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  • What the Thumbs Up with That? 135 comments
    Oct 24, 2010 4:33 AM

    Okay, so here’s the deal.  There has been some recent attention to problems, either real or imagined, in the thumb rating system.  Complaints about “trolls” who go back through long and often dated threads thumbing down every comment they see – either generally or targeted to one or two commenters – resulted in some recent feedback from SA Editor Eli Hoffman.  He said that this activity is hard to police presently and also pointed to the opposite problem of folks who arbitrarily thumb up the comments of others.  He suggested that thumbs up should really be reserved for comments which are especially articulate and thought provoking. 


    What’s all the fuss about?


    Is the whole Thumbs Up (T+) and Thumbs Down (T-) thing even worthy of a conversation? I think so, and here is why.  To put it simply, it is important because it is the rating system that is in use.  That alone makes it non-trivial.  Many sites use some version of the peer rated comment to improve content, and SA uses T+/T-.  This makes the nuances of this system important to anyone who cares about the quality of reader generated content.  It is easy to think the whole debate is about someone getting friends to pump up his ranking or someone else creating bogus accounts to go on a troll rampage and knock someone down a couple hundred points in an hour.  The real issue is about the ranking process itself.


    What is it for?


    Not having been privy to any development discussions, I can only guess at the goals for a rating system.  But using other sites as examples and judging from the fact that certain perks are extended to highly ranked SA members – even those who do nothing more than comment – it is easy to posit a few goals. 


    In a nutshell, comment rating should:

                -- Provide casual readers a way to participate in the threads without needing to comment themselves

                -- Help identify useless or abusive content for folks who would like to skip such things

                -- Conversely, help readers identify particularly meaningful comments which might add to the discussion


    And the purpose of using rating data to produce commenter ranking is similarly:

                -- To identify commenters who have spent a goodly amount of time contributing useful ideas and perspectives to the topics at hand

                -- To help other readers identify those who have earned the respect of their peers

                -- To encourage folks to contribute their intelligent input by recognizing those who consistently do so

                -- Even to extend rewards from time to time to the members who spend a good deal of time and effort developing their SA reputation.

    Both of these things combined should produce what is really the ultimate goal of any peer rated system – improvement in the content of the comments on the site.  The business implications of this are obvious.


    Does it work?


    Anyone who has ever bothered to read a comment stream on Yahoo finance (before being torn among simultaneous urges to buy the world a dictionary, tell them all what fools they are, or simply go to bed) knows that SA comments are far superior to much of the drivel that is out there on the web.  At first you may assume that anyone bothering to talk about stocks or the economy would at least have some modicum of intelligence, yet in no time you are asking yourself how some of these people even learned to turn on a computer.  No, Seeking Alpha, for whatever reason, has consistently more informed and more detailed comments than even other specialty sites like Motley Fool.  So something must be working.


    But how much of this can we attribute to Thumbs?


    Okay that question was rhetorical, so without further ado, I will move to the next one…


    What doesn’t work about T+/T-?


    Several things.   For starters, despite Eli’s contention that T+ should be saved for especially articulate and thought provoking comments, that is not how they are used. And if this standard were applied strictly across the whole site, most commenters would barely have two thumbs to rub together.  Let’s not kid ourselves, we may not be chimpanzees on Yahoo Finance pecking away at the keyboard until we randomly form a legal stock symbol, but we are hardly writing doctoral investment theses either.  Of course everything is relative.  So the standard we are really looking for is “articulate and thought provoking, considering it was made by a guy who is not an economist sometime between putting his two year old to bed and watching the rest of The Amazing Race on DVR".  Fair enough.  Application of this standard would still trim the thumb count a great deal.  Even the tool tips that appear near the thumb icons don’t ask you to set your bar that high, saying merely “Good Comment” and “Poor Comment”.  And of course the reality is that most people use the T+/T- system as a way to say “I agree” or “I disagree”.  Why else would perfectly reasonable and articulate comments (which are sometimes even backed up with stats and links) which happen to express an opinion contrary to the generally accepted notion of the group (and of course groups change from article to article – SA veterans know better than to promote electric cars in some places or speak ill of Sirius Satellite in others, to say nothing of AAPL and Gold), why else would these unpopular positions elicit Thumbs Down?


    Of course some purists, like me, will tend to T- almost any comment where someone calls someone else an idiot. Although I confess to sometimes letting itslide when the person being referred to is sure acting like an idiot.  It’s still not the kind of discourse we want to support.  In fact, this being SA and not Yahoo, we’d actually like to expunge any such language as a matter of course.  I also T- folks on occasion when they are spouting blatantly false notions or seem so hopelessly ill informed that their comment is perhaps charitably described as a “Poor Comment”.


    What else doesn’t work?  Fake accounts.  They are easy to generate and if someone is so inclined, they can create a new account, follow their old account and have a field day (by field day I mean if you are an eight year old and also confined to your room) thumbing up and down all your friends and enemies.  Sounds pretty silly but it most assuredly happens.  So Mr. 52 year old banker who takes the time to type a brief comment here and there about his concerns about the impact of QE2 must compete, at least in some form, with Mr 8 year old at heart who could care less about anything but teaching Mr Banker a lesson for suggesting he knew nothing about Treasurys.  Or was it T-Bills?  Or are those the same thing?  Darn I think I need to make another account and really let him have it!


    Well, you get the idea.


    What else?  The buddy system.  I thumb up everything you say because I know you do the same for me.  Together we ensure we keep our ranking high. (Although in defense of this practice it seems to be related to retaliation for having been victimized by trolls with an agenda…)


    If you’re mathematically inclined, you can go to the top 100 commenter section and see how many T+ each person averages per comment.  I don’t want to name names, especially when the math speaks for itself.  But come on.  Are some folks really 5 times more articulate and thought provoking than the rest of us?


    Want to read something funny?  Here it is from August 31 of 2009: 

    I'm a third in cash, a third in silver, and a third in equities. I have no clue what is going on anymore...

    That is my highest rated comment. It got 53 thumbs up.  In over 18 months and 1400 comments, that is the most articulate and thought provoking thing I have ever said (apparently).


    Okay, so I have whined at great length about the whole thing.  If you’re still reading you deserve your own T+. 


    Do you have any ideas?


    I hope folks will feel free to submit their own ideas for how T+/T- could be improved.  Eli has said he would look for suggestions about how to make improvements, and I will be sure and let him know this post exists, so what you say may actually be read by someone who not only cares as much as I do but can actually do something about it. 


    Here’s what I think should happen:


    Comments with sufficient T- should disappear (or more precisely collapse so that you need to expand them to read them).  “Sufficient” needs to be defined by the powers that be.  What would this do?  Well for one it would AUTOMATICALLY kill spam because all of us devoted thumbers would T- any advertisements for cheap sneakers and when the threshold was hit, the message would cease to pollute the comment stream.   Comments containing vulgar phrases would also tend to be collapsed pretty quickly, helping to keep the stream clean enough to drink out of.


    We should be able to screen out commenters we are not interested in -- The Blacklist, if you will (again maybe just a collapsed comment so if we felt compelled we could read a comment on a case by case basis).  There are known whiners out there who call everyone an idiot and do nothing but blow the same note over and over again.  Without the drama of account deletion or abuse reporting, these non-contributers would disappear as well.  And, hey, I often make silly quips.  Its just a thing I do.  I don’t mean to offend anyone and it is usually well received.  But I can see why someone would choose to block “that guy who rarely talks numbers and never links to sources but is always making wise cracks.”  Instead of T-‘ing me, someone could simply “ignore” me.


    I commented elsewhere that the T+ or even T- wasn’t as important to me as knowing that what I said was read by someone.  On a site as wide and varied as SA, you can’t take it for granted that something you write in response to some instablog somewhere is actually read.  T+/T- proves someone saw your comment.  Perhaps a way to say “I read this, it wasn’t so special I’m waking my wife or so dreadful I’m creating a fake account to troll you down 100 points, but yeah I read it, what do you want, a medal?”  would be nice.  This may also give some folks a way of saying “I don’t really agree with you necessarily, but I don’t think your comment was poor” and as such it may reduce the +/- being used as a way to say I agree or disagree.


    And here’s the best one (I think).  What if T+/T- were limited in the amount you could do in any hour or any day or some time frame?  What would that accomplish?  Well it would annoy the heck out of someone who wanted to T- about 200 comments all in one swoop.  And it would keep folks from T+’ing anything Buddy said because they only got so many +’s to share.  Here is where “I read that” would come in handy, since this button would be unlimited, since its ranking value is zero.  It would allow folks to see that, yes 20 people read what you wrote.  2 even thought it was thought provoking.


    What would that do to ranking?  Well it would mean that Thumbs inflation would go away.  In some sense it would end the era of Fiat Thumbs and bring Thumbs under a gold standard.  The gold in this case would be time.  Because if I only have, say 10 thumbs a day, 100 Thumbs would represent 10 days of work.  Right now 100 thumbs is about ten minutes (one guy with four accounts and a fast connection).  In short we’re headed to the point where it will take a wheelbarrow full of thumbs to move one place in the ranking, so folks will be printing more thumbs by the second.  Err, well you get the picture.


    Maybe 10 thumbs is ridiculously low.  Its not about the number, its about not having unlimited ability to T+ and T-.


    Is this even doable?  Well if I try to T+ the same comment twice, it takes just a second for the message to pop up reminding me I have already voted.  So my vote on this comment is attached to my account in some logical fashion.  It seems it would be easy to keep a counter for how many thumbs I have used this hour or day or whatever.  Not week though, because fake accounts would run roughshod over that.  Maybe a limit per hour makes the most sense.


    Is it silly to limit the ability to provide feedback?  Maybe.  But having unlimited ability will guarantee that some folks abuse it.  Is the abuse enough of a problem to want to make changes like this?  I’m not sure it is, but some folks seem pretty concerned about where other people’s plusses come from.  Others get pretty ticked off when they see a thread that is 6 months old suddenly has a column of -4 on it that it didn’t have a couple hours earlier.  Limiting feedback in some fashion seems the only way to stop this.


    Okay, that’s what I got.  If it took you a long time to read this, all I can say is at least you didn’t have to write it.


    Please submit your ideas below.  Why not open up the discussion to any other ways to improve the SA site while we’re at it… 

    Disclosure: No Positions
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  • An excellent post, and enjoyable too. DM, I turn a little sour below. It is directed at SA and does *not* reflect on your attempt here at all.


    Please do not "Thumbs Up" this comment, as Ely has said we should stop doing that among ourselves. I'll respond to that request over in the QC.


    Unfortunately, I have nothing substantive, thought-provoking, innovative or otherwise enlightening to add.


    So I should be "Thumbed Down" just because my comment was a waste of bit streams and the time of the reader. I can live with that. It fits with how the thumbs are used by most participants.


    On the other hand, I did compliment the author and some folks may agree with that assessment and want to show their agreement without taking the time to write a comment. So if your bias is towards the "complement rather than denigrate" side, feel free to "Thumbs Up" this comment. Oh, ...


    It turns out that is also a common way that folks use the "thumbs".


    Well, gosh darn it! What in the world should SA do? They want to override the innate tendancies built into people to force a behavior that meets their goals.


    Good luck with that.


    Oh! Maybe I should comment on some of your specific suggestions?


    Ok. All well concieved and worthy of further discussion.


    But since I have no care either way about the thumbs issue, partly because it is so poorly policed that it is essentially meaningless for any rational purpose, just like SA's TOU stuff, I can't find any new stuff to add to what you said, other than rehashing pros and cons that have been explored in a previous run at this "thumbs" thing many moons ago (with David White? Or who, I'm not sure any more).


    Anyway, the result of that was nada, AFAICT. Makes folks like me think that any attempt to engage us in this sort of discussion is just "confetti".


    24 Oct 2010, 10:31 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Great comment, HTL. I think you're right that a very important use of T+ is to say "me too" so if for example, Rachel Granby of Wall St Breakfast fame was leaving and someone posted a brief sentence thanking her for her work and wishing her good luck, would people stop and ask themselves how articulate or thought provoking the comment was or would they just T+ the comment as a way of "signing the card" that wished her well in her new endeavors? Of course they would just add their plus as a quick way to say "Me too." And they SHOULD. The impact of a "Thank You" comment with 60 thumbs up is drastically different from one with none, isn't it?


    And you could be right about the futility of taking this on, but I feel differently about the status quo if I have made a run at changing it and for whatever reason it does not change.
    24 Oct 2010, 11:43 AM Reply Like
  • As you've possibly noticed, I haven't been around much lately and for a year now I haven't hung around with the old gang. But I still follow many of you and was led to this discussion. I think your comment is well deserving of a thumbs up H.T.L. and I'm giving you one, just because. In fact, everybody gets some sugar today from AR because all of you are great writers and offer a whole lot of great discussion, not only to yourselves but to anybody else who wants to drop in and read your thoughts. I myself read some of it from time to time, but when the talk is based around individual stocks I tend to slip away quietly because my interest lies in a different aspect of investing, that's all. All of you are great contributors to SA and I personally really appreciate that. GL to all.
    2 Nov 2010, 04:32 PM Reply Like
  • Good to hear your "voice".


    I hope you and yours are doing well.


    2 Nov 2010, 04:35 PM Reply Like
  • AR: Greetings. Good to hear from you. I've seen you on some other threads and the discussion is invariably lively.
    2 Nov 2010, 04:53 PM Reply Like
  • The Thumbs system was part of my decision to invest less time here. It became less and less valuable to me overtime.


    When I got into the Top-100, my ratio of +/-s was 7 to 1. There after it was about 1 to 1, where I received as many as 44 consecutive T-s. The Thumbs system is the only feedback that I get, so once it is removed I don't get anything back.


    Your ideas are spot on. It isn't difficult to police at all. If an ID gives more than 44 consecutive T-s the person is probably on the wrong site. Your idea of limiting the number of Ts is good. The point is that policing isn't difficult.


    I did suggest them a year or so back that the Ratings should be weighted by user. +1 and -1 is binary, and doesn't tell you much about the rater. The more valued the rater is by the community the heavier weight it should hold.


    The TOP-10 or 100 or whatever should be a proprietary rating system which is not told to anyone. It should drop an ID where the ID accounts for 10% of the total volume. It should drop self-rec(s), and it should weight the rater. This isn't tough as you pointed out. The system should rate someone who is the most valuable to the community rather than someone who has the most IDs.


    I hope your article received some kind of response...
    6 Dec 2010, 11:42 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » A variant on the idea I express above is a system using three options:


    "I agree", "I disagree", and "Great Comment"


    The first two have nothing to do with ranking and can be issued in any amount. The last one is the ONLY thing that contributes to a commenter's score and can be limited in some fashion. You can say you disagree and still say "Great Comment" because that reflects reality sometimes.


    The agree/disagree would let commenters know they are being read. The Great Comment would contribute to a slowly additive score that would determine ranking. There would be NO way to Neg someone, but silence is deadly. Someone without any Great Comments would never climb. And if it is used with "Ignore" options, then who cares how many minuses one guy has. As long as I can filter out the noise I could care less what a guy's score is.
    24 Oct 2010, 12:04 PM Reply Like
  • In the prior round on "Thumbs", an equivalent to your "Great Comment" was proposed ("Thumbs Up" only, IIRC). It has several advantages, IMO. The first is the ability of "bots" or "slammers" to reduce someone's score vanishes. This automatically solves the "Thumbs Down" issue.


    However, it will be argued that this still allows for "Thumbs Up Inflation". There's just no getting around people's ability and desire to manipulate the system.


    This might be ameliorated by your thought on limiting the number of <insert your up/down/great here> in a given time frame. The only drawback I can see to that is when folks get behind on their reading, as I do often, then when they sit down for a "super session" of catching up they might be limited in ability to"cast a vote".


    The addition of agree and disagree addresses the issue of folks wanting to express themselves on the validity of a comment and has a lot to merit further consideration, IMO. Of course, by nature, one who clicks "disagree" is less likely to click "Great Comment", effectively resulting in a reduced score, as if "Thumbs Down" had been clicked. But, *some* will click "Great Comment" even if they do disagree and so there would be a small net gain.


    Those agreeing would be more likely to click "Great Comment" too, resulting in (at least) a small amount of "Thumbs Inflation".


    As you point out, how many (dis)agree is really irrelevant and so only serves the needs of individuals that want to express their POV with little or no effort, as it wouldn't require a comment.


    For the community, I would tend to think that a "disagree" would be most useful if that flag required posting something as to why one disagreed. This might elicit a more thorough airing of the pluses and minuses related to a particular initial comment, and the subsequent ones too. But then we negate the "disagree with no effort on my part" need. *sigh* People are so much trouble! :-(


    Would we want the same requirement with "agree"? I think it would be less useful since it's likely that in many cases no additional considerations are in the mind of the person that is clicking "agree", although there will be some who offer additional thoughts as to why they are in agreement.


    So a possible - but I'm not convinced persuasive - argument might exist for "Disagree and comment required" while a persuasive argument might not exist for "Agree and comment required".


    Regardless, your suggestions merit investigation as to their ability to meet the needs of individual users and SA at the same time.


    I hope they get a good airing in the SA halls, and here.


    24 Oct 2010, 12:38 PM Reply Like
  • DM: Greetings. Thanks for posting this. I think there may be enough momentum this time around to actually produce movement. I contacted Rachael, Granby and pointed out that this vandalism is now spreading to threads other than the QCs. The OCT 21 Wall Street Breakfast was vandalized with Guns and I getting strafed by the Troll. She replied assuring me she will look in to this matter as vandalism of any kind diminishes the site for all users. Regarding Eli's assertion that our rankings are being generated systematically on the QCs I think he's putting the cart in front of the horse. Most of us were at least top 50 when O.G. dreamed up this format. Moon didn't frequent the QCs that much until just recently and he's been top three for as long as I can remember, rightfully so I might add. Several of the Renegades are contributors as well. It seems a bit odd to attack some of the best investor talent on the site for being rewarded for sharing their talent now doesn't it? There really are reasons these folks are ranked highly and it's not because the Renegades are inflating each others ratings. Many of my most highly rated comments aren't even on the QCs I wouldn't be surprised to find many of the rest of us can attest to the same circumstance. I'm taking the liberty to link this with QC #110 where part of the discussion dealt with the thumb scoring system.
    24 Oct 2010, 12:53 PM Reply Like
  • this is a beautifully written insta. Thank you, DM, for taking the time to write this and share your feelings.
    Here is an example of why I find the thumbs up/down process vexing. It is Robert Ferguson's instablog on nanotechnology.
    It is an area some of us are just beginning to study together.
    Most if it is not investable yet. None of it is objectionable.
    However, someone has taken the time to vote us down.
    Here's the link:
    24 Oct 2010, 08:48 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » I saw that earlier today. It is inexplicable to me that this behavior isn't obvious, that is not policed, and that it continues. Suddenly all of the comments on the thread, going back a long ways, all have -5 on them. The notion that this is anything but naked abuse of the intent of the ratings system doesn't pass the sniff test.


    This is why I took issue with Eli's comment that they see no evidence of systematic thumbing down (but please stop thumbing up all the time). It sounded to me more like the words of an exhausted parent who upon hearing a report of something very inappropriate from one of his kids chooses not to address it by suggesting "No one likes a tattle tale." It places the blame on the ones who are reporting the abuse instead of taking responsibility for putting a stop to it. I'd much prefer if Eli simply said, "We either can't or won't do anything about it. Deal."


    I'm not saying that was what Eli meant, only that this is how I reacted to the comment. Now, if it is SA's honest intention to help initiate solutions, we've given them more than enough suggestions and "case studies" to examine. If they take no action, they risk having the comment areas degrade into running battles of flaming and trolling. Maybe the metrics are even the same in the short run. But I suspect in the long run quality contributers will abandon the site. I don't even use Facebook because it is impossible to engage anyone in a meaningful conversation. I'd hate to think Seeking Alpha would cede the high ground.
    24 Oct 2010, 10:04 PM Reply Like
  • DM: Some wonderful thoughts and insights. Well done!


    Doubt this would ever happen, but I wish SA would fire up "Invitation Only Instablogs," an extension of SA email, which would serve as a within SA site conference call, or maybe better titled "Private Chat Room," (though this name has a 25 cent parlor flavor).


    Though this would put a lot of ideas out of sight of other members, it would also eliminate systematic thumbs downing. Heck, I wouldn't care if these private conference calls were devoid of thumbing. One could argue that since SA has an intra site email service, which provides a measure of privacy, why not open up Invitation Only Instablogs, too?


    The downside to this idea is that it creates a clickish atmosphere.


    Feel like I'm on to a sort of decent idea that needs a more thorough thinking through.


    Thanks, DM.
    24 Oct 2010, 09:38 PM Reply Like
  • I thought that one of the best recommendation came from OG. She suggested that the comments ranking system reset to zero each year and then create an "emeritus" status for top commenters from years past. SA could even create a "Hall of Fame" for those who ended up in the top ten in prior years.


    I also like the concept of having a limited number of thumbs up and thumbs down votes per day. I think the thumbs up should be a bit higher than the thumbs up limit, but not excessively so (maybe double; 20 up and 10 down per day). While this would be limiting as HTL has suggested for a "catch up" session, it would definitely force most readers to be more selective in their voting and would reduce (if not eliminate) most instances of attempts to game the system.


    I believe I was already in the top 20 when the 'gades' were formed and don't always make a lot of comments in the QCs. I haven't ever had a comment with more than 100 thumbs up (but I have gotten over 90). But the comments that get the most thumbs up ratings have come from my comments on articles. The majority of my thumbs down votes have come from the two instances of being hit by a Troll who went back into my history and tried to reduce my score by giving multiple thumbs down votes to all my comments over a relatively short period of time.


    On the other hand, when I started commenting in SA there were already several top commenters with several thousand ratings head starts. I worked my way up by commenting on articles. But it seemed almost unrealistic to me to expect to ever be a top commenter when I started and I can only imagine how much more daunting it must be for someone just starting out now. So, this brings me back to the concept of resetting the comment ratings once a year and letting everyone have a chance at the top spot again and again, year after year. For some, I believe it would provide an incentive to comment more often and would require them to read more article to do so. Isn't that, after all is said and done, what SA would like to achieve?


    Resets each year and daily limits would level the playing field, IMHO, better than any other option and still allow those who need to be competitive a chance to rise to the top if they just spend more time on the SA site and polish the writing skills.


    Actually, I have been using SA to help me polish my writing skills for future endeavors. Now I just need to learn to be more succinct.
    24 Oct 2010, 10:12 PM Reply Like
  • "Policing" is the issue, IMO. If one establishes "rules" that are intended to enable accomplishment of some goal but does not have needed policing policy and tools, and knows due to the nature of the medium that it is likely to be abused, then they have effectively *established* no rules even though stated.


    Further, it is widely known that unmoderated boards have these sorts of problems. So there may have been an oversight in design, IMO, by not accounting for this from the get-go.


    But there is the possibility that the intended commercial purpose of the site, and therefore its goals, rules, TOU, etc. precluded taking the steps needed to prevent or solve these sorts of issues in a timely, effective and satisfactory fashion.


    After all, the site is a commercial endeavor and *our* goals and needs, as amateurs, may not be of as much concern as those of the professional participants. This *might* be supported by the inconsistent application of the TOU, as first identified by Freya, IIRC.


    That is not an inherently bad thing, just the way it is. If we play in their yard, they get to call the game.


    While the results of the voting issues may be important to us, as a group, it may not be so important to SA or it may be meeting their goals.


    A lack of corrective action after the previous discussions may indicate that this is the case or may be a matter of priority of workload, or may be a decision that the resources required are not justified, or ...


    I tend to always judge based on action, not words. SA's lack of action after the last go-round told me all I needed to know. I don't know, or really care, why no results were seen but I do know that for whatever reason no effective long-term or short-term results were observable.


    25 Oct 2010, 07:34 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » HTL,


    My belief was that good policing is ultimately good business. Article content is one thing, but page views is another. And folks returning time and time again to comment back and forth on articles drives up the page view count and hence adds value to the site not just in the form of content but in the advertising metrics as well.


    Now I am realizing that if you get a long running squabble fest as is taking place on several of the AAPL articles between two toddlers, that may not add content but it does drive page views. If SA were to become the comment thunderdome that is Yahoo Finance, would SA care as long as it improved page views? I'm not sure. I guess it's possible they underestimate the risk of loss of readership due to poorly monitored comments.


    The bottom line is that you're right of course. It is a business and decisions about these sorts of things are business decisions. But as a comparison between Blockbuster and Netflix supports, businesses whose "business decisions" engender hostility from their customers (e.g. aggressive application of late fees) may not succeed as well as businesses which try harder to cater to their customers' needs. Good customer service costs money and it never makes good business sense unless the impact of poor customer service costs even more money.
    25 Oct 2010, 09:20 AM Reply Like
  • On the topic of policing:


    It seems to me that since SA has the capability of keeping track of how many thumbs up or down we each receive and whether we have already rated a comment another approach would be to keep track of how many thumbs up or down each member gives. Members who never comment but consistently give high numbers of thumbs up and/or down may be worthy of analysis or watching. First, if anyone is gaming the system (either systematically pushing up the score of another member i.d. of their own or conversely, attempting to lower the score of competitors), those high numbers of comment rankings would be necessary and should be a clue. Second, if SA could also maintain this information within a database that also included the SA member name/id and I.P. address, it would be possible to purge the system periodically of multiple members using the same I.P. address. All that would be necessary is to periodically perform a sort on the database using the I..P. address to identify members with multiple identities. Anyone with multiple identities would be likely candidates for potential gaming of the system suspicion. Periodically eliminating those added ids would effectively eliminate the gaming. Multiple offenses in this area should warrant barring continued membership or at least a suspension.


    Maybe I am oversimplifying things, but at least, under this scenario, the process could be mostly automated and, once built into the system, deployed effectively with minimal human resources required. And, the larger membership could continue to enjoy their current privileges without noticing any changes. Only those trying to game the system would be affected.
    25 Oct 2010, 02:48 PM Reply Like
  • I.P address is useful only if you know that the address is not a NAT'd address supporting a private multi-user LAN.


    E.g. I have a LAN that has multiple computers that all traverse the net via my gateway/firewall. I.P. addresses for all computers will appear to be the same from a WAN POV. Only the port numbers used would vary.


    What this means is that where you have either a private set up such as mine with multiple users, or a commercial set up with multiple users, you might be whacking real multiple users.


    Having said that, many abusers could be identified when only one user I.D. was present within a given time frame, another I.D. in another time frame and the I.P. and port addresses were the same.


    IMHO, all that is really needed is time vs. rate and distribution. That is, e.g. 100 consecutive thumbs down in a short period. This would indicate either a mechanized process in operation or a manual but focused operation.


    I really don't see a lot of other reliable ways to identify the start of an investigation process without a high risk of whacking some innocents.


    I do emphasize that this is only to identify *potential* abusers and that manual inspection, deliberation and maybe even some watching over a longer period might be needed. Possible communication with the suspect may be needed as well.


    The expense and/or effort may not be justified in SA's POV.


    From my background I conclude that any 100% mechanized attempt to address this, start-to-finish, will result in havoc and collateral damage.


    25 Oct 2010, 03:11 PM Reply Like
  • HTL - Good points. My lack of IT knowledge just showed again. I knew enough about the commercial vs private network issue but typed without thinking it all through. My bad. Your good save. Thanks.
    25 Oct 2010, 03:28 PM Reply Like
  • With the permission of John Lounsbury, I am cutting and pasting a message he sent to me that includes what I believe are some interesting observations and potential solutions that could be helpful.


    Mark - - -


    I noticed that Robert B. Ferguson and HT Love had massive ratings drops the last few days. Trolls are a problem that keep cropping up. I remember a couple of years ago I was the top rated commenter and one overnight I lost over 100 "points" in spite of receiving a significant number of thumbs up on the comments I had made most recently. That continued for several weeks, off and on, but then went away.


    One way trolls operate is to go deep in time and just give thumbs down to hundreds of comments that are months old. That could be stopped if comments could not be rated after 48 hours have passed from posting..


    Another way that trolls operate is to set up multiple accounts and then have each account give thumbs down. This could be detected by simply counting the number of positive and negative comments from each IP address (all accounts on a computer have the same IP address) and flagging all IP addresses that have more than 10 (or 20) positive or negative thumbs in any 12 hour period. That list could be reviewed for poor behaviors. SA requires all commenters to register so they can tie IP addresses to accounts very easily.


    SA would not have to catch all trolls. If they catch some and publicize that they have been detected and disciplined it would act as a deterrent to others tempted to crawl out of the slime under their bridge.
    25 Oct 2010, 03:34 PM Reply Like
  • I can't help but wonder if the Troll will find this thread and hit us here as well. Wouldn't that be ironic!
    26 Oct 2010, 01:31 PM Reply Like
  • Mark, Bern: Greeting. It's a good bet that the Troll is aware of this Insta already. There are probably not enough comments left untouched to make it worthwhile to vandalize this Insta yet.
    26 Oct 2010, 02:02 PM Reply Like
  • Tons of great ideas already presented. I hereby endorse all that hard work (and exult in not having to duplicate it, of course)!


    The single-mindedness of this individual (I really doubt it is a group) indicates some very deep problems. LOL, and I'm pretty happy about that, of course!


    As for the technical side of things, depending on what sort of software was used to create and support SA, they are able to both track down the IP address - and check to see if there are other registered users from that same IP address.


    Then its not difficult (with those same tools, plus the full site information on each user) to determine what is what.


    Sometimes the troll is, indeed, able to burrow into a mass of innocent fellow members (this might occur with a college dorm, for instance, where lots of students have joined SA as part of an investment course requirement). In those cases, ferreting out the troll would require some of the more detailed tracking HTL and Mark have mentioned.


    Truly determined trolls, however, more often just return even after they have been exorcised by the Site Admin and banned. New IPs are easily acquired, and there are plenty of anonymous shields which can be used to fool the site's guard-bots.


    Its potentially a never-ending issue, which brings us back to OG's wonderful suggestions, which hard work and thinking I, again, gladly endorse!
    2 Nov 2010, 04:22 PM Reply Like
  • I like lots of your ideas too, DM. And thank you for the insta, I should have already mentioned that.


    This insta, as it sits (less my extraneous meanderings) constitutes a veritable think tank on this topic for SA.


    And all for free, too.


    (Pssst, next time, we meet in my place, and sell this valuable expertise. Yahoo might pay plenty, their place is a shambles.)
    2 Nov 2010, 04:45 PM Reply Like
  • I wonder if it makes any sense for us to set up a blog site of our own for the QCs. I know this has been suggested before (by OG, IIRC) and have been giving it some thought. We could still be members of SA and comment or submit insta and articles if we wanted, but having the QC somewhere separate might relieve some of the concern by those who may think that we developed the QC concept just to help our ratings. Of course, that is naive and a childish response, but there are those who may feel that way. But, since the QC is open to anyone there really shouldn't be a problem. OTOH, since it seems very few others are really interested in our musing or our collective wisdom on industries, the economy, politics and individual stocks, why do we bother with the open platform? Maybe we could just take it private or go somewhere where it is more appreciated. Who knows, maybe we could make a buck or two out of it all if we really put our heads together. Just a thought.
    2 Nov 2010, 06:59 PM Reply Like
  • Yes, Mark. Freya and myself, I believe OyGee and HTL, maybe Guns too, discussed this some time ago. One Eye has the knowledge of how to do this, as does HTL, I suspect.


    Problem is, if we went private, we would not have on board the newer commenters, like, DM, Robert, Moon, Joseph and TripleB, all of which I value greatly. Along the way, we've basically lost the insights of Swashbuckler, YellowHoard and Mono.


    I like the new blood, and to keep attracting more 'Gades, we might as well stay here.


    What we might want to do, is what I've done and document here in this thread the amount of systematic thumbs down that's going on, which, incidently, I'm getting whacked again as I write this, down to 4561 from 4515 this morning.


    We can this way build a better case to take back to Eli.
    2 Nov 2010, 07:23 PM Reply Like
  • I've been thinking about that "private" board too. But in the end, I had thoughts that made me think it's not desirable. Included are the thoughts you had Maya.


    For me, I post as I can because of my desire to share with others who are new or ignorant in so many areas just like I am. And I hope that folks who wander in my want to add some nuggets that help me out as well. If we go private, a lot of that benefit disappears and we become, to some degree, a self-reinforcing cloistered group where we lose the benefit of the "new blood" you mention.


    Another consideration, for me, is the convenience of having a single place I can go and get exposed to such a wide variety of resources. SA provides this like no other site I've encountered and we'd be hard-pressed to replicate even a small portion of this benefit.


    If our presence in these chats helps SA succeed and keeps these resources available to us and others, I'd really like continue that support even if there are some issues that need handling.


    If we did do a private thing, there is cost, both in time to support it and $. We would end up having to do some relatively serious organizing, cross-training, planning for contingencies (like vacations, outages, ...). Since all of this is really not what we are all interested in, primarily, it might be more difficult than we would think.


    It would be nice if SA actually did something about these trolls - participating in this thread would be a minimal start. And seeing some resulting action would be nice. But since we've been around this horn before and seen 0 results, I think we have to be less than optimistic.


    3 Nov 2010, 05:29 AM Reply Like
  • In the end analysis, I think that both HTL and Maya are right. I didn't mean to try to start and exodus. I just really wanted to let everyone air their thoughts on the issue one more time because, IIRC, the last time this idea was posed we kind of left it hanging without any real conclusion. I prefer to remain here, even with the frustration of feeling under-appreciated, because of the new blood and potential for new ideas. The Troll situation, for me at least, isn't that big a thing. Maybe we should restrain from giving each other so many thumbs up and allow us all individually to drop a bit in the rankings while allowing others to overtake us. Being in the top 10 isn't as important to me as being accepted by this group and all the great information we trade regularly. I find the QCs to be the most informative threads on SA with links to great articles both inside and outside of SA and the personal analysis and rantings of some very smart people. You just can't find this anywhere else to my knowledge. If so many of us weren't in the top 20 we probably wouldn't be targeted by Trolls. Just a thought. If SA won't change the rules to level the playing field for all, perhaps we should take upon ourselves to become less conspicuous.


    I recall that most of us, at one time or another, have stated that the rankings aren't important to us. So why should we get so upset with the Troll issue? Why not just forget about it and do what we do? Make more money. After all, isn't that why we're all here? That and the camaraderie.
    3 Nov 2010, 11:19 AM Reply Like
  • "So why should we get so upset with the Troll issue? Why not just forget about it and do what we do? Make more money. After all, isn't that why we're all here? That and the camaraderie"


    I'm sure most/all agree with that, but ...


    I don't *presume to speak fro Freya or anyone else, but I *think* she would say "It's the principal of the thing".


    And I feel that way too. I think it really goes back to when she first brought up the inconsistencies in application of the Terms of Use. Prior to that, I was unaware and uncaring. When I saw what she pointed out, it sort of turned into an ethical issue for me.


    Once I achieve that state, I don't forget it. I won't *waste* my energy or time on it if some kind of results seems unlikely, but I don't forget.


    I suspect that others may feel the same.


    Like you, the important part for me is the acceptance and support of folks whom I have come to respect more and more as time passes. The generosity of the time, knowledge and effort displayed by everyone just continues to raise that level of respect.


    Since I forget so often, thanks to all, again.


    3 Nov 2010, 11:27 AM Reply Like
  • HTL - You're absolutely right! I shouldn't have used the word "forget" because it bothers me, too. What I really mean is that since it appears that SA is not likely to actually do anything about the issue, even after we all spent the time and effort to provide great options for resolution, that perhaps we should just set it aside and continue doing what it is that is useful.


    I know that the "principle of the thing" will continue to get under our collective skins, but the more we express the emotion we may be continuing to "feed the beast." If we just agreed to ignore "it" it may go away because it no longer bothers us enough to be worth the effort. IOW, maybe we should just stop commenting about the Troll and pretend we don't care. Without SA's help, I don't see any other viable option. Have any better ideas?


    I may be wrong, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the Troll revels in reading our comments of angst, knowing that he/she is aggravating us. If we didn't comment and appeared to not care anymore, where would be the fun for the Troll?
    3 Nov 2010, 11:37 AM Reply Like
  • The only "better" idea is for SA to act. Robert posted a link in the QC that makes it sound like something may be coming.


    3 Nov 2010, 11:43 AM Reply Like
  • That would be nice. I'll try holding my breath. Just kidding! I do hope we can get to a positive resolution and am truly sorry that I have bee so pessimistic.
    3 Nov 2010, 11:55 AM Reply Like
  • I've taken a different tack. I'm determined to continue posting research and blogging as always with an addition to the repertoire. Since I'm too old for the sports of my youth I've taken up Troll bating. I intend to insult, highlight and generally screw with yon Troll as much as possible. Perhaps it will get POd enough to leave or reveal it's self. Hopefully Rachael will have some thing soon.
    3 Nov 2010, 12:26 PM Reply Like
  • Robert posted a link about possible action over in the QC. If you missed it, click this link.



    3 Nov 2010, 12:33 PM Reply Like
  • H.T.Love: Greetings. Thanks for the link.
    3 Nov 2010, 01:17 PM Reply Like
  • Today marks the forth time in as many weeks that I risen above 10,000 in the net comments rating. I usually get hit immediately (within 24 hours) after reaching this milestone. I wonder if the Troll is tracking my score as a trigger to go back on the rampage. When things settle down a bit on the home projects front I'll go on a binge and comment like crazy all over on articles and we'll see if "it" can keep up.
    3 Nov 2010, 01:13 PM Reply Like
  • Mark, Bern: Greetings. A sound strategy that I have also initiated in conjunction with Bating the wretch as much as possible.
    3 Nov 2010, 01:19 PM Reply Like
  • Whatever strategy is employed, I think we all need to be consistent. That doesn't mean that everyone has to go crazy with the comments. But it won't do any good for some to ignore "it" while other try to bate "it."
    3 Nov 2010, 01:55 PM Reply Like
  • I don't think coordinated action is need by *us*. SA is the responsible party, they have developers, DB admins, editors, TOUs, ...


    I'll do what I do and I encourage others to do the same - whether it's what you were doing or a new proactive approach.


    It's just not worth diverting *any* attention from *our* focus, which is the helping each other in our primary goals.


    No disrespect, but I will *not* be diverted by such issues. There is *too* much for me (us?) to learn and too little time for *me* to engage in a concerted effort.


    In a way, I see it as 9/11. If the troll diverts us from our chosen path, he/it has "won". If it gives me 1MM downs and I don't react or care, he has not won IN THE GAME I'M PLAYING!


    The game he is playing - I care not one whit for him/it.


    It's SA's problem, not mine.




    P.S. In the deep past, when this was first an issue, I took the time to give a lot of "Thumbs Up", so it's not that I don't care or am not willing to assist. I just need to "balance" what I take on above and beyond my current load in working towards my goals.
    3 Nov 2010, 02:36 PM Reply Like
  • I'll bait the slimey thing in every post, if that's the plan.


    I normally don't like to just do a "drive by" with the articles (most of which that are interesting to me I've already read the base data from the source anyway)... But I will. I'm approaching a "rest period" in my art festival cycle (my artwork doesn't sell for Christmas, though my wife's does, of course). After the next 2 weekends, that's it for my year (Nancy's continues through Christmas, jewelery is a seller for gifts).


    LOL, if the idea has been to cheat the system by posting to the QC, I sure am dumb. I post huge, long comments and do all sorts of research focused on the QC. Duh. I should just be filling the SA airwaves with one-liners.


    I think I need to start practicing right away. Here are some succinct concepts for pithy comments:












    Comments composed of single key strokes. Much more efficient.


    See, I learn something new here every day.


    (All just kidding of course. If I actually start doing this, contact my wife, I'm having a stroke).
    3 Nov 2010, 02:17 PM Reply Like
  • I wouldn't think that a concerted effort would be necessary. I'm just doing it because I'm an old retired First Sergeant and haven't gotten to be truly nasty for some time now. Civillians seem to frown on that behavior for some reason. LOL.
    3 Nov 2010, 03:33 PM Reply Like
  • LoL! My dad was a Sgt, all the way to E-9 at one time.


    I suspect civilians don't like it because they used to answer to Sgts.! ;-))


    based on the fact I had to answer to him! I now describe myself at times as "A military brat with an unwarranted resentment of authority". :-))


    3 Nov 2010, 03:45 PM Reply Like
  • I'm in favor of using what I call an "allowance" system for thumbs down (and thumbs up).


    That is, each person would have an "allowance" of say, 10 a week, or 50 a month, enough to make his/her opinions heard, but not enough to throw the whole process out of kilter.


    In a regular democracy, everyone receives a limited number of votes (one for each race). In corporate democracy, you can use "cumulative" voting, all five votes for one candidate, rather than one vote for each of five candidates.)


    Of course, some people will choose not to vote, but that is their prerogative.


    But when one, or a handful of "trolls" with a lot of time on their hands that no one else has, casts hundreds of votes and can singlehandedly affect whole ranking lists, that's no longer "voting."


    That's stuffing the ballot box.
    4 Nov 2010, 11:24 AM Reply Like
  • Hi Folks,


    Some amazing (thought-provoking :-)) ideas here. Thanks to DM for the huge amount of time and thought you've invested in this.


    I note that the trolls have thankfully not appeared on this thread, nor on recent QC's, but that doesn't mean we should wait for them to return.


    To summarize what I think are some key takeaways from the discussion (please tell me if you have further thoughts, or if you think I am missing things):


    1) Using agree/disagree would allow people to say they've read a comment, without affecting the rating.


    2) Limiting the frequency of up/down thumbing could significantly reduce the problem with trolling, as well as people boosting their own ratings by creating an alter-ego to up-thumb their entire comment universe. If we were to really limit the ability to up-thumb (say 3/hour?), and rename it "Oustanding Comment!," perhaps it would become a more reliable measure of truly worthy comments (and commenters)?


    3) The ability to ignore people: I am aware that this exists on message boards. It sounds like it should work, but I'm not sure that it does. Blocking someone from Direct Messaging you is quite simple, but the dynamics of ignoring parts of a public discussion make for some pretty weird situations, and IIRC tend to lead to a lot of comments like this, "Putting you on ignore..." "Umm... I thought you were ignoring me..."


    A couple thoughts:


    4) Perhaps we should do away with down-thumbing altogether? We are pretty quick at getting rid of spammers (weekends can get a bit slow, but generally we check abuse reports every few hours and more frequently during peak times), and down thumbing them doesn't accomplish anything (but please do report abuse!). With consistently rude people (name calling, etc.), we should be deleting their rude comments (we do NOT want to turn SA into another YF!), and ultimately blocking them from the site if they fail to abide by the guidelines of our community.


    5) A variation on OG's suggestion to "refresh" once a year, what if we used a 3 or 6-month window to rate top commenters, instead of the current "all-time rating"? It would mean that the people at the top of the list are currently active commenters, and would also mean that a newbie wouldn't need to feel like he has no chance of ever achieving popularity and recognition.


    6) FWIW, even if you were to reduce all of SA's motivation to strictly dollars and cents (and I hope we're a little bit better than that), as a business proposition, we are strongly aligned with maintaining the quality of our core community. That, perhaps above all else, is what makes SA unique, as you note above. To let things slip into mudslinging and antisocial behavior is not in our best interest, and I hope we will continue to err in the direction of user experience and community quality over raw page views.


    There is a lot for me to digest here, and I may have missed some key points, but I think the suggestions above are stellar, and I plan to advocate strongly for change. I will keep you informed of what we're doing; please continue to update me on your discussions.


    6 Nov 2010, 05:53 PM Reply Like
  • Dear Eli:


    I don't want to throw away the past, but I do want to downplay it in favor of newcomers. The way to do this is through a "decay" system.


    For instance, only comments/activities in the current "period" (year, six months, etc.) would carry their full weight.


    Activities in the previous "period" would carry a three-quarters weight, in the second previous "period" a one-half weight, and in the third previous "period" a one-quarter weight. Beyond a certain time frame in the past, the weight would be either zero or "low," depending on which "decay" formula you used.


    This is a system used to rank portfolio managers, so if the current year is bad, the three previous years in total carry a 6/4 weight (instead of a whole 3), possibly making up for it.


    But the current period counts the most.
    8 Nov 2010, 09:22 AM Reply Like
  • Eli,


    Thanks you for your thoughtful response. I can't speak for the rest of the group, but let me just say that I am heartened by your openness and support for our suggestions. I look forward to new rules that make the SA experience more beneficial and less disruptive to all. I like the idea of allowing newbies a chance to attain higher rankings. All SA member, new or experienced, should fell like they have a chance to be recognized and encouraged to post their comments. If they look at the current rankings, it is totally overwhelming to even imagine ever joining the ranks of the leaders in any category. Commenting, at least, should be a place for everyone to feel equal and valued. That environment would encourage even more comments and discourse, the very things we all come here for; to learn and to share.


    Once again, thank you, and I am hopeful for a future in SA with less unnecessary irritations.
    7 Nov 2010, 07:20 AM Reply Like
  • Thanks for the comment, Eli. You're a mensch.
    7 Nov 2010, 07:38 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Eli, Many thanks for stopping by. I think your summary captures the spirit or letter of most suggestions. We all look forward to improvements in the comment feedback system.
    7 Nov 2010, 12:00 PM Reply Like
  • I just happened to see this instablog, read through it and agree totally. After getting 400 thumbs down over this weekend, there definitely is someone (or several) who just run through and hit every comment.


    If people cannot hold their own in discussions and disagree with you, I guess the way to get back at you is to hit a wholesale thumbs down on all your comments.


    Based on that, my feelings are why participate? The intelligence and maturity level here of some commenters in some cases has dropped to a Huffington Post level.
    8 Nov 2010, 05:53 AM Reply Like
  • Hopefully with the assistance now being offered by the SA staff We can bring the level of quality back to the better than " Krugman's." blog level. LOL. Huffington post? Really? Yea your probably right.
    8 Nov 2010, 09:56 AM Reply Like
  • Hi Folks,


    David and I spent some time discussing this today, and here's our proposal. Please let me know what you think, because we'd like to roll this out ASAP:


    1) Remove down thumbs altogether. If a comment is rude, abusive, or way off topic, it should be reported and deleted - not down-thumbed. If you disagree with the comment, then disagree (see below), but that should not impact the commenter's rating.


    2) Acknowledge a comment, and let the commenter know you've read his thoughts, by Agreeing or Disagreeing with what he's said. Agrees/Disagrees will be counted and noted on each comment, but will not affect one's ranking. As people have said, it's important to know that other users are reading what they write.


    3) Star an Outstanding comment. This can only be done only once every two hours. Limiting the frequency with which one can star Outstanding comments will hopefully, a) largely eliminate the possibility of someone manipulating their own rating by starring their own comments repeatedly. B) Force people to use the star as a comment rating, not a popularity contest. And c) potentially give much greater value to a star, the hope being that if you only get a very limited number of them, you will reserve them for truly outstanding comments.


    4) Abuse reporting remains the same.


    5) With launch of revised system, initiate a 90-day trailing window. At first, people with currently high legacy rankings will remain at the top, because their up-thumbs will convert to stars. But over the next 90 days, the system will gradually shed the up-thumbs so that by the end of 90 days, the system will reflect Comment leaders based entirely on starred (outstanding) comments. This will continue going forward: Comment leaders will be those with the highest number of stars over the past 90 days, which means newbies don't face an insurmountable uphill climb to get on the leader board. It would also mean that leader boards would reflect active commenters and shed unactive ones, which is really the main purpose of a leaderboard - to help other users find the smartest/best/most articulate active commenters on the site.


    What do you think?
    8 Nov 2010, 06:10 PM Reply Like
  • Eli: Greetings. Sounds like a sound compilation of the concepts we've been discussing. Seems well thought out and user friendly. I have one question: Would there be an annual reset like O.G. suggested or would attrition be the sole driver as Graham & Dodd, Investor brought up. Seems to me either would work. Thanks for paying attention.
    8 Nov 2010, 06:18 PM Reply Like
  • Excellent! I like what you've done and have only one item that I *think* might warrant further consideration. What you proposed on that item is not *bad*, but I think maybe some adjustment could be considered?


    3) Star an Outstanding comment. This can only be done only once every two hours. Limiting the frequency with which one can star Outstanding comments will hopefully, a) largely eliminate the possibility of someone manipulating their own rating by starring their own comments repeatedly.


    I think we should *not* be allowed to flag, i.e. (dis)agree/star, our own stuff. It seems that to allow such is pointless.


    My other concern relates to the time limit. For *me*, I often read many articles in a relatively short time frame. Occasionally many different articles will have exceptional comments and would hate to have to try and remember to come back later (I doubt that I *could* remember) to add a star.


    Would something like this work?


    On the *initial* vist to any thread (that being the comment stream for an article, not a sequence of replies to an individual comment), limit the number of stars to something greater than 1 and ... less than 5? In say 20 minutes or so? Adjust the numbers to suit. My goal being that generally even in a very long stream of comments, I should be able to read them and star the ones I consider exceptional in a relatively short time-frame. If I want to reply to a comment, I can do that after I've (dis)agreed/starred (or the timer could stop while I'm in the reply box until I finish - a better solution IMO). That way I wouldn't eat up my time for reading and rating (or *ranting* LoL) with my clumsy and slow typing.


    Maybe 3 stars would be better? 2? 40 minutes? ...


    That would apply initial visit. Thereafter, upon re-visiting the thread, I would be allowed only one or two stars(?), regardless of time on each and every revisit. There might be a time gap applied. That is, if I re-visit within ... 5/10/15 minutes(?), it's considered a continuation of the prior session. This prevents one from jumping in and out to work around the limits.


    Exception (probably unworkable): if I enter through the tracking mechanism, it doesn't count as a continuation. Why? Because if I'm a troll, I'm unlikely to have commented (and therefore won't be "tracking") and likely won't "flag" the article to track it. So folks that "come back" via tracking are less likely to be trolls and you would want them to be able to do the things "responsible citizens" can do.


    Your designers and programmers will probably hate me if you adopt this.


    B) Force people to use the star as a comment rating, not a popularity contest. And c) potentially give much greater value to a star, the hope being that if you only get a very limited number of them, you will reserve them for truly outstanding comments.


    I like that thought.


    Thank you for taking the time and working with us.
    9 Nov 2010, 08:18 AM Reply Like
  • P.S. Detection and prevention of multiple accounts that exist only for gaming the system should be a priority if this is to work (or if anything is to work). Initial suggestions for algorithms that might be sufficient have been made in the past.


    9 Nov 2010, 08:30 AM Reply Like
  • The most important feature is the "once every two hours" part, at least for "high-impact" ratings. Certainly we can limit the ratings to positive ones.


    But the real problem with "thumbs down" was that the troll could go through people's comments and do 100 rating changes in no time at all.


    If the limit were one thumbs down every two hours, we wouldn't have the troll problem.
    18 Dec 2010, 06:54 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » G&D,


    The problem here would be multiple accounts I suspect. So whereas you or I could only thumb down a comment every so often, a troll in command of 10 accounts could still do some damage. And because natural occurences in the wild of thumbs down would be very rare, those that were the result of abuse would still be greatly over weighted. I think it is better not to give anyone the power to detract from your rating and simply make it harder to add to it (as the time limit is designed to do). Unless there were a way to restrict folks to one account at a time, of course.
    18 Dec 2010, 07:39 PM Reply Like
  • Could be both. "Thumbs down on multiple comments (in a short time) "legally."


    And time restricted, but multiple thumbs down, due to multiple sites "illegally."
    19 Dec 2010, 02:11 PM Reply Like
  • Eli: Thanks so much for this great response to the thumbs issue. So silly, yet in some way intrinsic to the integrity this site enjoys. Eliminating thumbs down gets a thumbs up from me. As a user, the best days were when one could get an idea of the quality of one's comments from the ratio (Go Joe Shaefer (for example) who has many ups, on relatively limited comments).


    For a brief time, I rationed comments to target slot 98 :-). SA rocks. I like your proposal, and it will result in a better outcome. Try it!


    And thanks.
    8 Nov 2010, 06:23 PM Reply Like
  • Thumbs up, Eli. Now send DM a t-shirt, he deserves one.
    8 Nov 2010, 06:43 PM Reply Like
  • I think that this is a great plan and will benefit all SA members in many ways. The only thing that I can see giving rise to a problem is the member who creates several accounts to give themselves multiple stars on every comment by their main account. With the limit on stars per account, they will have no problem rising rapidly to the top if they get five or six stars each on six to ten comments per day, especially if everyone else is being judicious about giving out their stars. But such activity should become apparent very quickly if anyone is paying attention. For example, if the same members consistently give one member a star on every comment and none to any other SA members, it should raise some suspicions.


    Eli - Does SA have the capability to monitor or identify such situations?


    Thank you very much for your time and efforts to make SA a better place for us to share investing ideas and develop lasting relationships. The site really rocks!
    8 Nov 2010, 07:54 PM Reply Like
  • Eli: Thanks for your thoughts and allowing the people in this column to make comment to what thoughts, ideas, methodologies are being spoken and considered about the SA round table. I really appreciate yours, David's and Rachel's concerns about how one person can preemptively control, to some degree, this website, with demonic intent.


    I took some time to digest your comment/presentation of ideas, before answering. What I concluded is that there is great merit in your ideas, and so I put on my doubting Thomas, devious manipulative hat and basically came up with exactly what Mark Bern broached.


    There's simply no way to have any system that will not be abused, but what you and your staff are considering lessons and discourages such abuse.


    One problem I foresee is when someone runs rampant disagreeing with everyone. Sets up numurous identities to shoot arrows into every and any sound thinking. People like this exist; I know, having owned a few successful restaurants where I experienced the same customers always crying foul, wanting free everything, all because they "manufactured" some complaint. Trained my employees that about 2% of all people wake up everyday to create havoc upon others lives.


    Thanks for your attentions. I'm guessing you can tell how much all of us love Seeking Alpha, despite our grumbles. I really appreciate SA brass allowing the pipsqueaks to participate in corporate decisions.
    8 Nov 2010, 11:33 PM Reply Like
  • Thank you, DM, for taking the time to write this, and to the rest of you for adding your thoughts. I've been with SA almost from the beginning, and I can tell you that this has been an important issue to us from the start. If 'I may say so ourselves', we are pretty on top of abuse cases. All of us editors have to review the comment streams on the articles we publish regularly. Plus there are people monitoring all comments independently of that. But no system is foolproof and how to make it better is something we are constantly considering.


    The guiding principle has always been: If we can develop a community with a level of discourse that is respectful as well as insightful and interesting, then we will truly be unique. Everyone wants to be part of something that is of high quality.


    So, I like Eli's summation of your ideas, although I think there should be something in between 'report abuse' and 'great comment'. Some of our readers get carried away and they should learn to be more respectful. I'm just worried that if we block the borderline cases completely, people will start to cry: 'censorship!'


    What do you think?
    9 Nov 2010, 03:39 AM Reply Like
  • My first thought was we need a "What a Yo-Yo" flag!


    But that was my humorous side exposing itself.


    I can't see a lot of "wiggle room" between "report abuse" (which should have limited applicability - racism, "Yahoo!-like" behavior, ..., personal attacks of various sorts) and "Great Comment" that is not addressed by "(Dis)agree".


    If the comment is not abusive but not a great comment, you can (dis)agree. The only addition that might make sense, that I can envision ATM, is the comment was a waste of bit-stream. A "Wasted Bandwidth" flag.


    And that seems, to me, to be counter to the goal of the changes.


    Anything that gets too deeply into micro-grading the *relative* value of an added comment will be a foundation for further gripes and probably another path for abuse of some kind that we haven't envisioned yet.


    9 Nov 2010, 08:28 AM Reply Like
  • Greetings all. I spoke with Rachael this morning via PM while we agree that nothing will be perfect or bullet proof the ideas outlined by SA staff seem a good start and can be refined at need. I think that once the plan is implemented we can then asses the pit falls and go from there. I also sent a message to User regarding all of this and will keep all posted. Thanks to all the Renegades and SA staff that are taking up the vandalism challenge.
    9 Nov 2010, 10:52 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » The new format sounds like an improvement to me. I think there will be ways to game it (I agree with HTL that there is not much reason to allow someone to "Great Comment" themselves). Making each star worth more means raising the counterfeit value as well, so bogus accounts become more powerful ways to promote one's own ranking. But these considerations do not detract from the fact that this appears to be a big improvement over the current system. Can't wait to see it in action.
    9 Nov 2010, 11:08 AM Reply Like
  • DM, thank you for all the thought and effort you put into this. And thank you to all the Renegades for the comments and suggestions.


    - David
    10 Nov 2010, 03:51 PM Reply Like
  • Has anyone heard anything new on the new updates/changes and when they may go live?
    17 Nov 2010, 11:31 AM Reply Like
  • Rachael, Granby dropped me a note this morning regarding progress on the new rating scheme. From what she said they have decided to drop the thumbs down all together. She didn't indicate when we might see the new program's debut.
    1 Dec 2010, 01:23 PM Reply Like
  • I'm glad to hear that! It was one of the things I proposed (or maybe just endorsed?) last year(?) on David's(?) discussion of this issue.


    1 Dec 2010, 01:47 PM Reply Like
  • Much of the new comments system - for which you guys were totally the impetus - has already been spec-ed. And that's correct - we've done away with thumbs down (if you disagree with what I've said, then take the time to write a counter-comment and tell me why), and are opting instead for two levels of positive feedback: Like and Outstanding.


    You will be able to Like as many comments as you want. So it can be the tool to say, "Hey - I read your comment, thanks for participating."


    But Outstandings will be limited (maybe 2/hour?), and will have much more sway in comments ranking (exact ratio to be determined).


    I don't have a final date for when development of this will be finished, but will let you know when I do.
    17 Dec 2010, 04:50 AM Reply Like
  • I think that is great news!


    I know that all of the serious participants on SA will benefit and probably like the new system.


    You have my, and I'm sure many others', thanks.


    17 Dec 2010, 07:28 AM Reply Like
  • Excellent... I think this change will enhance communications among the SA members, and enhanced communications is a primary function of a social networking site.
    17 Dec 2010, 07:56 AM Reply Like
  • Excellent, a counter argument goes a long way to improving communication and educating as opposed to just a thumbs down!!!
    17 Dec 2010, 09:04 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Thanks very much for the update. Can't wait to see the new system in action.
    17 Dec 2010, 10:29 AM Reply Like
  • Overnight I saw my score drop 100+ points (over 4205 to 4100) by someone who just skipped from one comment to the next adding a thumbs down.


    There are definitely some sad trolls still out there with time on their hands who cannot argue their point, so they just show their pent-up dissent by running down scores.
    17 Dec 2010, 10:37 AM Reply Like
  • Dear Ed. E. Hoffman


    I have read the entire stream here, just today. I am just finding it by using an obscure link to this path, which was part of the e-mail page SA sends out to review articles I may have been tracking. On the bottom line of the gray info box reads, "You have 21 articles you have been tracking, with new comments. I am being made aware of this. I like this feature, it helps to keep updated and relevant.


    These articles could be made "read only" which at a certain time frame after the last entry, the user is redirected to a fresh recap link, to continue receiving updates, views and comments, lets say 30 days after publish date. The page could contain ads geared with the comments the users or contributors feedback.


    This was a long read, so, exploratory input like this could be re-directed to a fresh recap article, thus commenting efficiently could result of it. Plus, the add space on the link could possess a rating curve that possible generates higher interest (views) and revenues.


    I congratulate this exercise in troubleshooting the art of comments rating, and how the skew, for the most of us, works for this solid membership. In the short time I have participated, I have gained three followers and a treasure trove of analytical viewpoints no fledgling could ever receive in any formal educational scenario.


    I respect and appreciate the expertise that often comes from the long time wall street insiders, investors, analysts, and financial market pro's. These combined contributors of knowledge and execution, of their investment philosophies and principles, have helped me to get up to speed and follow along. I have invested in part also, with my time in regards to all this website has to offer.


    Personal comment ratings are not everything, or as important as how the page is rated. As the author points out, its not what one said or implies on their personal comment block, its how many peeks at the ad spots does the page receive? What topic or contributor, or both "hooked" the highest readership, and how long (in days) has the topic remained open for discussion? It also has intrinsic values too, for all members, officers, and contributors, but to what end? It turns into a buddy stroke peer group and high 5's.


    Leave out the comments that don't relate, or dilute down a sidebar, if they start to get off subject. A side bar chat room may highly productive and something to explore, letting those who wish to rehash at a certain beaten path, so be it. No scoring and no profanity. This page can also have ad space, and can remain open for a set amount of time, like 72 hrs or 7 calendar days, or endless trails or links. This allows enough time for all to rehash, off the mainstream, so others can opt to read other articles one hasn't yet. Thus more relevant ad peeks, greater knowledge, and revenue potential for all. Thanks for listening. I'm listening too, with my eyes. Noel.


    Mr. Carlini has a point. He is one of SA's top rating commenter's and he was the only thumbs down on this feed going back almost 60 days. Two neg. points. So it may be nice to here from those who T-, as far as their reasoning for it, because I don't see it.
    18 Dec 2010, 05:22 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » "Mr. Carlini has a point. He is one of SA's top rating commenter's and he was the only thumbs down on this feed going back almost 60 days. Two neg. points. So it may be nice to here from those who T-, as far as their reasoning for it, because I don't see it."


    What happened with that was someone wanted (for whatever reason) to bump Mr. Carlini's rating down, so they had two accounts and found over 50 recent comments he made and thumbed each one of them down. So what the outsider sees is that he has comments that are the only ones in the thread that are thumbed down, but what you would see if you went to his comments (by clicking on his name) would be all of his recent comments past some point when the attack took place had at least 2 thumbs down. This is the "troll" problem that is discussed above. So you will not get any reasoning as to why these negatives were given. In fact the person doing the attack never read the comment and didn't even know what the thread was about. This is the entire reason for the existence of this thread and the nature of the troll problem. Mr. Carlini has simply provided you with a great illustration of the problem that will soon get resolved (apparently).


    If you want to be sure that Eli sees your suggestions, you should probably send him a message. Just click on his name and you'll get the link. He probably is not staying current on this thread, but he does read the comments which are sent to him personally.
    18 Dec 2010, 05:45 PM Reply Like
  • Eli: Fantastic that you're working toward a positive solution. Greatly appreciate your time, as well as other SA staffers in figuring a better way to regard the positives that occur in this outstanding and ingenious investing oriented website.


    May you and yours have a safe, healthy and festive Holiday Season!


    Thanks, again!
    18 Dec 2010, 06:01 PM Reply Like
  • To whomever is the SA staffer whom is tracking this column,


    I and many other SA members have been getting mass-thumbed down during the past two days. I myself have received well in excess of 300 thumbs down.


    For tracking purposes, I stand right now at 4445 thumbs down, some 300 more than 48 hours ago.
    1 Mar 2011, 06:42 PM Reply Like
  • I could not find my number. Things have really changed. Seems it is 4658 down for me right now.


    This latest troll wave is the most severe I have seen hitting ten times per comment. Poor slob's mom must have found his centerfold he was using to wack off with and now he is bored half to death. Only so many times he can pick his nose in a day.
    1 Mar 2011, 07:00 PM Reply Like
  • I dropped Rachael a note late yesterday alerting her to this latest attack. She probably didn't see it until this morning and I haven't heard from her but will post here and on the QC when she gets back to me.
    2 Mar 2011, 09:53 AM Reply Like
  • 4681 thumbs down. Well over 500 since the last attack.
    2 Mar 2011, 09:57 AM Reply Like
  • Rachael has looked into the situation and will get back to us. SA tec staff are preparing to roll out a new rating scheme but the date is uncertain.
    2 Mar 2011, 12:52 PM Reply Like
  • Hi Folks,


    A small (and not entirely satisfying) update: Despite good intentions, we're not ready to take the new system live yet.


    In the meantime, if you believe you're the subject of a thumbs-down attack, please email our abuse department using this form ( - use the drop-down to select Report Abuse) and we'll look into it for you.


    Very sorry we have not managed to get this right yet.


    18 Mar 2011, 09:13 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » It's nice to see that it still on the radar -- not for the effect it has on rankings but simply for the fact that I think the system you describe will make for a better website.
    18 Mar 2011, 11:27 AM Reply Like
  • The thumbs down is finally gone !!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    What will the FED staff do now when we comment about their malfeasance...throw a tantrum ?
    16 May 2011, 08:14 AM Reply Like
  • Just wanted to leave a quick update on this thread. Today we removed the thumbs-down on comments. We considered more complex ways of preventing mis-use of the thumbs-down button, but in the end, after reading the input from all of you and looking carefully at the alternatives, decided that while there are clear disadvantages to removing the thumbs-down button, it's the least imperfect solution we could find.


    We've also made some other changes to protect the quality of comments on SA. Most important, comments by first time commenters are moderated by our editors. This is a lot of work for us, but almost entirely eliminates spam from the site. It's now also impossible to vote for your own comments.


    As before, we still rely on you and our other readers and contributors to let us know when comments are abusive so we can delete them and possibly ban their authors. "Abusive" includes spam, or comments containing ad hominem attacks on article authors or other commenters, or people who systematically degrade the experience for other readers. Please help us by clicking the "report abuse" link when you see an abusive comment. We review abuse reports round the clock.


    Finally - a big "thank you" to Dialectical Materialist for the blog post, and all of you who commented.
    16 May 2011, 10:33 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » I was just ruminating on things that had been identified by HTL and the rest of the 'gades before I came on the scene, but your welcome and I hope it improves the user experience.


    I think "new commenter moderation" is likely to pay big dividends.
    16 May 2011, 10:47 AM Reply Like
  • Good stuff, David. I agree with the moves and also appreciate DM's contributions to the site. Always worth my time.
    16 May 2011, 10:56 AM Reply Like
  • Yay! I'm very happy to see this. It has been a long battle to get something like this implemented and I'm glad it has finally been done. I had actually left this forum for several months because I was tired of the thumbs abuse and only came back because it seemed the climate had eased up a bit (at least in the sense that 2 years ago, suggesting the GDP might become positive soon, which was an accurate assessment, would earn a person an automatic 10 thumbs down whereas recently it has been more divided).


    In any event, I sincerely believe that removing the thumbs down will dramatically lessen the hostility on this forum. When a person makes a well thought out point that ultimately proves correct, it is very offensive to receive the thumbs equivalent of being called an idiot.
    16 May 2011, 01:02 PM Reply Like
  • I agree with you whole heartedly, and saw that you were under attack repeatedly.It was terrible.


    It amazed me how emotional this issue was --the old addage sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me is BS!
    16 May 2011, 01:12 PM Reply Like
  • I agree. I think this is worth your time. I wish everybody thought along these or similar lines.


    16 May 2011, 01:22 PM Reply Like
  • Rocco, thanks for sharing the link. Terrific article.
    16 May 2011, 04:14 PM Reply Like
  • David, Jackson: Greetings. Thank you and all of the SA staff for making these improvements. This should serve to improve the experience on this site for all users.
    16 May 2011, 10:37 AM Reply Like
  • Thank you, David. Especially for the personal touch of stopping in here and explaining the positive changes.
    16 May 2011, 10:54 AM Reply Like
  • Really glad to hear that the changes work for you.
    16 May 2011, 11:42 AM Reply Like
  • A valuable tool has been removed because of abuse of that tool by a small mind with totally too much time on their hands. Thanks for nothing.
    18 May 2011, 09:59 AM Reply Like
  • A redundant tool nevertheless.
    18 May 2011, 07:58 PM Reply Like
  • Next up? An ignore button. Poker sites have them. Predicting soon SA will, too.
    19 May 2011, 01:09 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » That idea was mentioned, and the implications it had for replies to invisible comments was cited as the reason it is an imperfect solution. I think SA will endeavor to accomplish "stream filtering" with its report abuse and new commenter monitoring. There are other tools in the tool chest, though. Allowing the owner of the article or blog to delete comments is one. Motley Fool employs a delay for comments from some users or sources. Paid registration refunded when your account has not been deleted for TOS violations for six months is another. It keeps those under the age of thirteen from creating accounts (without their parents' permission) and keeps others from generating multiple accounts solely for the sake of annoying others. All these methods have draw backs. Which ones eventually get employed have a lot to do with the "goals" of the trolls in question. LOL.
    19 May 2011, 01:42 AM Reply Like
  • "Allowing the owner of the article or blog to delete comments is one"


    I hope they never ever seriously consider this as a solution.


    It is a problem of another sort.


    19 May 2011, 05:03 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » HTL, I don't necessarily disagree.


    I was just talking about how rogue comments could be reined in. I think articles need to be as open as possible, but instablogs are a bit different. One could adopt a model where the author of an insta was his own moderator of the comment stream without too much outrage, I suspect. I'm not advocating the model, but I also see some advantages to allowing the person who takes time to post something he's interested in for no other reason than to share it with others to be allowed to protect his thought space. The risk that the power would be abused seems small since insta's get so little readership and participation anyway. Folks who couldn't accept any dissenting opinions would be the proud owners of their own echo chambers, and they'd get what they deserved. If it allowed the really useful conversations to take place efficiently on other blogs without comments from those whose expressed intent is to disrupt the flow and waste everyone's time, I think it would be an acceptable compromise. But in any case, I think articles are a different animal altogether.
    19 May 2011, 11:19 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » To add to the thought. I think this analogy might apply: If I conduct a symposium at a conference (i.e. write an article on SA) then I am pretty much expected to be able to field critical questions and deal with dissenting opinions. It would be up to the conference organizers (SA) to deal with disruptive activity.


    But if we view an instablog as more of a conference room I have reserved for a small discussion about a topic that I want to explore informally, it becomes more appropriate for me to have a kind of control over the conversation -- almost like it is a private party. Not only that, but it becomes a burden on the conference organizer to have to police disruptive behavior at every sidebar discussion that takes place at their event. So viewed this way, I think the author of an insta is more of a moderator of a small conversation to begin with and less of a featured speaker backed by the event organizers.
    19 May 2011, 11:30 AM Reply Like
  • I was recalling Freya's disgust when she believed Michael Fitzsimmons(sp?) had many of her comments deleted.


    I've been here, and on other boards, long enough now to recognize that there's a lot of folks with agendas, some with thin skins, etc.


    It just opens another door for abuse and, IMO, replaces an impartial moderator possibility with a biased moderator possibility.


    In all fairness, when it comes to moderation of message boards, it may be an intractable problem.


    The self-moderate approach has problem potential, moderation by others in the community ditto and moderation by SA brings costs and doesn't really eliminate the potential problems, although it *ought* to ameliorate the potential.


    Given those thoughts, I just plop my butt down on the side of "most of us are grownups, we'll just have to live with it" camp.


    In many ways, its a replica of our democracy, where conflicts of ideas are salted with incivility.


    If we can live with it in our electoral process (admittedly we shouldn't have to - non-productive) we ought to be able to live with it in the "ether world" as well, with a "best effort" to minimize the effects.


    Adjusting mental attitudes and behavior to suit is needed, but that's not really a big burden for the received benefit.


    19 May 2011, 11:35 AM Reply Like
  • Comments were never the problem. Lack of comments from vandals was. It was kind of like naked shorting in a way. Never having to be responsible for actions or even identified as a participant.
    19 May 2011, 11:39 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Freya's situation was a bit different than what I am describing. When I post to a private blog, I understand that the "proprietor" may delete any comment he or she wishes. If that is the expectation going in, the deletion of comments becomes far less contraversial. It is when there is a suspicion someone may have gone behind the scenes to single you out that there is some degree of justified outrage.


    But the whole point was simply to show that -- should rogue comments ever become a problem (which as Robert points out has not been the real issue here) -- there are many tools for addressing this issue.
    19 May 2011, 02:43 PM Reply Like
  • Hello RBF and fellow scribers. Freedom of speach takes many forms:


    You can't treat the thumbs down troll as an act of blind terrorism. If it bothers you or others than the troll wins. That was his point. To negate blindly is a weapon of mass media tactics we see all over. Blind hate.


    The futility of complaining or suffering is how a terrorists wins. Small bits of actions can tackle even the biggest foes. Freud would say to be futile is as futile does. Childhood mentality lives in all of us, some exhibit it in more illustrious ways than normally expressed by most others.


    The art of rising above the bits is what makes true and honest persons better off. Dwelling only gives one additional quagmires in ones mind, IMO.
    19 May 2011, 10:33 PM Reply Like
  • Great comment. Early in my career I focused on an individual with behavior that was disruptive to an entire room. A wizened, more experienced mentor encouraged me to focus on the group or risk losing them all.


    I suppose teachers have similar experiences from the little I remember from my youth. What I do remember was they had boundaries and consequences to reign in the disruptive individual so the group could get on message. Sounds like some of that is being addressed here.


    Good luck to SA staff on resolving these issues.
    28 May 2011, 07:34 AM Reply Like
  • I'm wondering how the starting point for the current "like" rating was determined. I noticed that for a day, buzzer was #1 and now his like rating is zero. He had a pretty big net negative before and he also stopped posting several months ago. I'm wondering if the starting point with the new system is related to the net value one had before the change or if it accounts for current activity instead. I guess he may have been banned as well, so possibly that has something to do with it?
    19 May 2011, 03:08 PM Reply Like
  • Buzzer took several stages.


    At first, he rose to the top of the rankings by posting the most comments, and then "thumbs upping" all of them himself. Then he started thumbs downing others, and provoked retaliation from them that pushed him down.


    In the first "fix," Buzzer lost all of his thumbs down and went (briefly) to the top of the standings.


    In the second "fix," all of the SELF-made "likes" were removed.


    Apparently, Buzzer had very few thumbs up from OTHERS. That may be why he went to zero. Or maybe he was banned.
    20 May 2011, 09:06 AM Reply Like
  • I'm wondering if they took every post and subtracted the thumbs down from the thumbs up - if it resulted in a negative number, it was zeroed. If it resulted in a positive number, that became the like number for that comment. That makes sense for most commentors but would suggest that Buzzer had a net negative or zero on every single post he made, which "seems" unlikely considering the number of posts he made. I do admit that Buzzer represents the potential flaw in the new system (the fact that someone could make 10s of thousands of posts that aren't necessarily of high quality in a short period of time and get enough incidental likes to scale the ranks to number 1).
    20 May 2011, 09:19 AM Reply Like
  • I would support the return of the the thumbs down feature if there is an enhancement that identifies the thumbs-downer. That way you could not act anonymously and be disruptive simply for the sake of being an ass.
    28 May 2011, 08:02 AM Reply Like
  • D.M.: Greetings. David, Jackson dropped by the QC this morning and informed us that the thumbies on Instablogs would no longer be added to a commenter's individual total. Only Thumbies on comments on published articles would count. At first that seemed like a good idea but Jon, Springer and FPA brought up some very interesting negative feedback and I changed my mind. Then it occurred to me that over time only authors would be in the top 10 or 20 as they respond to comments on their articles very frequently. What are your thoughts?
    1 Sep 2011, 04:55 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » My thoughts are that there may be no right answer. In my more charitable moments I think that Seeking Alpha is trying its best to tweak and improve a system with clear goals in mind that it wishes to achieve. On my darker days, I feel that recent changes to SA have only watered down the quality of its content and alienated some of its most enthusiastic users.


    But now I see, for instance, that Insta's have a "delete comment" that I (as the creator of this instablog) can rule over like a banana republic dictator. Does that mean it is safe to return to the QC's? Or does that mean that things are worse than ever? I don't know.


    I think Seeking Alpha is trying to develop its business model and is dragging some of its legacy concepts along with it kicking and screaming. It is sometimes not pretty.


    I wonder if the quality of SA articles really compares favorably to the time before they instituted the "exclusive SA content page view" payment scheme (which seemed to chase a great many of the authors I used to enjoy off the site and replaced them with amateur hacks recycling tired mantras and citing well worn charts).


    And yet I keep coming back mostly to read the comments. Some of the commenters are very good and I have learned a great deal from them. It seems obvious that SA would want a way to identify and reward committed and experienced and well liked commenters on their system (who -- let's face it -- drive page views as much or more than the original author's content as folks keep the thread alive with constant new material). And yet Seeking Alpha seems to have no clear idea how to go about accurately ranking the value of comments. I don't either, so that's not a dig, just an observation.


    What method do the editors envision for preventing a group of commenters from hi-jacking an article and talking about whatever they want to. Are authors now able to delete comments on articles as well as insta's? That could explain a seemingly harmless comment I made this morning that disappeared within an hour...


    My thoughts? My thoughts are that SA does not have this right yet and that their recent changes show they are committed to changing the system. Whether that means they "fix" it is another entirely.


    Who is to say what metrics actually drive their business. For example, are the small group of committed users more valuable from a revenue perspective than the much larger group of casual users? I really don't know. And the answer to that question advises much of how they would want to approach the question of how they deal with comments and commenters.
    1 Sep 2011, 05:43 PM Reply Like
  • D.M.: Greetings. Thanks for your input. I'm not going to say it's safe on the QC as we get more traffic from other places these days. I wish you would come back to the QC as your one of the "Gades." that made it what it is. Some of us had to get a little belligerent and TB is doing a fantastic job of refereeing. The delete button has worked well to keep out the riff raff. LOL. Looking forward to you appearing on the QC and your impending Great Race update. Be well my friend and good profits to you.
    1 Sep 2011, 06:25 PM Reply Like
  • DM, it's great to be drawn back to this post of yours and the discussion on it. Here's a quick update on the changes you and the others here helped us think through:


    Removing thumbs downs: As many of the commenters here predicted, this massively reduced the level of acrimony on the site. Some high quality commenters who were driven away by thumbs downs are now back as active commenters.


    Moderating first-time comments: This almost entirely eliminated spam from the site. No more shoe ads and SEO spam...


    Removing the ability to "like" your own comments: There's still some ratings manipulation from people with multiple accounts, but this change meaningfully cut the volume of self-boosting and generally raised the perceived credibility of comment ratings.


    Allowing instablog owners to delete comments on their own instablogs: The QuickChatters and others are now able to control their own communities, and it looks as though this has reduced or eliminated frictious exchanges on their instablogs.


    Whether or not as a result of these changes, the number of comments on the site has grown dramatically. In August we had 72,500 comments vs. 58,200 in July and 54,000 in June.


    We're now grappling with the issue discussed here


    ... and are thinking more about how to help readers discover the best discussions in instablogs and other parts of the site.


    Our thinking about comments isn't driven by revenue considerations, but the simple question of how best to nurture high quality comments on the site.


    1 Sep 2011, 07:01 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » David,


    "Our thinking about comments isn't driven by revenue considerations, but the simple question of how best to nurture high quality comments on the site."
    ... For the revenue that will generate. :)


    In all seriousness it is great to know that Seeking Alpha is a work in progress and that the thinking process is often shared with the users. That feedback from the users is taken into consideration is not just PR pablum at Seeking Alpha, it is actual policy and there are plenty of examples to prove it.


    But if I owned Seeking Alpha and I was trying to find what was right and wrong with it, I think I'd be more concerned about the articles than the comments. Intelligent articles should attract intelligent comments and inane articles should risk attracting inane comments, or so it seems logical to presume. Yet I have read a great number of articles about Apple in the last few months that were embarrassingly thin or just seemed to be blatant click baiting. (I've read some very good articles on SA recently too, but that is what I have come to expect, so I am not talking about them right now.)


    To an outsider, it appears that there is such a need to keep content fresh in order to drive traffic (Hey, I'm foolish enough to say "oh look a new Apple article" and dutifully click the link, so I assume many others are as well) that some pretty watery soup is making its way to the dinner table. Four paragraphs on how maybe Apple will go down now but then maybe it won't? Maybe I'm bitter because my excellent review of Ping was rejected some time ago, and I have since read first time contributions that provided less "actionable investment advice" than I did. Or maybe I'm not.


    Your stat of 72,000 comments means little if it happens to include one of the many weeks that a bunch of fanbois like me face off against some well known Apple haters and get into one of our "Is so" / "Is not" debates. That has to account for 20,000 comments right there. (hyperbole intended)


    SA is the best there is. But lately I've been wondering about where it is headed. Are these just growing pains or the mark of having topped? Like a great restaurant that never fails to please until it does. Folks keep coming for a while -- in even greater numbers -- long after the folks who made it famous with their rabid praise have stopped going there. And then eventually it becomes an Applebee's and few people take notice.


    What strategies could SA employ that would attract and retain the top free lance writing talent on the web? I'm all for giving the newbies a chance to wax eloquent about Apple for a few paragraphs, but if the stars aren't on the court for the first and fourth quarters, the fans will stop coming to the game.


    p.s. I almost deleted your comment just because I could. It would have made me feel very powerful for a brief moment :)
    1 Sep 2011, 07:35 PM Reply Like
  • Hi DM,


    The issue of article quality has been a topic of intense interest recently within the SA team. Instead of replying now, I'm going to send Eli (our Editor in Chief) the link to your comment, so he can see it and (hopefully) leave his thoughts on this.


    1 Sep 2011, 07:48 PM Reply Like
  • Hi DM,


    With your indulgence, I'd like to drill down on some of the points you've made about article quality. I will direct-message you due to the sensitivity of the topic.
    2 Sep 2011, 04:24 AM Reply Like
  • Well, since DM opened the topic and I have an axe to grind ...


    Drill down with Abby too about "we don't publish technical analysis".


    I long ago decided to write no more articles for SA because of that hypocrisy.


    Chain of e-mails available upon request.


    In a nutshell, an article was published that had a chart and a couple of paragraphs about "Danger Will Robinson". Really, really short and *no* substance of any kind.


    That being insufficient for me, I authored an instablog, submitted for publication, that looked back, provided lengthy discussion and context and predicted that the market would rise for a couple more months. That was a correct call.


    The rub was that the article was rejected because "we don't do technical analysis" and I was responding to a "technical analysis" article.


    As I followed up, the latest response has been something like "Well, there's fewer of them now".


    Maybe, but a treatment of amateurs that is different from professionals seems to be in play.


    Every day I see some articles that are "technical analysis" (purportedly - some are really thin) whose only recommendation must be the author is a "professional". And I don't read every article - in fact I read only a very small percentage - no telling how many more than I see are published.


    And I still maintain that "Seeking Alpha" is best accomplished using *all* available tools, not just "fundamental analysis" (also sometimes woefully thin).


    But in all honesty, I've accepted what is and it may not be worth your time to look into this issue again. But I am aware of other technically-oriented folks that excellent analysts and authors who have fled SA due to this issue and, maybe, other issues - I can't be certain.


    2 Sep 2011, 07:47 AM Reply Like
  • I'm a bit late to the party but thought it interesting to note that also turned off the thumbs down about the same time among other sites that I can't recall off the top of my head. But Youtube continues to have both up and down thumbs and a lot of comments are rarely moderated. Although I think it's Youtube that will collapse a comment that has too many negatives. And it's Youtube that puts the two most thumbed up comments at the top of the list which will usually generate only more thumbs up for those comments. I wonder why it's never considered to simply take away both thumbs up and down? To indicate a page's popularity It's not that hard to install code to count and report the number of visitors to a page. And certainly, a well formed comment would let the author know how well he is doing.
    10 Dec 2011, 06:44 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » The idea was to also reward the poster of the comment for a well formed comment. Something that has remained elusive for Seeking Alpha so far. For while they took the initiative to stomp out thumbs up for "me-too'ing" on the instablogs, they have failed to police an arguably greater problem -- the incessant posts of loonies with multiple accounts. These idiots post ridiculous and inflammatory comments and then bask in the glory of all the attention it gets them similar to how a three year old might break something to get someone to notice him. Only SA has not devised any credible way of spanking the little brats and so the quality of their site has been on a downward trajectory. The jury is still out about whether the senior staff realize how seriously this seemingly innocuous issue of a few lamers strafe-posting can impact their brand value. It may be too late before they realize that all the smart people have moved on and they have the next Yahoo finance on their hands.


    One could argue that their monetization strategy does not require quality, only quantity, but when they have voiced an opinion, SA brass have repeatedly insisted they want good quality posts on their columns. I think they are teetering and I suspect I am not alone. I hope they get it figured out soon.
    10 Dec 2011, 08:05 PM Reply Like
  • DM,


    I'm open to proposals. How should we go about stopping trolls from creating multiple accounts?


    11 Dec 2011, 12:55 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » The observation that this component may be key to your long term success is different from saying that I have the perfect solution or that I would want to volunteer it if I did. Either you are humoring me or trying to get your heavy lifting done for free. In any case, I don't feel particularly invested in the outcome. I can think of three ways to slow (but not eliminate) the spread of troll accounts off the top of my head. Surely your experienced staff would come up with these same ideas if they were tasked with finding a solution.


    Based on what I have seen actually implemented at SA and not what I have read about SA's goals or concerns, I am not convinced that your monetization strategy is incompatible with link-baiting articles and troll generated page views. And if you read the same comment streams I do, you will see that this opinion is becoming more popular.


    Perhaps you saw this on Apple 2.0:


    >>>>... [Seeking Alpha]... the financial blog that made Time's "50 Best Web Sites" list, Forbes's "Best of the Web" and Kiplinger's "2007 Best" hit a new low Tuesday when it published Leonid Kanopka's "The Apple Bubble Is Ready To Burst."


    [...] According to Wikipedia, Seeking Alpha has 80 employees on three continents. Did any of them bother to read this item before they published it? Or the Andy Zaky piece that Seeking Alpha published 24 hours earlier that made a considerably more credible case that Apple (AAPL) is the most undervalued stock in the S&P 500?<<<<&l...



    Publishing an article where the author calls for an AAPL price target of $85 (slightly less than their cash on hand) is responsible business journalism how? That article is not the perspective of an outsider, it is the voice of a crackpot. With articles like this making the grade even after you told me that you were concerned about the issue of article quality, perhaps it is no wonder that comment trolls have taken a back seat. Article trolls seem to be keeping you busy.


    Seriously, what is an interested reader like me supposed to think when he reads comments from the Editor in Chief and the CEO that describe a concern for improving the quality of the website and yet he observes a steady decline? Sooner or later your readership will judge you by your results and not by your "concerns".


    And I become increasingly jaded about the SA "community" because the only way I can square my observations with business logic is to assume that page views is the driving factor behind your business. There is nothing wrong with that. And it can surely be successful. But then all the ideas of how to improve content and raise the level of discourse is really about humoring the customer and not about execution.
    11 Dec 2011, 01:45 PM Reply Like
  • Sadly, I've seen much worse articles in the economic section. For example, the number of authors who don't know what the word recession means or who think that the unemployment rate is determined by unemployment insurance claims is truly disgusting (and I'm not even mentioning the paranoid anti-government rants that pass as articles). A person shouldn't be authoring an article unless he/she is an expert. This populist nonsense has no place here.
    11 Dec 2011, 10:10 PM Reply Like
  • Differing degrees of expertise lead to different points of view. Even highly regarded experts in the same field often reach different conclusions. I can't address how or why the SA editorial staff accept or reject articles as I have never submitted one. What I can attest to is the wide variety of positions expressed in these articles. As you said D.M. there are articles which seem to be little more than rants and others that are well informed and valuable. I have commented on both types and through posting research notes linked to solid factual postings shot holes in several. I wonder if the value of commenters helping to police the site has contributed to it's success.
    12 Dec 2011, 10:23 AM Reply Like
  • I agree Robert, but for one point. If you have folks like John Lounsbury, and many others (whom I respect much more than the "typical" professional we now see here), leaving SA, is SA *still* successful?


    12 Dec 2011, 11:02 AM Reply Like
  • H.T.Love: Seasons greetings. Having high caliber authors leaving the community is decidedly not contributing to the sites success or our over all success as investors. Their input is one of the things that make this site valuable. Having folks like them leave diminishes that value for all of us that remain.
    12 Dec 2011, 11:40 AM Reply Like
  • Robert,


    I think you are on to something, here. Having now published more than a few articles on SA, I am acutely aware that if I inadvertently include an error or miss an important factor that readers will point them out. I have corrected at least three articles due to reader observations and comments. It helps improve the quality in two ways. First, most authors want to be accurate and because we know we are being watched like hawks, especially by other authors (it is competitive in the ranking system), so we tend to do better work in an attempt to avoid the embarrassing moments. Secondly, when a problem is pointed out, the better authors will take the time to research it and then correct it.


    Of course, the opposite is also true. There are crackpots out there who make things up causing authors to scramble and then post a retort with further evidence to substantiate the validity of the original facts of the article (I get that almost every day, it seems). I always try to be gracious in my comments, anyway. Everyone except the crackpot seems to appreciate that. And then there are the authors who don't respond to any comments. I don't even think they read the comments. Among that group are some who don't really care whether the work they do is accurate or not.


    So, what this brings me to is that to raise the quality of published work should be a multi-step process that doesn't have to entail that much work after the initial round has been done.


    1. Develop an automated system that can identify all articles that have no comments by the authors.
    2. Review a sampling of articles by the authors who do not comment.
    3. Certify the authors who meet certain quality standards so that they no longer need to be watched.
    4. Monitor the articles of those authors whose articles did not meet quality standards.
    - Maybe give them a chance by requiring them to link to source data to support their findings.
    - Ask them to make other improvements to the quality of their articles. (grammar, better use of words, less inflamatory, etc.)
    5. Those authors who do not come up to standard should lose their rights to publish and contributor status.


    That doesn't really address the troll commenter problem, but could help improve quality of articles, perhaps.


    I, for one, have notice far fewer trolls of late compared to a year ago or more. Maybe I don't write articles that attract them.


    12 Dec 2011, 10:43 AM Reply Like
  • K202 if that is your real name. LOL: Season's greetings. I think that since the thumbs down button has been removed Troll activity has declined. Since they can no longer cause a ruckus among the commentators on this site they may have largely migrated to another. While that is a good thing it doesn't address how the work of commentators is recognized. Which of course isn't a primary consideration either. That being said it's very clear that all commentators are not created equal.
    12 Dec 2011, 11:00 AM Reply Like
  • K202, I'd add one item to your "to do" list.


    Consistently apply standards regardless of the "professional" or "amateur" status of a submitter. The inconsistent enforcement of TOU *and* apparent arbitrary selection of some articles that are supposedly verboten (TA only) while rejecting others that include "meatier" TA caused me to decide to never submit again.


    When I raised the issue regarding one of mine, the ultimate response was "Well we publish fewer of them now".


    12 Dec 2011, 11:09 AM Reply Like
  • Perhaps the management should consider a separate section to publish T/A heavy articles. I find your T/A work very thoughtful and valuable as you are better at it than I am. That saves me a fair amount of time when I can look at what you publish instead of trying to do it myself. Perhaps Eli or another of the senior staff can look into this.
    12 Dec 2011, 11:45 AM Reply Like
  • Personally, I'd really like a T/A section for reference. I wouldn't publish there as it's not my area of strength, but I'd like to know what "real" T/A folks thought. I think it could be a nice addition to the SA community with its own category. It would bring more readers and page views. A lot more investors make decisions based upon fundamental analysis, but might like to know what the techincals are saying before pulling the trigger.
    12 Dec 2011, 11:53 AM Reply Like
    13 Dec 2011, 01:18 PM Reply Like
  • I was surprized tht mentioning the word "Nazi" directed at another poster was not mentioned.


    13 Dec 2011, 02:52 PM Reply Like
  • Oy, Gee: Season's greetings. Sad but true. There are some other ways but what you posted will suffice. LOL.
    13 Dec 2011, 01:25 PM Reply Like
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