Reimagining Finance: StockTwits

Mary Meeker’s recent Internet Trends presentation introduced a new buzzword into the tech world: reimagination. Meeker listed 50 different market categories that are in the process of being reimagined – in other words, disrupted or changed. Over the coming months, we’ll profile some of the leading reimagineers of this Web era. We start with a company that is bringing social data to financial markets: StockTwits.

StockTwits, which has a new beta design that will feature in this post, is often referred to as a “social investing” site. It enables investors to track financial news and swap advice on stocks.

As the name implies, StockTwits is heavily influenced by Twitter. In fact StockTwits is basically a Twitter for financial data, with its focus on real-time streams and short bites of discussion. You can follow people and stocks, create “watchlists” (for example, stocks in a particular market segment) and “streams” (such as Equities, Futures and Options).

The stock market is commonly seen as a market for public sentiment. If stocks are falling, that reflects negativity in an economy. Today, for example, the S&P 500 market in the US fell 1.26% – due largely to continued worries over the European economy and the flow-on effects for the US economy. Just as stock markets measure public sentiment, so does Twitter. StockTwits tries to merge the sentiments coming out of the financial markets, with Twitter (along with other social media, such as Facebook).

One way StockTwits does this is with heatmaps, introduced earlier this year, which measure what people are talking about on the site. Today, due to the WWDC conference, Apple was a heavy topic of discussion. Apple’s part of the heatmap is a maroon color because the stock declined by about $9.

Much of StockTwits’ value comes in the social data it is aggregating. There are hundreds of sources for financial data and most of them are more established than StockTwits (Bloomberg, Yahoo Finance, MarketWatch, and so on). What StockTwits brings to the table is both a platform for social discussion and a way to analyze the resulting data. A good example is this chart showing “unusual social volume” on the site. It shows that J. C. Penney Company, Inc. ($JCP) has been the most discussed company over the past 30 days (not counting Nasdaq itself) and “Diagnostic Substances” the most discussed industry.

StockTwits is a small piece of the pie for financial market analysis and discussion, but it has added a valuable new ingredient: social data. I believe in the theory that markets are primarily driven by human behavior, moreso than objective data. The “irrational exuberance” of the Dot Com era being a prime example. If you subscribe to that view of the world, then StockTwits is re-imagining investing to better match the way markets really work.

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