Even as Wikipedia hurtled past its 15th birthday back in January, it feels as though we haven’t really had the penny-drop moment about sharing that the user-created encyclopaedia proves over and again.
Even though we know the best programmers are the most flagrant users of Google and StackOverflow, we still seem to think of sharing as something, well, over there - outside the normal processes of work. And yet, every time sharing makes us smarter, faster, and better at our jobs, we create an exception for that, as if the only real measure for our worth were some invisible storehouse of capacity we carried around inside our heads.
We can blame our schools for fostering this continuing delusion in our own capability. For fifteen or sixteen years we get tested on what we have been able to absorb and retain, not on what we can reach out, grasp, learn, and use. Formal education has taught us to rely on ourselves well into an era where anyone who relies on just what they know operates at a growing disadvantage. Using the device in the palm of our hand that just happens to be connected to a growing wealth of human knowledge?
There’s not much reason for this attitude beyond the persistence of inertia, and the irrational demand that students ‘learn’ something. What happens if they’re cut off, on a desert island, with no mobile signal, and have to solve differential equations? How will they survive? These increasingly improbable and artificial edge cases overlook a world where everything is continuously connected - not just people, but things - and without that connectivity, you have bigger problems on your hands.
Where we could be teaching kids how to thrive in a connected world of shared knowledge, it seems we’re actually preparing them for a post-apocalyptic landscape of extreme individualism, a world that actively denies them any support. As a proud Australian I have a natural affinity for this Thunderdome scenario - but it’s fantasy, not the basis of an educational philosophy.
We can indulge that fantasy because so little is at stake; however they’re taught to learn within the classroom, students will unlearn that quickly as they enter the real world, with its constantly shifting demands, skills, and requirements. Trying to do it all on your own isn’t the way to get ahead - or even stay afloat.
If Wikipedia had taken the commercial route, it would be a multi-billion dollar information-and-advertising powerhouse. Jimmy Wales would be lauded as one of the great Internet entrepreneurs, up there with Zuckerberg, Larry and Sergey. Instead, ‘shared freely’ has become shorthand for ‘worthless’.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
When money is on the table - big money - it tends to focus minds. Ideology falls away before naked greed. Yet it’s often thought that money and sharing sit at opposite sides of the table. To make money you have to be at least a little bit selfish. You can’t really give it all away.
Billed as the world’s first ‘open source hedge fund’, Quantiacs aims to illuminate the depths of our confusion about money and sharing. Freely providing all the data and tools an aspiring ‘quant’ could ever wish for, Quantiacs creates a forum where those quants can submit their money-making strategies to an open, transparent marketplace of investors. Investors can choose to ‘upvote’ a strategy with their dollars, with the profits divided 80/10/10 between investor, Quantiacs, and the creative quant.
Most quantitative analysts of any skill are walled up deep within hedge funds, turning their skills (and a vast array of expensive, proprietary data sources) into private and highly confidential strategies for earning money off the market. Quants are paid well, because they’re the engine room of a hedge fund - without quants, hedge funds have nothing to offer investors.
Quantiacs turns that model inside out. Their data is free, their tools are free, and the performance of every formula submitted by the 2000-plus quants working with Quantiacs is available for inspection. Everything hidden away by today’s closed hedge funds is revealed by Quantiacs. It’s almost like the magician showing you how the trick works.
As an investor, are you more likely to be satisfied by an individual quant working for a closed hedge fund, or by a thousands of quants contributing their own best efforts to an open hedge fund? It doesn’t seem like there’ll be much of a contest here, but it’s still early days.
If Quantiacs doesn’t come to fulfil the promise of sharing, keep in mind that it’s just the first attempt to transform an old, established and closed process. There will be others, and - eventually - one will become a wild success. At that point, sharing will be seen for what it is: the most potent tool for wealth creation we’ve got.
Sharing dominates the consumer economy: Facebook, Google and Apple all are in some way built around making it possible for us to share things with one another. Yet sharing has not made any great inroads into business practice. Even getting organisations to share what they know within themselves has proven a challenge. Until there’s money on the table - and profits to be made - we can’t expect much change. But Quantiacs proves we’re in that penny-drop moment. It won’t be long until sharing is seen as the fastest path to cash. ®