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Friday, January 28, 2005

Beane and Bloggers

Found this quote on Athletics Nation as quoted by Baseball Musings. This is Billy Beane talking about the web and bloggers...

"There is a tendency [in blogs] to really analyze things in detail. Ultimately, because there is so much conversation and investigation on a site like yours, people may not ultimately agree with it, but they stumble onto what you're trying to do. Someone emailed me something written on a Cardinals' blog, and they had nailed all the things we were talking about. The economic reasons, the personnel reasons and the reasons we made the exchange. The world of a Web log will lend itself to a lot of investigation. And you will often stumble across the answer more than someone who has to write in two hours to meet deadline just to make sure something is out in the paper the next day."

To me Beane's comments reflect one of the big changes that the critical mass of the web in general and blogging in particular have wrought. Simply put, expert opinions (present company excluded of course) in a seemingly endless array of fields are now essentially free.

Why are they expert opinions? Because in a community where multiple millions of people can share information at very low cost, the law of large numbers kicks in resulting in a substantial number of people, that because of their passion and intelligence, will acquire specialized knowledge that they're willing to share. And often these folks are not employed in the field they are commenting on (as is the case with the Cardinal's blogger mentioned in Beane's comment) which enables them to avoid the competitive nature of the "insiders" who horde knowledge to gain competitve advantage or only use it for specific purposes (as in the case of sportswriters who are under different constraints). The result is that what was once the possession of the few becomes available to the many at virtually no cost.

I say virtually no cost because although Google has become a verb ("to Googgle" or "I just Googled it"), and RSS is ubiquitous in the blogging community, it is still somewhat - meaning not automated enough - difficult to find and cull the expert opinions and to receive only what's relevant. In both these areas what is needed are intelligent agents (something like this RSS filter are the very beginnings) that can search contextually on natural language input instead of on simple keywords and learn based on the reader's actions. I've seen demos of some of this technology produced at Microsoft Research but I don't know how soon it may make it into real products (or whether some of it has already).

From the baseball perspective the expert opinion effect is magnified (or has been accelerated) because of the public nature of not only the performance of the players, but the economics of each team, the relationship between labor and management, and even the input into the system via high school and college players. In short, almost all of the relevant information that experts need to synthesize is already present.

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