Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Wikinvest Builds Crowdsourced Investment Research and Recommendations

The investment research marketplace is one of the most intensively cultivated business information sectors, with major investment banks, buy-side fund managers, ratings companies, publishers, media companies and independent research firms all putting their finger in the pie to try to pull out the plum of valued insights and recommendations. With such a daunting field of players you have to give credit to Wikinvest for even thinking about trying something new.

Wikinvest enables contributors to build up profiles of companies similar to what one gets in a typical stock profile report, with a neutral "just the facts" default tab for each company complemented by tabs that give indications as to what the bullish and bearish sentiments are on the investment. While these reports leverage mostly bog-standard MediaWiki technology they are attractive and readable for most purposes. They also have a nifty graphing package similar to that used in Google Finance that contributors can use to create annotations that correlate market movement to events affecting the company's stock.

Wikinvest company reports are complemented by topical concept reports, which lay out the details of major trends and investment methodologies. Like company reports each concept report also includes an area in which "bulls" and "bears" can add their own take on the impact of sub-prime loans on markets. There are also nice features such as the ability to add user-specific bookmarks on each page's sidebar and the ability to type in partial company names or concepts instead of ticker codes into their type-ahead search box to get some meaningful content. Top contributors to Wikinvest get titles akin to Wall Street professional titles - "Senior Director" is the label for the top grade of Wikinvest contributors.

For a just-out-of-the-box tool Wikinvest is already populated with a fair amount of content - 100,000 contributions are claimed - but it's content coming mostly from young enthusiasts rather than from seasoned investment analysts. Don't let the "Senior Director" label fool you - look at the bios of these leading contributors and you'll find many folks who have not yet made it out of school. That said, when one thinks of all of the off-shore operations cranking out stock reports these days, this is perhaps not the worst thing in a world of 80/20-rule online content. The concepts reports - basically a topical financial encyclopedia - have potential and are generally pretty well-written but it needs far more reports, as well as support for basic industry terms such as "uptick rule" found in sites such as Investopedia or Wikipedia.

This is a very day-one effort at an investment-oriented Wiki, and for day one it seems to have done a lot of the right things. The 100,000 articles is about the scale of the original Wikipedia, so there's reason to think that it will attract quality contributions over time that will flesh out content in this market sector. The use of a neutral/bull/bear model to gather content is also useful, helping to channel opinions to places where they're useful and hopefully helping to avoid opinion turning into facts too often. It's a model for Wiki content collection that others should consider to address topics that draw a lot of segmented opinions. The ability to define new concept articles on the fly also allows Wikinvest to be a fresh and topical source of content that will draw people on a regular basis, giving the potential for building audience loyalty as a must-stop bookmark.

Will Wikinvest really fly? I think the real question is rather how does any sector-specific Wiki project manage to build authoritative content that will attract an audience and quality contributions. From this perspective I think that Wikinvest is a pretty good roadmap into how Wiki technology can be used to build communities of interest around professional-grade topics that can become a strong media source over time. I expect that Wikinvest will have relatively slow and steady growth over the next few months and then either be snatched up by a major portal (is the similarity to Google Finance charting a hint as to their exit strategy?) or outclassed by a startup with deeper pockets and more of an ability to attract higher-grade contributors. But then again, with a little more cash to accelerate content growth, Wikinvest could wind up being that better-financed startup themselves - and find themselves in a very interesting spot in the online content world.
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