Archive for August, 2014

Global Markets in August

(Our monthly ‘best of the Web’ update)

The month of August started off with Argentina falling into default as the country failed to reach a deal with its creditors. Pakistan’s political stability came under threat with Imarn Khan-led rally against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. On the geo-political front, Iraq, Israel-Palestine and Ukraine-Russia tension continued this month as well, reaching intense levels at times. Earlier in the month, gold prices rose sharply above $1300 per ounce levels after NATO warned of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, a report from the World Gold Council showed global demand for gold slumping significantly in the second quarter of the year. Despite geo-political tension, oil prices moved lower during the month on elevated supplies from Middle East and North America. Frontier markets continued to lure investors with Ivory Coast joining the rising flow of debt issuances and Vietnam attracting foreign funds on growth outlook. Indian stock market rallied reaching record highs on continued optimism among local and foreign investors. Nevertheless, some analysts raised concerns regarding the stability of both frontier markets and Fragile Five countries. Turkey held its first Presidential election, with Primes Minister Recep Teyyip Erdogan recording a landslide victory.

Information Overload; Sorting through the clutter

Originally published in The Sunday Times 

Information is power; but how does one harness it?

These days, there is just too much information out there. Information overload is a common problem people with highly valued time have to deal with today. Highly specific news media coverage is time consuming to find and is often missed by popular news websites and sources which tend to primarily report on mainstream stories.

Global news is wide and varied, if you’re in the financial sector for instance and have a particular interest in the global financial world, and every morning will bombard you with information ranging from Japanese banks to US stimulus packages to what’s happening in the EU, not forgetting Africa and other emerging markets. Staying focused amidst all this noise and quickly getting the information you need to start your daily routine can sometimes be a real drag. What’s more, information overload can also be pleasantly distracting, and you could while away the time in an illusion of usefulness looking at various news around the world that you don’t really need to know.

Home page is dead

The advent of social media has contributed to some interesting new developments in the world of information and news. The Home page for instance, has all but been pronounced dead. In 2013, the New York Times lost 80 million home page visitors—half the traffic to the page—in two years. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the NYT has lost readership. Just that people are clicking through to articles directly via links posted up on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Blogging platforms like Medium are illustrative of the new redundancy of the home page. The increasingly popular site sees writers, who would otherwise have had a blog and built up a brand around it, uploading content directly on to it and then generating traffic via social media. News, in other words, was something you used to seek out, now it’s something that seeks you out instead.

According to a Buzzfeed article ‘Facebook, in particular, has opened the spigot, with its outbound links to publishers growing from 62 million to 161 million in 2013. Two years ago, Facebook and Google were equal powers in sending clicks to the BuzzFeed network’s sites. Today Facebook sends 3.5X more traffic’. Social networks are becoming the new home page. In response to new patterns of news consumption, news production is also changing. Sites like Buzzfeed, The Onion and The Huffington Post have perfected a new age ‘formula’ for news composed of quizzes, memes and articles starting with ‘5 things you need to know about’, etc. They are quickly beginning to dominate the world of online news.

Plugging into the Hive Mind

The death of the home page means that simply going to your favourite news website is no longer enough. There are just too many sources out there with a massive diversity of news. And no single site can truly keep you updated on what you need to know.To really get the news that matters to you in this day and age, it is necessary for you to do something called ‘plugging into the hive mind’. The hive mind can be your Facebook news feed, or Twitter feed or just the Internet. Being plugged into a very savvy network of other people in social media, in your field of expertise for instance, would be a fantastic way to start getting relevant information. Knowing what experts in your field read and share will place you in the best position to know what matters as soon as it’s available to know. Twitter lists, I find, are a great way to get started on this.

News or Noise?

Telling the two apart requires you to be fully aware of what exactly you want. And also crucially, you need to know exactly how and where to get what you want. Today information floodgates are truly open. So, be it on social media or standard news websites, how does one filter out the news from the noise?

But thankfully, from apps that help you track topics of interest to human curators that provide you custom newsletters, the Internet is full of solutions for its own deficiency. The problem is, sometimes the vast amount of solutions out there can themselves be daunting to behold. Some solutions may work for you, while others don’t. Finding what thus can itself be a process – an interesting one if you’re even a slight tech/info junkie, but an arduous one if you just want to know what you need to know.

What you can do

There are various apps that try to help. Flipboard is one popular one available on both IOS and Android platforms. It’s got a nice interface and hip looking design that is pretty user friendly and allows you to create and manage ‘magazines’ that individually curates information on various topics. But the topics themselves are limited to what is on offer. Prismatic is another app that offers something similar, curating this time from social media. Numerous other apps like Zite, etc. offer similar services. But unless you are a general consumer of news, and not in need of highly specific information on more obscure topics, these may not be ideal for you. Plus, good apps that offer balanced regional or Sri Lankan news are right now pretty scarce.

Other apps just try to help you to manage your reading better. Apps like Pocket and Instapaper for instance, help you quickly save and tag articles of interest as you browse the Internet, for later reading. I’m a massive fan of Pocket because it also allows you to listen to articles in podcast form as you drive or commute to work. Evernote is also a very useful general purpose productivity app that people also use to sort and arrange their news.

Finally, you can opt for curation. If you’re a part of a firm that needs specific information, you can consider doing this internally, or outsource it to a specialised information curation company that will send you a customised newsletter (the latter is often the less expensive option). Curators need to be savvy and understand your needs very closely while also having expertise and know-how on how to get the best and most relevant information from the web.

Drinking from a Fire Hydrant

Getting information from the net has been compared to ‘taking a drink from a fire hydrant’ by Mitchell Kapor, first chair of the Mozilla Foundation. And I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.

Unless you ‘live’ on the Internet so to speak, and it is virtually an extension of your brain, its nooks and alleyways can sometimes be a pain to navigate. But luckily the very inventiveness that brought you this overwhelming flood of information also seeks to actively provide ways for you to peruse and filter it. You just need to look around until you find a solution that fits.