Tuesday, February 01, 2011

What's In A Name?

The Anal_yst sparked a solid talking point last night when he penned a post asking what people thought of anonymous blogging/tweeting etc.  Felix Salmon expanded on the topic, highlighting the most important issue:  for many pseudonymous bloggers,  especially in finance, their employers would fire them if they published under their real names.  This may seem confusing to some readers, what with "freedom of speech" and all, but my former employer (and I'm guessing most industry peers) have strict policies about communicating with the masses.  If the New York Times called me up at my old trading desk and started asking me questions, I could get fired just for answering them.  There are company spokespeople who do the press interviews, and we have to refer the reporters to such people.  The end result of this is that if you want these pseudonymous financial authors' insights, and you SHOULD want their insights, as they know a crap-ton more than the journalists who write the mainstream media stories do, you have to put up with pseudonymity. (at this point I'll point out that most people who are talking about "anonymous" bloggers really mean "pseudonymous" bloggers.  Anonymous commenters are common, but anonymous bloggers are rare.)

The important point, which I've touched on here multiple times in various forms, is that it's what's being said that matters more than who is saying it.  I've explicitly discussed this mantra previously with respect to the comments of David Einhorn and Steve Eisman.  Critics of Einhorn's and Eisman's ideas quickly snipe "Oh, they're short sellers - that's why they're saying that."  Yes - but what about what they're saying - is there anything wrong with their arguments?  

Critics of pseudonymous speech say things like "Oh, you're hiding behind a pseudonym - you should stand up to what you write."  Let me speak for myself:  Kid Dynamite is, obviously, a pseudonym, but that doesn't mean it's meaningless -  it's my online identity.  It's not as if I can just spout of irreverent nonsense because I'm not writing under my real name -  everything I say goes into the "Kid Dynamite" body of work and reputation, which I very much stand behind and work very hard to establish. As The Epicurean Dealmaker put it: "a PSEUDONYM creates an identity,a distinctive voice which persists thru time.This is OPPOSITE of anonymity"

"But Kid Dynamite," you ask, "You're no longer working at one of the repressive uptight financial firms - why are you still pseudonymous?"   Fair question, and one that I've thought a lot about.  A few colleagues said I should write under my real name, and others advised sticking with the pseudonym.  Personally, I happen to think that there are lots of crazy people out there who I don't need to know my real name.  I don't need to be worrying about them hunting me down just because they don't understand ETF mechanics and are angry that I'm not part of the Physical Silver or Die movement (even though I'm bullish on silver).  I don't need the guy who loses his money day trading coming after me because I explained that high frequency trading wasn't any different philosophically than what he was trying to do.   

My favorite "anonymous" attack came on Seeking Alpha after I wrote the post "Calling out Matt Taibbi on Dark Pools."  The article was a demonstration of Taibbi's misunderstanding of the subject, but that didn't stop a commenter from attacking my "anonymity."  I responded with some snark, including the sentence  "It doesn't matter if my name is Harry Dooker, Stephen Judge, George Washington, Ben Bernanke, or Kid Dynamite - the facts are still the same."

My attacker was satisfied, apparently thinking that Harry Dooker was my real name: "Fair enough Mr. Dooker. You've shown who you are. It's now a call-out. Respect."

What's interesting is if people would respect my blog more if it were written under the pseudonym "James Sturgeon" instead of "Kid Dynamite."  We all have cognitive biases, and it's definitely likely that the name "Anal_yst" or "Kid Dynamite" negatively biases readers from the get-go.  That's an unfortunate side effect of having chosen those monikers, and yet, as I mentioned above, I am my moniker - I have a body of work that has gone into it already, so I don't just want to create a new one.  

James Sturgeon does have a nice ring to it, though.  I mean, the fish theme seems to be working as far as pseudonyms go - right Felix?  "Felix Salmon" is a psedonym, right?  (/sarcasm)



Anonymous said...

I am sure Kid Dynamite is cooler than ur real name and thats what its all about coolness

Kid Dynamite said...

anon - for me, at least, it's not about coolness. As I mentioned, if I could rewind the clock, I almost certainly would have chosen a different name.

"Kid Dynamite" arose from a poker tournament recap I sent to my friends in my budding days of no limit hold'em play, where I lied in wait and then exploded out of nowhere - kid dynamite!

Anonymous said...

What's Mark Twain's real name again?

KD, I think Dirk Diggler would be cool.

Kid Dynamite said...

I think Mark Twain's real name was Cassius Clay, right? Or was it Clark Kent? I can't remember

Onlooker said...

Yes, there's definitely a difference between anonymity and pseudonymity, for bloggers and commenters, both. I get what you're saying here.

Of course using a pseudonym is one place removed from using your real name. You could always start over with a new pseudonym if you wanted to, for whatever reason. But people would probably sniff it out though as you're likely to "look" the same, hanging in the same places.

And I also understand not wanting to use your real name. Once you go there, there's no going back.

It's why I decided to use a pseudonym for commenting. And even though people don't really know who I am, I feel a need to "behave myself" to maintain the reputation of my pseudonymous self. Much more so than posting anonymously. We all know how that works out.

The Man said...

Dear Harry,

It's good to laugh on a cold, snowy day in New England.

Keep up the insightful comments along with the humor.

Anonymous said...

I'd like your name better if you didn't rip it off from Mike Tyson:

James BigEyeTuna

J Johnson said...

Thanks Kid for your summary. I have been reading comments and have some opinions on the matter, but without a dog in the fight, have not weighed in. You nice job summarizing the subject so thank you.
The opportunity for people in (or who have been in) the business (who, as you alluded to, know a lot more about the intricacies of the financial market than me or what I can read in mainstream media) to contribute to educating people is significant and (should be) highly valued. And to reiterate your (and other’s) point, it is the content that matters. I highly value these contributions because they are interesting. It is always sad (but understandable) when one of these folks stops (across the curve, as epicurean has threatened, or others that have expressed “why blog?” – making their contributions.
As I have contemplated comments made by Epicurean, Anal_yst and others on the topic, it would be a significant loss if the pseudonymous aspect of authoring either wasn’t allowed or respected in the community. Regardless if the author is pseudonymous (which is oftentimes a fun aspect anyway) or not, the content and contributions are the important piece. People that contribute in the blogosphere and desire to do so with a pseudonym should be respected. My fear is if this weren’t respected, we the reader would lose a great deal of insights and information.

Joel said...

"Fair enough Mr. Dooker"... that's hilarious. I propose this as your new hotel check in name/online poker id/etc.
I can see it now, "Welcome back to Aria Mr. Dooker, we hope you enjoy your stay"

Joel (real name...gasp!)

EconomicDisconnect said...

Great post Kid. I knew Muhammad Ali was named after Mark Twain!

I know my company would frown upon my blogging, but I do try and stay well away from Pharma/Biotech stuff unless it is just general comments. I prefer my pseudonym, as you write, it is who I "am" online and 4 years of work speaks to that.

Jordan said...

If your psuedonymn was Mr. Sturgeon, I can assure you that someone like me, who had little knowledge or interest in finance, would never have read your blog in the first place. It's the relaxed nature of the psuedonymn that makes you accessible to the dirty, unwashed masses.

Word Verification: irate

Pietro_F said...

James BigEyeTuna <== Choked on my gum laughing when I read this...

Anonymous said...

nom de guerre, nom de plume, pseudonym, Publius, Hilarious Bookbinder, Bluetooth, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen. It's the same old same old.

extra bonus points for knowing who Hilarious Bookbinder 'really' is.

Anonymous said...

KD's nom de guerre tomorrow is going to be, "Mr. 24 inches"...

... as in, that's what he'll be shoveling all day!

BTW -- Come join us at Wildcat tomorrow and we'll show you how to tree ski, New England style!