One of my early writings on How I became financially independent in 5 years got “stumbled upon” a couple of days agoshortly after I started blogging and I got my 15 minutes of fame. Well, actually a few days of fame. I am fairly sure that the story above has now been read by far more people in two days than my total scientific output has been read throughout my entire career.

So what’s the idea behind stumbled upon and similar sites? The problem facing net surfers is that the internet has acquired a dynamic component from blogging, news reporting, etc. Since search engines are designed to index the static parts of the web, they are no longer the best tool to find the most interesting content. Instead websites are aggregated on the fly into lists which we can call “new”. Users then vote on the “new” list which creates a second list called “popular”. Many users only read the shorter “popular” list and vote on that thus further boosting the numbers. Thus if something makes it onto the “popular” list, it can quickly become very popular as an avalanche starts. Of course it all comes down to the original first snow ball. It’s like asking the question: Why is Paris Hilton famous? What is she famous for? She’s famous for being famous.

I suppose much of this post is only interesting to other bloggers because it’s all about traffic, eye-balls, SEO, etc. However, there is an important observation regarding the rest of society here. If popular acceptance is determined by a single trigger (at the time where something was not popular) what does that mean? It is similar to the origin of weather systems. Here the wings of a butterfly can theoretically trigger a process that eventually develops into a storm. Of course there are lots of butterflies that bask their wings all the time and don’t trigger storms. However, if we mainly look at storms, we might miss most of the butterflies. I enjoy scouting out “butterflies” and I have found a lot of wisdom in “smaller” blogs and “forgotten” posts merely by trawling the web. Maybe I’m old school that way? But I find the same structural dynamics when it comes to investing. A lot of thinking is based on what is popular. Ever wonder why so many people seem to get the same idea at approximately the same time and proceed to go ahead and do the same thing? Is this due to pundits? Or is it due to thinking the same way about the same information? In either case, this leads to momentum plays and eventual bubbles which in the market can generate huge money (as long as you are in front of the crowd). It can also lead to large losses (if you find yourself behind the crowd).
Try reading the new list rather than the popular list even though it is more work. You never know which gem might turn up 🙂

An even better suggestion is to disregard the “news” and start reading history instead. Mostly it is impossible to measure the importance of current events if those are all that is considered. Yet, news are more popular than “context” or history. Hard as it is, try to spend 90% of the time reading history, only 9% of the time reading news and maybe only 1% of the time reading whatever is popular. I have not managed to do that well myself but I know a guy who managed to stay away from newspapers and magazines for an entire year. I think such an undertaking will create the perspective that popularity is only a small part of the entire universe of events and more importantly that “new” events are actually not that new nor are most of them very important seeing that most of them have happened before.

Originally posted 2008-01-16 07:42:20.