Posts from January 2008

Open Source Research

This topic I posted on earlier took me on a trip down memory lane this morning. A comment to my earlier post took me to this blog in search of a link to William Ackman’s letter to the SEC.

In that letter, Ackman states:

"Our primary goal is to initiate what we call “Open Source Research”
where all market participants can have equal access to the primary
source data and construct their own views of losses without reliance on
the analytical judgment of rating agencies or the bond insurance
industry. By focusing the discussion on a fundamental, data-driven
approach, we expect that the dissemination of the Open Source Model
will enable market participants and regulators to accurately estimate
probable losses by relying on rigorous fundamental analysis of specific
credit exposures, a departure from relying on the opaque, faith-based
pronouncements that the bond insurance industry has promulgated to the
marketplace."

When I read that I recalled that I wrote a post proposing an open source model for research titled Open Source Research back in 2004. I am thrilled that it has become a theme that real market participants are embracing.

One thing Ackman can do to help open source research happen is publish his reports in HTML directly on the web instead of in pdf format. As I said in my post from four years ago,

We need tools for distribution, collaboration, rating, reputation,
commerce (just because its open doesn’t mean it has to be free), and
communication to make this work.  And for the most part, they don’t
exist.

I’ve changed my thinking a bit since then on the "free" question as you can see in this video, but it sure looks like we still need better tools.

What Is Investment Research?

I was reading the NY Times business section today and came across this paragraph in a story about the potential collapse of bond insurers.

Mr. Ackman, who runs a New York hedge fund called Pershing Square and
has bet against the insurers’ shares, issued a report late in the
afternoon predicting that two of the companies, MBIA and the Ambac Financial Group,
might lose $24 billion on complex mortgage investments they have
guaranteed. Such a hole might threaten their survival and touch off a
chain reaction of losses at some of Wall Street’s biggest banks, as
well as raise borrowing costs for states and municipalities.

William Ackman is a well known hedge fund manager and he’s been short these stocks, and has made a lot of money on those short positions. So his "report" on them is interesting to me. Why? Because he’s got a lot at stake.

In the wake of Sarbanes Oxley and Reg FD we’ve gotten broker-based research that is so bland and uninformed that it’s basically useless. The action has moved to the people who actually have positions.

Stock blogs are certainly a big part of this phenomenon and I read a bunch of them daily. But so are these "reports" that big hedge funds are putting out basically touting their positions.

How do I find Ackman’s report? He doesn’t have a blog, at least I couldn’t find it with a Google search. I did a blog search and found a link to this CNBC story. It looks like Ackman’s report was actually a letter sent to the SEC and insurance regulators.

I funded the startup of Multex 15 years ago and watched the internet and technology streamline the distribution of broker research. That is now a $200-500mm annual revenue business depending on how you measure it.

Is there an opportunity to go beyond the brokers and out into the internet to find the more relevant "research". I think so.

UPDATE: Here is Ackman’s letter in pdf format.

A Robin Hood Story In The Village

Greenwich Village is legendary in NYC for its ability to fight overdevelopment and maintain a "village" feel in the midst of one of the largest cities in the world. Pier 40, at Houston Street and the Hudson River, is the latest battlefront in this war to maintain some balance in the development of the village.

The New York Times has a story today on the Pier 40 battle and it describes the group that I’ve been involved in as a "merry band." That’s an accurate cross reference to the Robin Hood story. The rich in our version is Related, a large, powerful, and politically connected developer. The poor are the everyday users of Pier 40 who may see the Pier that they know and love transformed into a mega entertainment complex.

I am proud to be fighting on Robin Hood’s side in this battle.

A Feed For My Stock Posts

This blog is mostly about web technology and venture capital. But I am also an occasional music blogger, political blogger, local blogger, video blogger, and stock blogger. I have categories for each of these and for some of them (like music and tech), I’ve created custom RSS feeds. They are shown on the left sidebar just below the fold.

Here’s some stats:

Subs to my primary feed: 96,000
Subs to my tech/vc only feed: 3550
Subs to my music feed: 100

So these category feeds, which I have to create in typepad with some custom code that Joshua Schachter gave me three years ago, are not really that popular.

But today, I created another one. For all my posts on stocks and the stock market. The feed URL is here.

One of the main reasons I created this feed is so that I can import all my stock related posts into Covestor. Here’s my blog page on Covestor which should now be showing all my stock related blog posts.

I am a big fan of “write once, read many”. Meaning that if I post something to twitter, it appears on this blog and my tumblog. Or if I post something on this blog, it appears on my tumblog. Or if I write something about stocks here, it appears on my Covestor blog. That’s what RSS/feeds do for the web. Thanks to Dave Winer and everyone else who made this possible.

Vampire Weekend

51uayhd53l_aa280_What would happen if the 1977 vintage Talking Heads covered Paul Simon’s Graceland? You’d get the sound of a new band called Vampire Weekend. Yesterday they released their debut record, called Vampire Weekend.

I first heard of Vampire Weekend from my daughter Jessica who connected to the band on Facebook and myspace. The band came out of Columbia University and she befriended them on the social nets and became a big fan. Then I did something (can’t remember what) and somebody (i can’t remember who, please identify yourself in the comments) gave me the mp3s of the record.

I took them home and put them on the music server and quickly everyone had them on their iPods and we were all digging Vampire Weekend. It’s been playing non-stop in the house lately.

Last night Jessica and I went to see their record launch show at Bowery Ballroom. They gave a strong performance, particularly the ending number Walcott, which the crowd knew was coming and was calling for. There were people there last night who had been at their first live gig, not so long ago.

The record is great. I urge anyone who likes indie rock and enjoyed Graceland to get it. You will not be let down.

Here’s another song to leave you with:

Oxford Comma – Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

Quote Of The Day

Mr. Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, began attacking at dawn,
accusing Mr. McCain of allying himself with liberal Democrats in the
Senate and betraying conservative principles on legislation involving immigration, the environment and campaign finance.

From The New York TImes – Acrimony Reigns In GOP On Eve Of Florida Vote

Let’s call a spade a spade. Mitt Romney is a two talking flip flopping used car salesman. And John McCain, while I would have trouble voting for him, stands up for what he believes in even if its not popular.

No contest. McCain is the better man by a long shot.

Facebook Platform: Taking Stock Of The Marriage After The Honeymoon’s Over

In May of last year Facebook did, at least in my mind, one of the biggest things in web technology in a long time. They opened up their service as a platform for third party developers to build apps that today run inside of Facebook. It’s seven months later and it’s clear that the honeymoon is over. It probably ended with the Beacon thing although frankly that has very little to do with the platform.

Just in the past 24 hours, I’ve read a post about how nobody makes money on with Facebook apps and a post that says all the top apps are losing users. The blog world is not much different than traditional media. We love to build things up and then tear them down.

I think the truth is very different. Maybe videoegg’s Facebook ad network isn’t doing very well, but I’ve seen a lot of data on facebook apps in the past six months and this is what I believe is going on.

1) Facebook apps continue to grow as a percentage of overall Facebook usage, both in time spent and page views. I’d love to see a chart of this if anyone has one. Maybe the master of 500 hats has some data. If so, I’d love to see it.

2) Facebook apps are being monetized very effectively. Probably more effectively than Facebook itself. The ecpms are low, but the volume is high and money is flowing into the app developers pockets.

3) Facebook apps have high churn. Last month’s hot app is nowhere to be seen this month and a new one is in its place. The apps that continue to do well month after month are few and far between and are mostly owned by real companies that can afford to continue to invest in them and grow them.

Late last year, Bebo launched its platform. It’s not nearly as slick as Facebook’s but there is real activity there already and it will grow. Someday myspace will launch its platform and it will be a vibrant place to make money with social apps as well.

I am glad the honeymoon’s over frankly. It was a crazy time and it was hard to figure out exactly what was going on. But it was a great time to be an entrepreneur operating in a wide open market space. And we’ve met quite a few really interesting businesses that were built in the past six months and have invested in one so far.

I hope we’ll invest in more and are working on it.

The Big Three

As the car industry here in the US wanes and the geopower of the US wanes, the term The Big Three will cease to mean GM, Ford, and Chrysler and will mean the three global superpowers; China, Europe, and the United States.

That’s the conclusion I come to after reading Parag Khanna’s piece in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. I highly recommend this article. It opened my eyes to a bunch of things that are happening right now or are going to happen in the next 5-10 years.

Here’s a quote from the article

The Big Three are the ultimate “Frenemies.” Twenty-first-century
geopolitics will resemble nothing more than Orwell’s 1984, but instead
of three world powers (Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia), we have three
hemispheric pan-regions, longitudinal zones dominated by America,
Europe and China. As the early 20th-century European scholars of
geopolitics realized, because a vertically organized region contains
all climatic zones year-round, each pan-region can be self-sufficient
and build a power base from which to intrude in others’ terrain. But in
a globalized and shrinking world, no geography is sacrosanct. So in
various ways, both overtly and under the radar, China and Europe will
meddle in America’s backyard, America and China will compete for
African resources in Europe’s southern periphery and America and Europe
will seek to profit from the rapid economic growth of countries within
China’s growing sphere of influence. Globalization is the weapon of
choice. The main battlefield is what I call “the second world.”

That’s just a taste, I recommend you go read Waving Goodbye To Hegemony.

Qtrax Doesn’t Sound Very Good To Me

Qtrax announced at Midem in Cannes that it is launching a free ad supported P2P service with 5mm tracks initially and 25mm tracks very soon.

I like the idea that you take all the files that are out there on the P2P networks and build a legal service on top of them. And I like the idea that its free and ad supported.

But Qtrax isn’t for me, at least yet.

I want to be able to play the music in any device (sonos, pc, mac, iPod, Blackberry, etc, etc). Qtrax requires the use of a proprietary player built on top of Songbird.

But worse, it requires the files to have DRM on them so they can’t be played elswhere.

What’s the point of having files in the first place if you can’t play them everywhere?

I’d rather use a streaming service like last.fm, rhapsody, or hype machine than this thing. At least some of those services are turning up on connected devices and mobile phones.

My gut tells me that files should be paid for and streaming should be free and ad supported. Curious what you all think.