Finance is going social

This week wasn’t only about the IPO of LinkedIn and people fearing another dotcom bubble. It was also about Derwent Capital getting the green light for its social media based hedge fund from the FSA, the regulator of financial services in the UK. A first of its kind, the fund will monitor threads on Twitter to feel out marketing sentiment before placing its bets.

Another good example of a financial business ‘going social’ is CMC Markets, which is looking to soon release “a Facebook for traders”. This will be a trading application with the aim of building trading communities as a forum to discuss trading strategies. CMC feels that this platform could be particularly beneficial to new traders, who will be able to plug into a large community of traders. This isn’t a completely original idea though: platforms like Covestor already provide their user communities with easy access to professional investors, whose investments they can mirror.

These are the main things I learned from these social moves by financial institutions:

  1. This is quite a drastic break from traditional investment methods – Even though I don’t think for a minute that complicated financial models are going to disappear, these moves show that public sentiment (Twitter) and easily accessible expertise (CMC, Covestor) are credible investment resources for investors to dip into.
  2. Increase use of social media to make trading decisions – There is a trend involving a growing number of people referring to social media or expert communities for advice on their trading decisions.
  3. Social media provide a handy format! – Twitter and Facebook are in a way geared towards providing users with bite-size snippets of useful investments. This is an area where the more traditional investment methods are definitely lacking

Main learning point: it’s fair to say that the financial world has discovered the potential business opportunities that social media has to offer. Community based trading platforms I can see working (and are clearly proving to be a success) because they enable traders to get access to expertise they would otherwise have to pay substantial fees for. Using Twitter and Facebook to predict market sentiment, however, I’m less sure of. Isn’t it risky to use, often fickle and impulsive, Twitter and Facebook sentiments as a starting point for financial investments?

Related links for further learning:

Book review: Agile Product Management with Scrum

I simply can’y help myself; project managing is what I do on a daily basis and I get excited about things like “Agile”, “Scrum” and other approaches to managing digital projects. I tried to restrain myself but I simply have to write about these things … One promise though: I will try to keep my posts about digital project management as relevant and as practical as possible.

Let’s start with “Agile Product Management with Scrum”, a book by product management expert Roman Pichler which I finished this morning. I guess the main thing to know about Agile project or product management is that it’s all about a collaborative and iterative approach to developing software. As opposed to more traditional ‘waterfall’ project management methodologies, functionality requirements aren’t frozen upfront and the focus is very much on delivering a series of “shippable” (i.e. working) product increments. The aim of each development “sprint” (average duration: 2 weeks per sprint) is to deliver some working software at the end of it.

Within this Agile approach, there is a very prominent place for “Scrum”. So-called ScrumMasters (which I happen to be one of) lead daily Scrum meetings with cross-discipline development teams and a “product owner” to monitor progress and to discuss requirements for the next product iteration. Pichler has now applied this Agile methodology to the world of developing and managing products.

Product Management is an area which is traditionally very prone to endless documentation, specifying requirements and functionality in mind numbing detail. However, “Agile Product Management with Scrum” sets out how businesses can change this approach to developing products. These are the main principles that underpin Pichler’s book:

  1. Iterate, iterate and iterate! When developing a product ‘the Agile way’, the initial focus is typically on high-risk functionality or requirements, after which the Scrum team can start testing and refining, concentrating on the next product iteration or set of requirements.
  2. Emerging requirements – Rather than locking down all functional and non-functional product requirements upfront, items in the “product backlog” are emergent and flexible.
  3. Shippable product – The core focus of Agile Product Management is to regularly create and release working software which the stakeholders or customers can test or use.
  4. Self-organised teams – Each Scrum team is expected to be cross-discipline and self-organised. This approach makes the traditional Project Manager role redundant.

Pichler has done a great job in applying Agile principles to product development. When I talk to businesses that use Agile techniques to developing products, all the key principles that Pichler’s book outlines are being utilised on a day-to-day basis. Chapters such as “Envisioning the product” and “Working with the Product Backlog” take the reader through this iterative way of developing products on a step-by-step by basis, never overcomplicating things and always with the key principles of Agile in mind.

“Agile Product Management with Scrum” is a very accessible read, irrespective of one’s role (business sponsor, developer or ScrumMaster) or prior understanding of Agile methodologies. If I were to pick one area of improvement; I would like to read more about how to best apply Agile and Scrum to managing the product through its own lifecycle. Pichler does really well in clarifying the creating the “product vision” (i.e. outlining the overall product goal) but I think there could be more room for detail on how Agile and Scrum could facilitate ‘ongoing product management’. One can think of regular product review meetings (to compare one’s product against new user requirements or competitors) or regular “vision sprints” to iterate the product vision on an ongoing basis.

Main learning point: I would recommend “Agile Product Management with Scrum” to anyone who wants to find out about more Agile and Scrum or who wishes to apply these approaches in a product management context. Pichler offers a large variety of practical, real-life cases studies and useful tips on how to get started. I don’t see Agile as a set in stone process or a strict methodology but more as a fluid, incremental approach to projects and I feel that Pichler’s book is a great testament to this approach.

Related links for further learning:

7digital improves its Android app and takes on mighty iTunes

7digital is stepping up to compete with iTunes by updating its Android app to include an in-app music download store along with acting as the default Android phone music player.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been learning a lot about innovative music businesses venturing into new partnerships and trying to make the most of their APIs. It is interesting to see how 7digital is now challenging iTunes, even going a step further by having the app sync with 7digital’s digital music locker feature so that tracks previously purchased from the service can be re-downloaded to a user’s handset.

This is what I learned about the full features of the new version of 7digital’s Android application:

  1. Access to 7digital’s catalogue of 14m MP3 tracks.
  2. Optimised mobile delivery.
  3. Ability to access and sync tracks stored both locally on a user’s device and in 7digital’s cloud locker.
  4. Users can browse music by genre and new releases and search for artist, track or album names.
  5. Playlists can be created and managed within the application.
  6. 30 second previews of all tracks are available before purchase.

Main learning point: the latest version of 7digital’s Android application must be seen as a significant milestone within 7digital. It partners with a wide range of companies (think Blackberry’s PlayBook and Shazam) and this new Android all-in-one music player cum download store will in my view prove to be a further boost to their offering to both existing and future partners.

Related links for further learning:

Rdio partners with Echo Nest and shows it’s serious about things

Last March I learned about Rdio opening up its API and launching an affiliate programme. In a move to strengthen its proposition, Rdio has now announced a partnership with music analytics and recommendation service Echo Nest. The partnership will allow developers to add music recommendations from Echo Nest to their apps and then actually play the music using streams from Rdio.

The Echo Nest is a music intelligence service which develops bespoke applications for customers like the BBC and MTV but also for independent app developers. It provides a platform that analyses music in various ways (e.g. similar artists or songs, beats or loudness).

MusicMaze is a good example of an app where the respective APIs from Rdio and Echo Nest have been combined pretty well; this webapp maps relationships between musicians (data powered by Echo Nest) as well as enables users to listen to related music (streaming powered by Rdio). Non-subscribers to Rdio will hear 30 second previews and Rdio subscribers will be able to listen to the full songs.

Main learning point: Rdio is clearly serious about making the most of its API and strengthening its affiliate subscription programme. Their latest partnership with Echo Nest seems very logical in this respect; it adds extra analytics capability to its offering, which may very well be of interest to the developer community. Time will tell I guess.

Related links for further learning:

How social media reacted to Bin Laden’s death

I just came across some interesting stats by Mashable on “How the Social Web Reflected on Bin Laden’s Death”.

A day after the news of the killing of Osama Bin Laden broke, it’s interesting to reflect on the role social media played in the breaking and sharing of this news. Moreover, Twitter and Facebook really provided people with the perfect platform to express (and share) their feelings and opinions in relation to the death of Bin Laden.

These are the main things I learned from Mashable’s research:

  1. As news about Bin Laden’s death started to spread, Twitter was recording about 12.4m tweets per hour.
  2. Similarly, an “Osama Bin Laden is dead page” on Facebook generated over 442k “likes” within a day.
  3. A picture of a tense looking President Obama following the secret operation saw 600k views within the hour of the photo appearing on Flickr.
  4. Finally, YouTube turned out to be an important hub for professional journalists and ordinary citizens alike, with more than 13k uploads of Bin Laden related videos within a day.

Let’s not forget that the raid that killed Bin Laden was first revealed on Twitter by an IT consultant who lives in Abbottabad where the raid took place. He tweeted, amongst other things, “a helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)” as well as drawing in information from other locals who were also online at that time.

Main learning point: I feel that historic world events like the killing of Bin Laden really demonstrate the significance and value of social media. The speed and volume with which platforms like Twitter and Facebook enable news to spread and people to connect is really incredible. Especially the opportunity social media provides for people to express themselves and to share their opinions so rapidly and at such a scale is unparalleled.