Did the financial blogosphere go away?

October 23, 2012
Tadas Viskanta and Josh Brown ask today where all the finance bloggers went.

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Tadas Viskanta and Josh Brown ask today where all the finance bloggers went. Both of them reckon that there’s been a decline in financial blogging of late, although neither attempts to quantify it; my feeling is that although there has been a decline, it’s not nearly as dramatic as they might think.

One way of looking at this is to disinter one of the most popular infographics I was ever involved with, the Portfolio guide to the Econoblogosphere. It’s now just over five years old, which means that if the finance-blogging space were really dying, it would be full of dead links.

In fact, going down the list, it’s astonishing how many of the blogs are still going, and how many of them are better than ever. By my count, 40 are going strong, if you include blogs like my own which simply moved house, while 12 have died. Which over a five-year period is amazing — especially considering how many excellent new blogs have sprung up over that time, including Josh Brown himself. The only one of the 14 sections which was damaged really hard was “The Technologists”: I had three blogs in that category, and only one (Paul Kedrosky) still remains. The other two — Valleywag and Marc Andreessen — have given up.

Probably the highest-profile blogger of five years ago who’s gone away today is Nouriel Roubini: pretty much all of his stuff is hidden behind the roubini.com paywall these days. But overall, roubini.com has more free blogs than ever, and I’m proud to say that Economonitor.com, which I started back in 2006, is everything I ever hoped it would be. Other casualties never really went away at all: Going Private, for instance, ended up absorbed into the juggernaut that is Zero Hedge.

What’s more, many of the blogs on the list have improved enormously since 2007. Dealbook, for instance, is a monster today compared to what it was back then. Or look at what Seeking Alpha has become. And others, like Alea, have basically just moved to Tumblr — which is home to some super-smart new voices, these days.

So I’m not convinced that the diagnosis is particularly accurate. And in fact, going down my 2007 list, I rediscovered a bunch of great blogs which I’d managed to forget about over the years. That said, Brown’s thesis — that bloggers have been proved wrong and have slinked off with their tails between their legs — is an interesting one. There’s a vocal subset of the financial blogosphere which specializes in “I am right and everybody else is wrong” blogging — something which usually then becomes “I am right and everybody else is stupid”. It’s possible, sometimes, to find nuggets of useful information in those blogs — but it’s difficult, and you generally need to wade through a lot of annoying garbage before you find them.

And more generally, I suspect that Viskanta and Brown spend much more time than I do reading blogs which in one form or another provide some kind of investment advice. Sometimes it’s buy this or sell that (much more of the former than the latter, as a rule), sometimes it’s a bit more subtle. But anybody who sets themselves up in the business of predicting the future — and having all their archives fully visible for the world to easily see — is going to look pretty silly so often that they’re likely to give up sooner or later.

If what we’re seeing is the decline of the people who think they know where the market is going then, so much the better. And if what we’re seeing is mainstream media sites becoming increasingly bloggy, and incorporating ideas and bloggers into their main news-and-analysis function, then that’s better still. What we’re certainly seeing is a democratization of the space, with Twitter in particular having a much lower barrier to entry than any blog platform. Twitter was very young five years ago; now it’s almost a public utility. And as a result, more fast and smart financial commentary is reaching more people than anything I could have dreamed of in 2007.

So I’m not nearly as downbeat on the blogosphere as my colleagues. It’s changing, to the point at which the very idea of blogs as a separate-and-distinct entity has pretty much gone away. But that’s a good thing. What really matters is the quality and quantity of financial discussion online. And that’s never been higher.


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