Two-Way Street

Your Money and Listening to a Crowd

A nice thing about the Internet is that you can get up to speed on a subject ... at least up enough to be conversant ... fairly quickly. That's handy when you have a sudden medical problem or financial snafu.

A speaker at a conference I went to last week, Lee Rainie of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, pointed out this gives rise to what Internet pontificators are calling the "Age of the Amateur Expert." Others, noting it can easily go too far, are calling it the "Age of the Narcissistic Idiot."

In a nutshell, that's my problem with the social networking rage currently sweeping across the Net. On the one hand it is nice to have an actively engaged community to discuss ideas and sort out complicated issues. (In his talk Rainie put it that many folks are treating the Internet as their "smart friend" for guidance). And investing is a sometimes fearful activity. When you're scared, you like company.

On the other hand, disinformation travels rapidly and some venues and conversations get dominated by dominated by idiots. And what use is that? Certainly on certain subjects, think medical again, you want to listen to people who have some education.

I find the social network craze particularly troubling in regard to financial news. A few idiots talking loud enough -- be it through message boards or chat rooms or public commenting -- can mean people losing life savings. (Okay, I know a few of you are now going to write in with wise-ass comments about CNBC offerings. And you may have have a point here and there. What I'm saying is it is hard enough to monitor the professionals without opening it up to amateur hour too).

Nevertheless, the social network trend grows and many outfits, even some of my competitors, are dabbling in it. Of course there's still this big problem of not making money, which USAToday reported on today, but somebody will figure that out eventually.

Heck, maybe I'm wrong and we should do more.

Anyway, Rainie's talk was very interesting. He passed on this neat little video too. Check it out. Sort of furthers the thoughts about how the Internet changes the way people relate.