We tear things down and then we build them up again. Like hackers who started out deconstructing the telephone and its network grid – in order to build calculating machines that eventually became personal computers – much of the hacking taking place today is informational. Where this will lead remains to be seen. And anyway, the win is not predicated upon novelty, strictly speaking. (Calculating machines and computers predated the phone hackers.) The win is the creativity and flow, which opens up possibilities.Â As discussed here in a recent post, in possibilities lies option value, the more volatile the terrain the better.
Three platforms illustrate the point. All three are gaining momentum and in so doing redefining their fields, and all three are hacking information in very different ways. Groupon (and the industry it now symbolizes) has torn down the barrier between merchant and consumer, a barrier set by traditional advertising, and has brought the two in direct contact. SecondMarket (and the financial domain this platform represents) has torn down regulatory and capital barriers that stood between private companies and liquidity. Both Groupon and SecondMarket are predicated on the access of two opposing sides to one another, and in both cases this is based on information flow that leads to a transaction.
The third exemplary platform, StockTwits, is not directly transactional, but opens up information as a pure play, as it were, and the net effect is not different. Where sophisticated analysis – in theory at least – used to be the purview of premium research sold by sell-side analysts to the buy-side, StockTwits has found a way to democratize and expedite this information flow, adding a layer of efficiency to an otherwise tough market to penetrate. Arguably, not only the quantity but the quality of analysis improves when thousands of judges conspire to keep the author honest. And the end-result here, too, is transactional, even if not directly.
With these observations about trends in disintermediation as backdrop, and continuing the parallel between early hackers and new, we remember that the phase after tear-down is the build-up. The phone mechanism was decomposed in order to be reconstructed in a different way. So, also, when information is fragmented and democratized through an analogous decomposition (or disintermediation), the evolutionary stage to follow is curation. The pieces on the table need to be assembled according to rules of structure, and information that is scattered about, or is otherwise overwhelming in its numbers, must be funneled, contextualized, targeted.
The same three platforms, and the fields they respectively represent, now also serve this latter function. Having taken advertising – and its assemblage of networks and exchanges – out of the middle, Groupon (and its ilk) are now focused on quality and targeting of their new content. Having established a new paradigm for buyers and sellers to meet outside of the traditional exchanges, SecondMarket is building a new exchange where the two sides can effectively find one another. Similarly, StockTwits, through a series of filters and recommendation tools, segments and directs commentary from the most interesting sources to the most interested users.
Broadly speaking, there is nothing new under the sun. Broadly speaking, the original curation technology was the very telephone switch with which the hackers tinkered. And here we are now, decades later, tearing down old filters to build new ones. Broadly speaking, however, there is still a difference between Morse code and the Internet, and innovation that happens in little steps, with little perfections and improvements, before too long reaches a point where evolution is seen as revolution with hindsight. The hacking that is happening in information and disintermediation, the themes in transactional efficiency described herein, and the three enterprising symbols at the forefront of these movements, will merit revisiting at some point in the future. The work these three have undertaken is much bigger than we may now realize.