Sunday, December 09, 2007

Information Overload and the Need for Filters

I'm sure you've experienced it: You go onto a message board, chat room, or news/blog aggregation site and 90% of the posts are either emotional rants, restatements of the obvious, or surface analyses. I find the same is true of the mainstream media (MSM), whether it's print, online, or broadcast: 90% of what I get out of it comes from 10% of the content.

Much of the problem in the MSM world is that the name of the game is to get as many readers and viewers as possible to justify advertising rates. That means that hardcore market analysis has to be leavened with human interest, that columnists have to take more extreme positions than the facts warrant, and that entertainment has to accompany information.

The aggregators, facing similar pressures to monetize their online efforts, also have to go after the most eyeballs. So they are driven to sign up as many contributors as possible--a formula guaranteed in the aggregate to yield mediocrity. Ironically, it's the bloggers and columnists with the most to contribute that will want to stay away from this homogenization.

With financial seminars and media (books, magazines), there is a parallel tendency to try to pull in as many people by offering the broadest possible array of speakers and the topics of greatest general interest. Think of all the seminars, books, and magazine articles that come out each year. How many have truly left a lasting impact on your trading? If anything, the 90-10 formulation understates the case.

One of the core skills I see among experienced, successful trader is the ability to filter information. Time is precious, and filling your head with the wrong information is worse than a waste of time: it can take you out of your game. If anything, trading requires disaggregation, a separating of wheat from chaff. Portals that throw dozens of articles at traders daily fail at this most basic task and inevitably must fail at it, given their commercial mandates.

Over time, this has been the great appeal of the Twitter application for this blog. If I read a good article, I can quickly summarize it and link in a way that will go out to interested people. Others can do the same, subscribe to each other's streams, and create a social knowledge network. To be sure, Web 2.0 has provided us with a variety of ways to share information socially. Many of these, however, just end up creating new portals, new aggregations, new fire hydrants to drink from. What I like about Twitter is that it is brief and selective. If an article says something new and relevant, I can send the link worldwide in seconds. Subscribers or blog visitors can then quickly determine if the topic is relevant for them.

I try to send Twitter "tweets" in clusters of five or less so that people can stay current just by looking at the blog home page occasionally through the day. The full set of posts, along with HTML links, is on my Twitter page and is available as an RSS feed. Many of the "tweets" link articles of interest, but before the market opens each day, I also try to summarize major indicators, upcoming economic reports, and overseas action. If there are ways I can adjust the Twitter app to filter information even more effectively, by all means feel free to add your comments and suggestions to this post. I take those very seriously and often learn a great deal from them. Thanks!

Brett

5 comments:

WhatTha said...

I like your idea of the top 40 stocks selected from all the sp500 sectors...

could you let us know what those stocks are that make up your 40...

thanks..

Mat said...

Brett,

How do you filter trading information?

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hi Whattha,

I will be posting the 40 stocks in my basket in my next blog post. Thanks--

Brett

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hi Mat,

I filter trading information by limiting the indicators and markets I look at. The indicators described on the blog are what I look at.

Brett

Adam said...

Brett ~

“If anything, the 90-10 formulation understates the case.”

A fundamental truth.

Experience has convinced me that more data from more sources does not translate into more information. This has been true in businesses I’ve been involved with and seems more acutely true in trading, a purely self-directed enterprise.

How many times each day do radio stations tell us where the Dow is? About the same number of times they tell us the weather. This perfect storm of meaningless data does nothing but distract us from collecting information useful to our goals.

I read the various journals of record for fun. Some of the writing is good; the internal contradictions are entertaining. I never watch television. I don’t listen to commercial radio. I carefully filter the trading opinions of others (Twitter’s terrific), giving most credence to those I think are wrong, but whose rationales seem carefully worked out.

Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003. Bloomberg immediately posted this headline:

13:01: U.S. Treasuries rise; Hussein capture may not curb terrorism.

Half an hour later Bloomberg posted this follow-up:

13:31: U.S. Treasuries fall; Hussein capture boosts allure of risky assets.

Case closed (with thanks to Nassim Taleb).

Adam.