Imagine a world where you, as an everyday investor with a 401k and an ETrade account, could have direct and unfettered access to what many of the world's top traders are thinking and trading; in real time; and for free. Now take that example and extrapolate it across any industry, hobby or event, no matter how esoteric. This utopia has been promised to us many times before, but I believe it is finally here.
While the explosion of Cable TV promised the above with industry specific channels (CNBC, HGTV, etc), it remains a one-to-many format that is more focused on entertainment and selling advertising than providing meaningful discourse or valuable information. Taking investing advice from Jim Cramer and CNBC is akin to asking Ronald McDonald to create a meal plan for you. The inherent conflicts of interest are insurmountable.
Then came the World Wide Web which by reducing the cost of publication to near zero, made it economical to write material that would only be of interest to a small subset of the population - the antithesis of television, newspaper and magazines. The web still plays this role and remains the only possible place to publish a 1500+ word article on the reduction of market liquidity due to the deleveraging of high frequency trading quant hedge funds. The problem with the Web was that its lack of any natural indexing or grouping, left it vulnerable to gatekeepers (Google, Yahoo, etc) who provided this ability and replicated the television model; using content to sell products/services. This quickly led to the natural conclusion of content being generated solely with the intent to sell ads and many websites became indistinguishable from magazines. Furthermore, unlike television, the Web was never very good at real time updates from multiple sources, especially on mobile devices with slower connections.
Twitter has solved both of these problems. By being real-time and designed for mobile networks, it has the same immediacy as television. By having an entirely open infrastructure that allows anyone to view and aggregate it's content, it bypasses the dangers of gatekeepers. In short, it is the most efficient communication system yet.
To truly understand its impact though, you have to view it differently than other social media tools. While Facebook and MySpace are organized around who you know (and Twitter allows for this also), Twitter allows to you focus on what you are interested in. While it seems like a small distinction, it makes all the difference. Facebook is like People magazine, full of pictures and gloating - vanity and narcissism. Twitter can be like The Economist tailored to your individual interest - a steady stream of ideas and thoughts that will make you think. When properly configured, Twitter is the equivalent of working in an office surrounded only by people you find interesting and who care about the same things you do.
Already Twitter has thousands of interest and topic based streams, marked by hashtags. From Israel to the NHL, there is a constant stream of filtered and targeted information that makes a niche magazine's content look shallow and dated. To see what the next generation of these feeds might look at, visit StockTwits.com (a personal favorite of mine), an innovative website built entirely on a twitter feed. By aggregating tweets and tweeters about investing, they have created a community that in less than six months has surpassed CNBC and other traditional financial media sources in value to myself and many of my colleagues. To see this in action, subscribe to the StockTwit"s recommended feed for a few days, then try to watch CNBC - especially a Jim Cramer show - it won't take long for the difference to be obvious.
In this single feed, there are links to blog posts more detailed than Bloomberg, opinions from expert traders, the equivalent of streaming news updates, all sortable, filterable, free and in real-time. The future of media is here and instead of being the predicted smorgasbord of streaming video and interactivity, it relies on pure text, 140 characters or less.