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The requirements of today’s networked societies are simply too many to list, however, I would like to give it an honest try, list a few mundane/everyday acts and try to identify the corresponding digital practice that often accompanies them. Spectacular Masala Dosa for breakfast, to be accompanied by mandatory photographs on Instagram, and Snapchat; the fastest way to commute to work a constant negotiation with Google Maps and its knowledge/understanding of my city’s roads (does it know that one shortcut that emerges from that innocuous bylane?); success at work, a moment for gratitude and adulation and “post-worthy” content for LinkedIn, Twitter; a spectacular mango after dinner and WhatsApp’s status feature could be the window of choice. 

As we jump across platforms and their content offerings multiple times a day, each time “performing” life, aspects of living once considered inherently analogue in nature find ways to be remediated. For instance, while information and verifiable facts have always found space on the internet, platforms like Twitter, Whisper, and others have found ways to allow ideas, perspectives, critiques, rumors, and speculation to be voiced. Opinion Trading as a practice can be considered to be an extension of this facet of our networked lives as it allows for ideas and interpretations to be evaluated by society and the markets at large.

What is Opinion Trading and what can it offer?

Industry watchers often define Opinion Trading as a means of investment where people in the market can value, price, and exchange opinions through event contracts, a process that can be likened to the trading of futures and commodities. Future and commodity trading have always required expertise that is a mix of knowledge (of the subject at hand), a keen understanding of data trends, abilities to draw from one’s experience, and a sense of intuition. Opinion Trading works with a similar requirement except that instead of investing in commodities you are investing in opinions and information and relying on the accuracy of your understanding of the situation. To put it simply, if one were to rewatch The Big Short (2015), starring Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, and Marissa Tomei, Opinion trading would allow more people to take similar positions like Christian Bale’s character did in the film and would have probably allowed for more people to be critical of the “subprime” element in the sub-prime crisis of 2008. Deriving from that example, an Opinion Trading platform then would be a place where people could benefit from the analysis and interpretations of other people on the platform, be aware of the various positions that are available to be taken and, in the process, make informed decisions.   

In an everyday sense, if one were to believe that the Indian Rupee will appreciate against the dollar on the forex circuit over the next week or month then they could invest in that belief and if the Rupee were to actually appreciate their investment would yield a profit. While the idea seems simple it is important to note that Opinion Trading like all information markets would be governed by information asymmetry i.e., prices and speculative positions are determined by when, how, and where information flows. A history of capitalism has often indicated that market information of this kind is often disseminated only in spaces reserved for those at the pinnacle of the financial pecking order. An Opinion Trading platform can potentially remedy this asymmetry and democratize financial markets as opinions and interpretations would hold their own exchange value. The areas of opinion exchange could be limitless as developments in technology, science, media and creative industries, politics, education, and healthcare could all be open for debate and valuation in a digital marketplace.

Towards a democratized and personal understanding of the markets. 

One such idea that emerges from the trading of opinions on digital platforms is the wisdom of the crowds where opinions are evaluated and assessed by not just a handful. A practice that could challenge our understanding of financial markets which are heavily governed by opinion leaders in various capacities. Platforms like these could allow individuals to both access the requisite opinions and then arrive at their own conclusions and decisions by looking for information and data that either support them or detract from them, practices that could allow for markets not to be understood in the binary of profit/loss but the development of nuanced and carefully executed strategies.

The importance for investors to arrive at their own understanding of the various investment markets is also reinforced by recent market data, Fortune Business Insights project the growth of the online trading platforms at a CAGR of 5.1 percent from 2021-28 (USD 8.28 Billion to USD 12.6 Billion) and highlight the importance of an in-depth understanding of market trends to navigate such platforms. Over time with use, Opinion Trading platforms could then offer more than just avenues for trading, for example, the creation of specific communities (Ferdinand Tonnies’ idea of gemeinschaft comes to mind), spaces to evaluate trends, offer commentary, critique ideas, policy and so on as trading platforms could assume a life of their own. These features and functionalities aren’t necessarily new to financial platforms considering one can chat and network on platforms like GPay and PhonePe but we generally don’t, and therein lies the onus for Opinion Trading platforms; can they ensure a steady flow of opinions, ideas, and critique to keep users invested. Can they transact, network, inform and communicate?

What can gamification offer? 

One of the largest challenges of engaging with a new platform or service is understanding its various functionalities. In a country like India, this challenge is significant considering that RBI’s surveys indicate that less than a quarter of the country’s population understands the basics of financial literacy. Opinion Trading’s democratic aspirations can only do so much if the platform’s very interface is intimidating and acts as a barrier for the population with investment aspirations. Gamification could be a great tool to internalize how these systems function as well as incentivize engagements with the platform and the market. Elements like leaderboards, achievements, collectibles, and rewards, have shown the ability to cultivate meaningful involvement, especially with digital payment, e-commerce, and ride-sharing platforms. Could the same benefits be applied here? Can a game-based interface make online trading simpler and easy to access? Answering these questions could determine the success of Opinion Trading in the country. 

What next? 

As India’s fintech and digital markets continue to mature – it is important to identify what each of them offers to the average consumer. Opinion Trading on the surface for a lot of traders might be akin to mere binary trading (where one trades on a stock/commodity finishing lower or higher in a time window) and may seem just like a game, but an invested user may find that it requires both dedication and a nuanced understanding of the nation/world’s various markets and sectors. Thus, it is essential for someone willing to engage with such a platform to push it to its limits and understand its various features and capabilities. Over time, with repeated interactions and engagements, users would arrive at their own understanding of both the markets and the capabilities of the platform – a key identifier of the skilled online trader. On the other hand, as recent developments with Cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and the GameStop stock have shown, the “wisdom of crowds” is not necessarily just a buzz phrase but is reflective of something that can hold existing market systems accountable and offer meaningful understanding for trends that at times seem both opaque and incomprehensible. 



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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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