The Information Behind the Cloud

“Look, it’s not in my nature to be mysterious. But I can’t talk about it and I can’t talk about why.” — Rusty Ryan, Ocean’s Twelve

While reading this interviewyesterday with Techmemefounder Gabe Rivera, one quote stuck out above all else. On the topic of publications relying on bogus arguments about the tech industry:

So it’s a bunch of people not really knowing what they’re talking about?
In my view, the biggest problem is something actually rarely articulated, which is: Most of the people who can offer key insights for understanding the industry are not incentivized to write, so a lot of crucial knowledge just never appears online. It’s just passed along to certain privileged people in the know.

I have, perhaps, an interesting vantage point on this topic having now worked on both sides of the aisle, as it were. And I can unequivocally state that this notion is correct.

I’ve written about this before, but the problem is that I always end up sounding like an asshole when I say it. It’s one of those “look what I know that you don’t” issues that you can’t win. So I’m glad Gabe put it out there this time!

For the record, I don’t believe there is a solution for this. Sure, journalists can try to ask better questions to the right people at the right time, but most of those people will never talk. And if they do, you have to wonder what they’re underlying motive is for talking — because there will always be one.

But what bugs me is the flipside of this, something Gabe hints at. That is, because those “in the know” often don’t speak up about a topic, whatever is reported is often times assumed to be fact.

Sometimes it is. More often, it’s not. The 75–20–5 Rule.

I can’t tell you how many times I overhear things being talked about these days on the street, in coffee shops, etc, where I know what is being said is pure bullshit. But these people read it online somewhere, so it must be true!

This is, of course, not unique to the tech industry. But what’s interesting is that the tech industry features a lot of people “in the know” who routinely express their own views in their own words, whether that’s on Twitter, on Facebook, on a blog, etc. Yet those people are often silent on topics with which they’re intimately familiar.

Fred Wilson wrote about this issue a month ago. I know this feeling well. Some of the things that excite me the most are things I can’t possibly talk about. Again, this is where I sound like the asshole. But if I’m being honest, it’s something I still struggle with at times.

I switched from a career where my job was to hunt down information and share it with the world. Now my job is to hunt down information and share it with almost no one. Long, elaborate blog posts have turned into long, elaborate emails. Thousands upon thousands of readers around the world have dwindled into maybe a dozen in my office.

Four years into my investing career, I’ve gotten used to this and I’m quite happy with the trade-offs. I no longer get the urge to share everything I know with the world. But the old embers do still ignite at times when I see information that I know to be false being spread. Still, I stay silent.

Writing when you have all the information you need at your disposal is not easy. It takes patience and practice. But writing when you have all the information you need at your disposal but you can’t mention most of it is nearly impossible. And so when people ask why I write less now, I usually give some canned answer about not having the time. This is true to some extent. But it’s more about what I can’t say.