By Tim Devaney and Tom Stein
You were recently named by Barron's magazine as one of the best business bloggers. How did you get into blogging?
In 1999 I started blogging just because it was an outlet. I used to write a lot of opinion columns for newspapers. Stuff that was too short for a column or that I just wanted to get off my mind I would post on my website. I actually wrote an application called GrokSoup that turned into the first hosted blogging site. And then, foolishly, I decided the blogging thing had peaked in 2001, so I sold off the assets to a little software company.
How has blogging changed the news media landscape?
I think it's made news more dangerous, which is good. For most of my life, news never felt very dangerous. And now, for better or worse, news actually feels dangerous again. I think blogs play a huge role in that because news in general had become so censored, filtered, and sanitized. Go back to the original proto-blogger, Matt Drudge. He nearly brought down a president by ignoring news censorship.
When did you first understand the power of information?
After I graduated from engineering school, I worked at Digital Equipment Corp. We were a publicly traded company, and we used to worry about how our stock was doing. And there were these analysts who were trafficking in this crazy information I never knew about-and I worked at the company. How the hell did they know all this stuff? And, more importantly, why was my stock off 10 percent? They were saying things with multibillion-dollar consequences and materiality, causing people to make money and lose money. I wanted some of that.
How are you managing the information explosion?
I was at a conference recently, and a well-known pundit put out the view that we're all suffering from information overload. I was ticked off because that's so blatantly untrue. I'm suffering from horrific information underload. The whole world is effectively instrumented, but I can't get to the data I need. There's so much relevant and important information that I'm unable to get because it's siloed or captured by people who are in a particular cabal that I'm not part of. I'm forced to deal with sanitized information that has gone through three different revisions and four editors before I see it. That's offensive to me.
Is there any cure for that?
I don't think people even understand how to dimensionalize the problem. Yeah, there's an explosion of all these different news sources online. But in terms of actually being exposed to what's impactful and important, are you getting it all or are you missing huge chunks of information? What we found this summer [with the financial crisis] is that everyone was fishing from the same information pond. We formed a super-portfolio where all the hedge funds were holding the same stocks. So when something went wrong it was like the whole market jumped to one side of the boat at the same time. That's what happens when the biodiversity of information markets gets constrained or cut back as has happened over the last few years with the sanitization of news. In my mind, these things are linked.
What's the most significant change in information management in your lifetime?
Hands down it's search. The idea that so many sources of data are available to me from a single one-inch-by-quarter-inch box on a computer screen is still mind-boggling. The other thing that's made a big difference is that storage has become free. I no longer think about what e-mails to keep. I was a raging deleter of everything for years and years. But I was bad at guessing what to keep and what to delete. Now I just save everything.