O'Reilly Launches Money:Tech Conference

Earlier this year, I began noodling on the parallels between Web 2.0 and financial markets. That led to a session on this topic as part of the O’Reilly Radar Executive Briefing at ETech, and an issue of the Release 2.0 newsletter. As we’ve continued to explore this topic, we decided to launch a new conference to explore the space. Entitled Money:Tech, the conference will be held at the Waldorf-Astoria in NYC on February 6-7, 2008.

The theme we have chosen for this year’s conference is “Finding Alpha
in a World of Commodity Data”, focusing on the insatiable demand for
new and better data. We think this demand — especially given recent
problems at many so-called “quant” funds all relying on the same over-used data
sets — is creating opportunities for fund managers, as well as for
entrepreneurs and VCs.

The central idea for the conference came out of a conversation with venture capitalist and former Wall Street trader Paul Kedrosky. As reported in Release 2.0:

Paul Kedrosky… sees a revolution in the business of Wall Street as Web
2.0 provides rich new sources of data on the financial
performance of companies. For years, the buy side and the sell
side have been trying to make money from the same data — company
earnings reports, SEC filings, and so on. “It’s the most
over-fished pond in the world,” he notes.

We liked this idea so much that we’ve partnered with Paul to create this conference. He’s written up his take on the Money:Tech conference on his blog. I wanted to expand on what Paul said, though, and put this conference into the broader context of Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 is ultimately about “collective intelligence.” So too, of course, are financial markets. But the breakthroughs in Web 2.0, as in financial markets, have often come when a company realizes the overlooked potential in a source of data that was available all along. (The canonical Web 2.0 example was Larry Page’s realization that link analysis provided metadata — the so-called PageRank — that could be used to radically improve search.)

What other new kinds of data are being exposed in today’s increasingly networked world that can be the foundation for insight and value creation? That’s what this conference intends to showcase. We want to bring Web 2.0 entrepreneurs to Wall Street, so that the Street can learn from these companies — and help teach them about new ways to leverage the data they are gathering. Because that’s the other key insight here: many startups toiling in the fields of the consumer internet are missing opportunities to monetize their data in financial markets.

We believe that the drumbeat of new data sources coming on stream is only just beginning. What’s more, we believe that the technology for extracting meaning from that data is maturing. And in particular, we believe that Web 2.0 brings new capabilities in the area of real time intelligence. What’s more, unlike Wall Street firms, which keep their techniques and sources of proprietary advantage close to the vest, many firms focused on consumer internet opportunities have nothing to lose by sharing their insights and their data with those in a position to exploit it.

We’re hoping to be joined by some of the most innovative technologists on Wall Street. In addition to looking at this data angle, we’ll be exploring what cutting edge ideas financial firms and web 2.0 companies are exploring on similar paths: areas like massively parallel computing, managing really large systems, and squeezing the last ounce of performance out of networks and computing equipment.

Now of course, you might ask whether we’re crazy to be launching a conference aimed at financial markets in the middle of the current market turmoil. Well, maybe :-) Like everyone else, we’d rather the markets were a bit less uncertain. But it’s actually in times like these that new sources of data can make a difference. Mathematical models can be wrong, but new sources of data can provide actual insight into breaking trends from the real world. We like to think that the lessons of this conference can be more appropriate now than ever.