Discussion boards are powerful and unregulated, which means I use them, but only with lots of filters. Some are populated with people expressing considered opinions as if it was a collegiate debate society. Many are empty except for a solitary investor asking questions into the void, hoping someone else will respond and initiate a conversation. Some, to use the term from my book, are like the stereotypical drunken frat party, boisterous and obnoxious, with lots of passion and chaos. I use them all, but I keep in mind that the debaters may sound more impressive than they are; and that even at a drunken frat party there might be someone sober and rational worth listening to. Here are the boards I use, why I use them, and how I use them.
The long description of why I use stock discussion boards is in my book, Dream. Invest. Live., but the short version is that I use the boards because I recognize great areas of personal ignorance. If you stroll around my various web profiles you’ll come across a Will Rogers quote; “We are all equally ignorant, just in different areas.” No human consciously knows everything. So, to fill in the blanks, I read and sometimes participate in the various boards.
In the interest of conciseness in a previous post I wrote that the Dendreon boards tend to have medical professionals and statisticians, but that is a generalization. The longer version fills out more of the picture of how and why I use the boards. The DNDN board on Investor Village includes urologists, oncologists, patients, nurses, hospice, clinicians, academics, and other health care folks. Sometimes the various motivations conflict, or produce dis-similar support. Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment, Provenge, breaks through traditional professional boundaries (as I understand them) because a cancer that would normally be treated by an oncologist now has a treatment that can be administered by a urologist. Bureaucracies and business models can be upset, and understanding the swaying power struggles explains some of the variation in news items and public perception. On the finance side, the board seems to have long term investors, short sellers, options traders, deal makers (M&A), analysts and researchers. The business types see the implications of company financing and partnerships, while the stock investors and traders see the flow of money, ownership and the influence of reporting deadlines, options expiration dates, and shifting institutional loyalties. No news item captures all of those points of views and motivations.
Trying to learn all of those disciplines would take me decades. Instead I read the discussions, and use basic manners and character judgments to weed out the majority of the nonsense to get at useful knowledge and insight. My gauge of a board is whether it can provide that. Few can reach IV’s DNDN board’s expertise.
There are also practical considerations: cost, ease of use, traffic data, etc. Some are free. Some are free, but with upgrades. Some cost up front. Paying to cruise empty boards is a waste of money, but if I learn one thing that affects a trade, the difference can be worth thousands of dollars. Paying $50 a year (a fictitious price) can suddenly seem more than worth it. Ease of use is simple. If the boards are hard to use, I’m less likely to use them. I want posting to be easy, and I want to readily see replies and tangential posts. Traffic data isn’t just ego-stroking. The number of readers, responses, recommendations tells me if I might be tapping into a crowd’s wisdom or have simply shouted into a vacuum. Some of my posts have received no comments or replies but I know that hundreds have read them, and seeing that there are recommendations tells me that something I said was worthwhile; and that nothing was so outlandish that I needed immense and immediate correction.
Without further dissection of my methodology and philosophy, here are the boards I use.
Investor Village (investorvillage.com)
Without a doubt this is my favorite site. It is easy to use. Provides useful data. It can be used for free, but premium service speeds things along (and I think that’s why I don’t have to wade through ads.) The operators police the site and kick off offenders. People can only have one username, though I think some have figured out how to get around that. Combined, the various features result in more reasoned debate. The site has it’s flamers and Off-Topic screamers, but the site allows me to filter out them and their posts. Every stock has a board, even if that board is empty. It is the newest site that I use, so many boards are empty, for now.
The Motley Fool (boards.fool.com)
The Fool may be the best known, and has much greater lineage and heritage than IV. As a result, personalities are apparent and their track records can be perused. When in doubt, I’ll check a user’s number of posts, number of recommendations, and their CAPS score (a judge, though noticeably poor judge, of their portfolio performance). Some of the more general boards there are small academies that are very good for training new investors. Unfortunately, the site seems to have a tendency to use its articles to sell it’s various newsletters. It may not be a conflict of interest, but it doesn’t feel right either. The Fool also has a policy of not hosting boards for very small companies, which precludes many of the small-cap and micro-cap companies that I am interested in. It is a parent-child relationship where they are taking care of me by guarding me from temptation. It is a bit condescending to me.
Silicon Investor (siliconinvestor.com)
SI has been around since before the internet bubble popped, I think. Some of my semi-annual reviews can be tracked back many years there (true for The Fool too). It is a fee site, but I bought a lifetime membership way back when. Of the sites I check, SI has the fewest useful boards (for me) and the least traffic (for my stocks) but the people there tend to be very knowledgeable and rarely enter flame wars.
Yahoo (finance.yahoo.com – look for messages)
I doubt that Yahoo intended it but, their name doesn’t convey an image of reasoned debate. The site is free and every stock has a board (I think), but there seems to be very little policing of multiple usernames, inflammatory comments (in my opinion), and misleading statements (in my opinion), and because so many users resort to abusive phrases, I don’t post on Yahoo. I do lurk there though, with very heavy filters, and little expectation. Intelligent and reasoned people post there, but of the sites I check, this one takes the most effort to hear the useful moderate voices. I turn to Yahoo though when the other sites have nothing new. Despite the quantity of useless shouting, the immense quantity of traffic means that news may show up on Yahoo before it shows up anywhere, including the news outlets.
Discussion boards aren’t the ultimate resource. The definitive data resides on the company’s web site and at the SEC. Analysts and researchers may do a good job of compiling data, and may provide insight from a well-defined point of view. The boards are good for finding pointers to the data sources, because while crowds may or may not have wisdom, a crowd of individual investors tend to have similar motivations and constraints and that crowd is most likely to have found the data most pertinent to my questions, even the questions I didn’t think to ask.
If nothing else, that recognition of a crowd of similar souls is therapeutic. There are days when a stock is moving and none of us knows why, and it’s comforting to know it is a shared ignorance. The boards are also the place to find shared solace. The Dendreon boards are regularly touched by personal cancer fights, losses and victories both. And there are shared celebrations. Much of the time, investing news worth cheering is something only other shareholders can appreciate. It may be virtual, but the party gets real on days like that, and it’s always good to know where the party is.