments for example, this is the basis for momentum investing. If on the other hand there are drastic pieces (that still make sense I try to discard propaganda) then the issue is volatile and undecided. Then I trade volatility. News driven trading feeds off blogging as a distributed quorum sensing mechanism.

While the COLLECTIVE output has some characteristics of OSS, the individual output really isn't IMHO. The product of blogging is well... blogs. Individual entries about particular topics. A particular blog reflects the opinions of the individual not the collective. The product of OSS, meaning the ACTUAL SOFTWARE, IS a product built by individuals but what gets selected is done by a collective (or semi collective usually with meritocracy).

But this is where, in my not so humble opinion, Yves Smith's argument falls apart, the only thing that stands after 10 years in the OSS industry is in fact the peer review. The natural selection that happens in OSS: bad software gets weeded out by a collective brain. PEER REVIEW IS THE ONE AND ONLY MECHANISM IN OSS.

This peer review is in fact COMPLETELY ABSENT from blogging. And that is the mainstay of the argument made by the panel Yves comments on, that traditional journalism is PEER REVIEWED, while blogging isn't.


Anonymous said...

There's a certain amount of peer review in blogging through linking and cross linking...

I know it better in terms of YouTube... sites like pop up and scan how many blog posts there are to a given video; the result is that "peer review" selects the most popular videos to the bloggers.

In theory you'd see the same type of thing with financial bloggers -- Bespoke's blog seemingly came out of nowhere (at least to my perspective), but because they got linked to by a few high-volume bloggers (Big Picture, Kedrovsky, etc.), they built a following very quickly.

In the end, Bespoke's commentary is just another unfiltered voice amongst the bloggers, but their audience size grows or wanes based on peer review and peer linking...

In terms of the output, I agree... OSS has something different that contributes to the outcome. But there are similar flavors -- those who were excluded from the inner circle are able to get their voice heard because of lower cost of production and distribution... and consumers are able to improve the quality of what they consume because the monopoly is being broken.

Unfortunately, many blogs will mature into the journalists they augment, finding that the sensational stories get them more readers, and thus more advertising revenue... In OSS people sell out too, but at least their code is left behind if someone else wants to fork it...

Interesting questions, to say the least.

Juha Lindfors said...

There was another software <-> finance connection drawn a day earlier, and the discussion is fascinating.

Marcf said...

He, OSS people sell out to? wow, shocking!

You are right there is a measure of peer review in that BS blogs will not be read. But it takes some time I guess and it may not be immediate or that effective in the sense that a unsuspecting reading may still take the blog at face value where he wouldn't get to read that in the press.

Marcf said...

yes that is an interesting discussion. Greater liquidity drives more products, more products drive more linkage, more linkage drives more feedback and more non-linear behavior. But rather than "instability" which has a negative tone, it drives fast changes across a wider set of assets, whether that is a bad thing or a good thing is a different question.

Andrei Filimonov said...

Blogging and OSS are similar as they both use commons based production model.

Blogging are different as output is regulated differently. OSS is explicitly licensed and at least GPL licenses try to enforce uninhibited use and distribution. Blogging is implicitly controlled by copyright laws and doesn't have mechanism similar to GPL.

Marcf said...


Part of my argument is that in fact the PRODUCTION is NOT commons based.

The inspiration may be, but the actual PRODUCT is
- one individual in blogging
- many individuals in OSS

Andrei Filimonov said...


Commons nature of blogs is not as obvious as with OSS but I still believe they are both based on the same production model. E.g. the original post consists of:
- Reference to the naked capitalism post that started this discussion and to a degree is a part of the original post.
- Marc's Fleury opinion
- Comments (contributions)
Therefore the end result is produced by multiple indiviuals.

In addition, a few more points
- Is JBoss community blog based on commons production model?
- Is tagging (and sharing) a blog post considered a contribution?
- What about an OSS project with just one contributor?

Marcf said...

Sure, I somewhat agree that the parallel can exist. Inspiration for a blog is surely community driven, but the blog, no, it is mostly individual.

Also to me the main point is vetting in journalism is equivalent to peer-review of OSS. That is just non present in blogging, not the extent it is in both other disciplines.

To your questions:
1- blogging at JBoss back in the days was clearly individuals, the ethos of the company clearly transpired so was community but at the end of the day we treated blogs as a "personal space for opinions". This may vary by company.

2- Yes, I would agree that tagging is a form of peer-review. I do not rely on these personally, as I read by subscription and the tagging is done afterwards, not before the product is released

3- OSS by one individual is NOT a peer reviewed process, that case is closer to blogs than large project OSS.