Thursday, July 31, 2008

My pessimistic view of public financial discussions - will Wikinvest become a "facist" condemnation center?

I just read a post in TechCrunch that talked about Wikinvest and mentioned, among other things, the ability for people to annotate events in stock charts, such as this Microsoft (MSFT) chart.

I ended up posting this comment in TechCrunch:

I don’t know about the annotations. I check the Yahoo Finance message boards from time to time, and 90% of the comments that I see on those boards make the Loren Feldman-Shel Israel thingie look like high-minded discussion. Perhaps this is just limited to Yahoo Finance discussions, but somehow public financial discussions bring out the worst in people. I’m waiting for the Wikinvest annotation that says “MSFT DROPED 1$ BECASE BUSH IS A FACIST AND SHOLD BE IMPECHED!” Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I don’t have high hopes.

To show you how bad it can get, here's a REAL example from the Microsoft message board on Yahoo Finance:

Ludicrus ... Raps for Pal Obama 31-Jul-08 02:15 pm

Ludicrus ... defames Hillary and McCain ... delivers ultra slimy rap song for his pal Obama ... wants him to paint the "white" house ... (black?). Obama says he is a “great talent and great businessmam.” Listen up dopes, this is what awaits you if you elect Obama.

I repeat, this was entered on a message board dedicated to discussion of Microsoft stock. Recent postings centered more on Obama than on Ballmer.

Perhaps I'm wrong about my assertion that public finance discussions are worse than other public discussions. To test my theory, I'm going to venture into the "Everyone" tab on Twitter. Obviously I don't expect financial discussion, because Twitter is a general-interest area, but I want to answer the question: has Twitter degenerated into a negative flame war hell?

Here's a snapshot of the "Everyone" feed on Twitter:

What everyone on Twitter is talking about!

necessary_wonk living it up at the resort in Florida... almost 30 and still loving mooching off the parents. less than 5 seconds ago from web

Milenio Descartan que subsidiar turbosina resuelva crisis aeronáutica : Ciudad de México.- El otorgar un subsidio.. less than 5 seconds ago from twitterfeed

mattmaison Manny deal 'close to dead': A source close to the three-way negotiations involving Manny Ramirez says .. less than 5 seconds ago from twitterfeed

pdiaz @NeverWanderer I see you're attending the ramtower School of Wit. less than 5 seconds ago from TwitterFox in reply to NeverWanderer

bruseth 7 Universities Offering Free Courses Online less than 5 seconds ago from twitterfeed

inkblurt Brain struggling to focus between design meeting in this half of room & Shine On You Crazy Diamond in other. Dave G's guitar work is win ... ... less than 5 seconds ago from txt

chocobn FromTwitterFeed: Automate a Remote Login Using SSH - Webmonkey: The Web Developer's Resou.. less than 5 seconds ago from twitterfeed

trainsignal Trying to explain/justfy Twitter to my wife...I was on her side only a week ago. less than 5 seconds ago from txt

jbnann Oops Bay is not going to T Bay, at least not yet. less than 5 seconds ago from twhirl

StuffNZ_World Bus passenger stabbed and beheaded in Canada: A man sleeping on a Greyhound bus as it rolled across.. less than 5 seconds ago from twitterfeed

womarketing notte a tutti less than 5 seconds ago from twhirl

jerobins @k1v1n that's always a good clue! less than 5 seconds ago from twhirl in reply to k1v1n

tomguarriello Hooray! There's water on Mars! (OK, back to what you were doing.) less than 5 seconds ago from web

elizabeth__anne Headed back to work. less than 5 seconds ago from txt

edelgado81 @NASA wow that's cool ... less than 5 seconds ago from Twitter Opera widget in reply to NASA

davidhulonhood - Forget visting churches... If you want to dream big for ikids lobby room decoration.. Make a trip to new york ... ... less than 5 seconds ago from TwitPic

JohnsFace just got the new iMicrowave hooked up to my iPhone. Now I can download hotdogs! less than 5 seconds ago from web

nancy4300 thought that storm would have lasted longer less than 5 seconds ago from web

PrivatePatches hard drive bit it. >.< less than 5 seconds ago from txt

jtcr17 Si alguien sabe de algún interesado en trabajar para IBM en el contact center(callcenter) Let me Know! less than 5 seconds ago from twhirl

After reading that, I drew three conclusions:

  • I was pleased at the high level of discourse among the tweeters in this sample.

  • Twitter is a very diverse service, with many interests and many languages. This particular sample was taken at about 1:10 pm Pacific time. I'll have to try this experiement again at another time of the day.

  • I have to follow JohnFace. Wonder if there is an iBacon yet.
Back to Yahoo Finance. I know that at times we talk about "noise" in places such as Twitter or FriendFeed, but some of the Yahoo Finance stuff seems to be beyond noise, and more akin to "garbage" or something stronger. Ho John Lee looked at this:

Stock message boards are a fascinating place to scan through from time to time, containing a mix of informed, uninformed, and sometimes deliberately misleading posts. On average, the post volume and prevailing sentiment is probably a good contrary indicator. Part of what makes stock message boards interesting is the sheer volume of misdirection and general noise. At the same time, there are a smaller number of board posters that contribute more than blind cheerleading or bashing their chosen stocks.

Lee then talks about a paid filtering service from Collective Intellect that purports to filter out the garbage.

Actually, truth be told, I can filter it myself with existing Yahoo message board features. My default view allows me to see unrated messages, but I can filter it so that I can only see messages rated with 3 or more stars, or 4 or more stars, or 5 stars.

Wikinvest claims to have a method to combat stock spam:

When spammers post to discusion boards, there's no way for the community to delete the spam. When they post biased or inaccurate information on a discussion board, it can't be removed. Radical openess is a Wiki's strength over other platforms. Anyone can remove something that's inaccurate on our site - which means only the consensus perspective that almost everyone can agree to will remain....

Our reputation system is a powerful tool for combating stock spam. As you edit Wikinvest, you'll build up reputation. This reputation is based on what you write on the site, but also on how other contributors react to your changes. Do other editors revert your changes quickly, suggesting they are low-quality? Or do your contributions endure? This data lets us identify trusted members of the community, as well as contributors who are new to Wikinvest and whose edits may require more scrutiny.

And this warning applies, regardless of what you read;

As with anything you read on the internet, we encourage you to validate anything you read on Wikinvest with external sources before you make an investment decision. But we hope Wikinvest will be a useful place to start your investment research.

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