≡ Menu

Weekend reading: A new comment policy to promote on-topic discussion

Weekend reading: A new comment policy to promote on-topic discussion post image

Fair warning! This long article involves comment etiquette and moderation on Monevator. Yawn! Most of you don’t comment, and many don’t read comments. You can safely ignore it.

Fun fact: You are reading the oldest investing blog in the UK, according to a new directory from Rockstar Finance.

We kicked off back in 2007. This was before the financial crisis and in a very different world where bankers were still assumed to be masters of money, UK politics was thought to have moved decisively leftwards – and the overwhelming majority of Britons, including the professionals, believed it was best to invest your money with active funds.

Younger readers might be surprised to hear that last one. But as Tadas Viskanta pointed out this week, it’s only recently that indexing has become to the masses the sort of no-brainer that even Homer Simpson would slap his head with a “Doh!”

Passive investors used to be the outsiders. Statistically, index funds still represent a minority in terms of funds invested, even in the US. But the momentum – and the mind share – is clear.

I’m proud of the small part we’ve played in this revolution in the UK.

However it also presents a problem for a multi-hued site like Monevator.

The last war

It’s many years now since I found myself battling persistent commenters – borderline trolls, really – endlessly repeating that the market was overvalued and that passive investors were going to be toast because they didn’t use cyclically-adjusted investing methods to allocate capital.

Or else that this, that, or the other active fund managed to beat the market over the past 10 years, and so the whole passive investing superiority thing was a myth.

Eventually I had to ban two of these individuals. I even removed a bunch of archived comments from one, when I decided he was partly hitting the site repeatedly for self-publicity.

Their comments were misleading, dangerous, and they rarely seemed to read the articles, or acknowledge the caveats. Worse, they ignored explanations from myself or @TA. They just repeated the same stuff the next time we posted.

Enough was enough.

People often cry “censorship!” when you delete comments. But you don’t labour away at a website to try to inform others year after year, only to see it derailed by 20-second quips from random strangers.

I have seen numerous sites ruined by an anything goes approach to discussion. And the comment sections of the mainstream papers are essentially unreadable. Indeed from my perspective, the UK made a foolish choice last year and the US a substantially more ludicrous one partly because of unmediated opinion and often incorrect information relentlessly propagated on the Internet.

So my site, my rules. Hence I’ve always been happy to censor, to try to foster a sustainable and informed community. (Writing long-winded articles strewn with multi-syllable words sets the bar high for trolls, too!)

26,459 comments and counting

If you leave aside the political discussions – which reliably bring out racists, xenophobes, and the abusive – I’ve not actually chosen to delete many comments over the years.

There is a constant flow of spam or similar that is both automatically and manually blocked from ever making it onto the site.

Back when it comes to comments from readers, back out Brexit and the aforementioned trolls and you’re probably talking just four or five deleted comments a month.

But it’s still a fair bit of work. There are now over 26,000 comments on this site, and I’ve read at least 25,000 of them. All new commenters need to be manually approved, as do comments with certain other traits. On top of that I check into the active comments five or six times a day to see how things are progressing.

The reward has been a very high standard of discussion by any measure. Articles like the broker table have particularly benefited from consistent reader input. But readers often say they find nuggets in other feedback, too.

Sure, it’s not perfect. There’s the reader who until recently has griped within minutes of every new article for more than five years. Another patronizing fellow who is so irritating that – true fact – he has prompted three or four others to email asking me to implement a ‘block this person’ feature.

Also I have a pretty good memory (and obviously a proprietorial interest) which means I remember things some regulars say better than they do.

All of which means that I know I seem to fly off the handle at some seemingly innocuous comments sometimes. You’d have to have read the previous 26,469 comments to know why!

By and by though we’ve rubbed along – with one glaring and growing exception.

Active angst

This takes me back to the start of the article. You see, the persecuted have become the persecutors, from my perspective as someone who has a wide (fanatic) interest in all kinds of investing.

And who invests actively, unlike my co-blogger TA.

Final quick bit of history. We used to always post our passive articles on a Tuesday, and more active or off-the-wall articles on a Thursday. But with The Accumulator spending so much time writing his book these past two years, that routine has been blurred.

This probably hasn’t helped what’s increasingly frustrating to me, which is – to paraphrase – that whenever we post anything that isn’t “buy a global tracker fund” we get a barrage of comments saying “buy a global tracker fund.”

Things came to a head on Thursday, when The Greybeard shared his thoughts on using investment trusts instead of income-generating ETFs to provide a retirement income. His previous articles have explained why he prefers to focus on natural yield to selling down capital. This one was about the mechanics.

We have debated why many times on his previous articles. Most non-fundamentalists can see it comes down to personal choice. The article was not claiming that income investment trusts were preferable to passive funds for all investors, or total return index beaters or anything like that.

It was taking as granted the notion – as I say, debated before and widely understood in the financial world – that many people prefer a hands-off approach to income in their older years, if they can afford it. It’s something I intend to do. And it was exploring the options.

Well, out came the fundamentalist arguments, for the nth time. That anything but selling capital was irrational or stupid. Worse, even when I politely asked people to desist, they kept coming.

Even when the author of the article pointed out they were attacking a straw man. And even when I asked again!

My memory doesn’t help here. As I say, I know in several cases exactly the same people have derailed the last few times we tried to explore this topic, too.

You might say “so what?” But you perhaps do not have experience of moderating discussion on the Internet. Repeating the same point of view over again crowds out any on-topic or nuanced discussion. And this is what happened again.

It’s tricky, because unlike the active-championing trolls of yesteryear, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the views being expressed. Nor are the people anything like abusive – they are trying to be constructive, I know that. The regulars involved are smart and well-informed.

But their comments were still unhelpful – on THAT post – from my point of view of trying to have a vibrant site that discusses all aspects of investing.

I say potato, you say passive investing

Several years ago I suggested to The Accumulator that we might make Monevator passive-only, as that was clearly where we’d established a foothold and where the need was greatest.

Surprisingly to me, he urged we kept things as they were. Besides my own clear interest in other stuff, he said he found the active articles interesting – it wasn’t like they were saying “buy this winning fund and double your money!” – and he thought a passive-only site would be dull and stagnant.

I decided he was right. As an aside, one of the reasons the regulars are notable is because most people come to Monevator, learn about indexing, buy their ETFs or LifeStrategy or whanot, and then disappear. (Thinking about it, that probably explains why those who return seem the most determined wing of passive investors.)

Anyway we didn’t go passive-only. Yet I still curbed my own active output, despite requests to do otherwise. I never really write about shares here any more, for example, and only rarely about collective vehicles or active strategies. The cognitive dissonance for the site and for readers, and the resulting comments isn’t very fruitful. (A reader asked me the other day why I don’t write about my own active investing in more detail. Gallows humour, I presume).

However the comments on Thursday’s post was a camel and straw situation.

Perhaps the site shouldn’t have different kinds of content on it for different readers, but it does. And there’s no point doing so if one group is going to repeatedly jam up conversation about the points raised with their own – tangential at best – perspectives.

I mean, virtually every article I’ve ever written about active investing includes a prominent pointer to our passive archives! This site is 75% passive, and clearly and regularly says that’s the best first port of call for nearly everyone. That’s good enough for me.

Off-topic? Then out it goes

So starting this week or next – when I hope to resume our series on dividend investing from my old friend The Analyst – I am going to delete comments on Thursday posts that I deem off-topic.

In time I hope to find a plug-in that will simplify letting readers know why the comment has been deleted. But I haven’t had time to explore this yet, and so it’s just going to be a nuking.

I’ve tried engaging and requesting and it doesn’t work.

This move will only directly affect the approximately 0.05% of readers who comment. But it will also affect those who read the comments, both positively and negatively.

Specifically it will definitely involve deleting stuff that isn’t technically incorrect, but which in my opinion is off-topic.

An analogy would be if a camping magazine saw its articles followed up every time by comments extolling the virtues of living in a house. Sure, houses are great. But it was an article about camping.

I know this isn’t ideal, and as I say this is a very different problem from the trolling or whatnot you get online. I like nearly all the readers who would have been affected by this new deleting policy on The Greybeard post.

But I have to try something. And so apologies in advance then for any feathers ruffled.

Have a good weekend!

From the blogs

Making good use of the things that we find…

Passive investing

Active investing

Other articles

Product of the week: The first products have been cleared for the new Innovative Finance ISA, some offering returns of 12%. As The Guardian asks, what’s the catch? Risks, my dear boy, risks.

Mainstream media money

Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view these enable you to click through to read the piece without being a paid subscriber of that site.1

Passive investing

  • Warren Buffett is encouraging more passive investing – Bloomberg
  • It’s probably a bad idea to sell stocks because you fear Trump – New York Times
  • Keep calm and stay invested [Search result]FT
  • Research Affiliates tool shows what Smart Beta is overvalued [Interactive]R.A.
  • …and Rob Arnott says you’ll be sorry for ignoring Smart Beta warnings – Bloomberg

Active investing

  • Dutch high-speed trader hasn’t lost money in ETFs since 2014 – Bloomberg
  • Unilever rejects $143bn Kraft Heinz takeover bid [Search result]FT
  • Emerging market ETFs and the jaws of death [Search result]FT
  • 2017 ISA tips: How to achieve a 5% income – Telegraph

A word from a broker

Other stuff worth reading

  • Pension savers urged to be vigilant on exit fees [Search result]FT
  • We should keep the buy-to-let tax hike. It might be working – ThisIsMoney
  • You share a marriage, but do you share financial secrets? [Search result]FT
  • Even after price rises, traveling to shop in US or Europe doesn’t add up – Guardian
  • Bank offers to repay first-time buyer stamp duty. Good deal? – Telegraph
  • Becoming Warren Buffett [Documentary]HBO / YouTube
  • What French revolutionaries learned about new currencies [Podcast]Bloomberg
  • Bill Gates would tax robots – Quartz
  • Wikipedia is dying a death of a thousand cuts – Boing Boing

Book of the week: 13-year old investor Maya Peterson was recently asked by Google to talk to its investor group. Pretty cool. Sadly the Google lecture is not online, but you can watch what’s essentially the same talk on her blog. Maya and her father have also written a book about investing – A Very Long Hill – which costs just £2.65 on Amazon. Friend of Monevator Todd Wenning says: “Anyone interested in teaching today’s youth about investing should grab a copy.”

Like these links? Subscribe to get them every week!

  1. Note some articles can only be accessed through the search results if you’re using PC/desktop view (from mobile/tablet view they bring up the firewall/subscription page). To circumvent, switch your mobile browser to use the desktop view. On Chrome for Android: press the menu button followed by “Request Desktop Site”. []

Receive my articles for free in your inbox. Type your email and press submit:

{ 60 comments… add one }
  • 1 FI Warrior February 18, 2017, 1:37 pm

    No worries Dude, the point is fair enough and it’s your site anyway, people should rediscover basic courtesy; the anonymity of the internet seems to have enabled a lack of consideration in that respect.

  • 2 Rob Davies February 18, 2017, 1:51 pm

    Great blog, keep up the good work. I just wish the regulator would allow me to post my thoughts.

  • 3 Jed February 18, 2017, 1:58 pm

    @investor, true its your website but I enjoy some of the disparate comments, some are really fun to read. Perhaps you could put them in a separate section marked as such. I wouldn’t worry too much about comments that aren’t technically correct. I cant imagine anybody reads a comment on a blog and accepts it as hard facts.

  • 4 Gaz February 18, 2017, 2:19 pm

    I’ve only been reading Monevator for the last two years or so, but I’ve always enjoyed the comments and found them to be extremely helpful when I started my journey into investing.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I haven’t seen many ‘bad’ comments here, although I’m probably comparing it to the other forums and sites I visit where aggressive commenting has become the norm on the Internet.

    Anyway, keep up the good work and thanks for all the time you, and every commenter, has put into the site!

  • 5 Gary February 18, 2017, 2:28 pm

    I would like my huge thank you to the quality blogs, resulting discussions and great reference material. Like most, I have drifted between passive and active over the past decade and I now lean more towards passive (maybe that’s a natural age progression to shift to risk aversion?).

    But thanks again. Slow and steady is my number one rule!


  • 6 SurreyBoy February 18, 2017, 2:33 pm

    Hi there.

    You clearly put in a huge amount of work on this site, whereas all any of us do is cruise in and read it. So you have a clear entitlement to apply any policy you wish. Aside from the fact it’s a great site and you’ve earned the right, even if it was a mediocre site – it’s yours and you can do whatever you like. Your pub, your rules so to speak.

    Your frustration is clearly evident. Don’t let it put you off doing what you do. I have learned more from this site than any other, and its really helped me develop my thinking about FI and expanded my knowledge enormously. So from me – thank you.

    On the comments – I don’t post often but I do read them. Some of them are interesting, thought provoking and insightful. Others are well, ahem, less so. In terms of how you moderate the comments – do what you think is best. Keep up a great site.

  • 7 ChesterDog February 18, 2017, 2:39 pm

    Speaking as a dedicated reader, but sparse commenter – although at times I think you let the post-referendum anxiety get to you (which you are entitled to show, of course, although I would respectfully suggest that you don’t let it sway you from Monevator’s ethos too much), you and TA have created and nurtured a deservedly renowned investment blog. You know what you’re doing. You don’t need to justify your choice of course or action to me nor, I imagine, the unspeaking, appreciative bulk of your readers. Keep up the good work. Oh, and thank you.

  • 8 PC February 18, 2017, 3:02 pm

    Keep doing what you’re doing on the comments. Whatever you’re doing it works. I’ve learned more from the posts on this site, including the comments than anywhere else.

  • 9 weenie February 18, 2017, 3:02 pm

    This is one of the few websites where I look forward to reading comments – I even occasionally enjoy the odd uncivilised ones which creep in but understand that you want to keep the flow of discussion on topic. Keep up the great work.

  • 10 The Accumulator February 18, 2017, 3:29 pm

    Absurd repression of free-speech from a neo-fascist tyrant – it’s reminiscent of Putin’s Russia, if I didn’t think Putin was the greatest man on Earth. This is exactly why we need to get out of the EU, build more walls and BURN MORE COAL!!!!! [Explodes]

  • 11 Mathmo February 18, 2017, 3:33 pm

    Thank-you for all your hard work in creating this site and allowing a community of readers to spark off your work and explore a little around the subject. I thought I knew a bit, but by reading the articles, links and comments here, I have both seen things I disagree with and then internally struggled to figure out if I or the author/poster has the worng end of the stick. And I have delighted in hearing how others have made mistakes and sharing a few of my own — and the collective insights it gives us to do better in the future. You have created a vibrant little coral reef which is teeming with life. Well done.

    The comments definitely add a huge amount — people exploring a little more on the topic (and occasionally off the topic – a pleasing source of serendipity!). But I sense the frustration in your posts, TI.

    I publish a magazine (even – unfashionably – involving dead trees) and also moderate the associated forum. It is, however, mostly exceptionally polite (as this place is) although still capable of drifting off topic. We moderate extremely lightly, but demand our posters are identified by name — and their reputations in a fairly small group of people — rise or fall by their contributions. I appreciate the irony of posting this under a pseudonym, although you know my real name (and it would be a fool who thought his pseudonym could remain anonymous) and I take care to write only that which I’d say to another’s face.

    I know I got particularly grumpy to have a comment deleted last year. I have only just caught up with GB’s post this week: I avoided commenting as I couldn’t see what I had to add (although the idea of insuring against mental degradation fascinates and terrifies me). Perhaps you will contemplate a style of more free-ranging discussion on these weekend reading posts (particularly where the topic could be either your lede or the links: I appear to prefer commenting more on the links). And then perhaps on the stricter topic articles bring out Mjolnir the ban-hammer for transgressors of the discussion. I do think shepherding and explaining decisions will help recipients of your most gracious moderation to take them in the spirit in which they are intended.

    Your reef, your rules. But on behalf of a fish, please keep it a nice place to visit.

    Rats. Will have to read the links later.

  • 12 WhiteSheep February 18, 2017, 3:53 pm

    This may be slightly off-topic but I thought this might be a good opportunity to say how fantastic your site is. I am always amazed at the quality, range and usefulness of the content. It stands out even compared to most if not all of the (UK) mainstream financial media and sometimes it is almost hard to believe that you and your co-writers provide all of this for free. Thanks so much for keeping up the great work!

    On the specific topic that “broke the camel’s back”, having posted on it myself on a previous occasion (thanks for the gracious reply!) I can only say that the reason it triggered a comment was not just passive fundamentalism, but the fact that it touched on certain behavioural or perceptual biases (mostly my own in this case), so I found the discussion enlightening at least in the sense that it increased my own self-awareness.

  • 13 Sean February 18, 2017, 4:08 pm

    I love this site ,it’s free education. When I reach FI it will be greatly due to the insights and inspiration I have found here. It opened up another world in terms of other articles to read and learn from. Always write what you want it’s good to disagree sometimes as long as it turns to nothing more than debate. Keep going !

  • 14 tom February 18, 2017, 4:20 pm

    You have my sympathies, and much appreciation for everything you do on this site.

    That said…. I’d still like to find a place to discuss the more obscure ITs like RIII and CGT etc. with people. Is there a market for it? This site is one of the only places I know to have covered them. How is the Ruffer succession going to go? Does anyone under the age of 65 own Personal Assets anymore? Have the Schroders Asian Total Return managers got the grip of the IT structure now? I just want to IT nerd-out basically (as nobody I know is remotely interested, quite reasonably). If such a place exists, let me know!

  • 15 xiox February 18, 2017, 4:25 pm

    Tom: at the risk of being off-topic, if you want some general UK investment discussion including ITs, try out https://www.lemonfool.co.uk/. This is the board where lots of people who used to use the Motley Fool discussion have moved to. The atmosphere is remarkably good and there are some interesting posters.

  • 16 Learner February 18, 2017, 4:37 pm

    Is there a blog plugin that lets you tag comments with a meaningful symbol? Imagining comments tagged “off-topic” getting shrunk to a single line with an “expand” link for the curious. Gives the author feedback, takes the comment out of the flow, without fully vaporizing it. And a pony. I’d like a pony too.

  • 17 Mark February 18, 2017, 4:40 pm

    My take on the moderation subject: welcome and celebrate comments that disagree with the site’s opinions but delete those that attack individuals personally rather than engaging constructively with the ideas they promulgate.

    In the context of the recent piece on active versus passive investment, I worry that much of the personal investment community, especially the FIRE tribe, has a tendency toward groupthink. If your money isn’t in Vanguard trackers, you’re a fool, is the dominant trope. In contrast, the case for (low cost, high performance, and well matched to the individual’s requirements) active investment is seldom put; and, in my view, it’s a lot more compelling.

    That being the case, I welcomed The Greybeard’s piece, considered it brave, expected disagreement, but think it’s right to deal assertively with anyone who plays the man rather than the ball, or engages in showboating. I didn’t see the comment or comments in question, so don’t know whether that line was crossed.

  • 18 Tony February 18, 2017, 4:52 pm

    I think it’s fair enough to be on the strict side when moderating the site. It gets wearing having to read past the trolls, however small a minority they are, to engage with the contributions of sensible posters.

    Look at the Bogleheads forum, and how well that works. Occasionally even the most distinguished contributors get their threads locked.

  • 19 Naeclue February 18, 2017, 4:52 pm

    Point taken, fair enough. As it is most unlikely that I will contribute anything to an article on actively managed funds that I have not already said on same previous comment, I will refrain from commenting about them. I will still read the articles though as it does no harm at all to have one’s current beliefs challenged.

    This is a very good blog and it would be very unfortunate if you stopped it or turned off comments due to the work load involved.

  • 20 Naeclue February 18, 2017, 5:16 pm

    I would add that much of the media is still in the pocket of the financial services industry, the Money pages of the Saturday Times being a good example. Every week there is an article that promotes the churning of actively managed funds and so it is again today. On the other hand, when articles on actively managed funds appear here, I know they are honest and not some surreptitious plug or written by someone with a completely closed mind.

    The comment sections on most mainstream newspaper sites are completely worthless as they now seem to be dominated by morons. Sadly this does not just apply to the Daily Mail either. I gave up reading them long ago. Yours is of a much higher standard, so whatever censorship you have been applying has worked very well.

  • 21 Mr optimistic February 18, 2017, 5:29 pm

    Fair enough. On the Greybeard article you could have shown the link back to his article on Its for retirement, might have shut a few of us up. Only found it too late.

  • 22 Jim McG February 18, 2017, 9:18 pm

    This is a great site, the UK’s best investment blog, and I feel that the comments generally add depth and colour to the articles. I wouldn’t worry too much about blocking and deleting the haters, they really are such a drag. As others have said, it’s your site and almost your responsibility to shape it as you feel you want it to be. It’s not the BBC, but that’s why a lot of us are here! Keep up the great work and I hope the site goes from strength to strength.

  • 23 Duncurin February 18, 2017, 9:29 pm

    As you say, the comment sections of the mainstream papers are essentially unreadable. No-one has the time to read through 2,000 comments before adding another. On the other hand if you look at the letters page of (say) The Times, you will find a selection of comments chosen to be of interest to readers.

    Would it be possible to run the comments here along similar lines? Rather than have comments published by default and then deleted if particularly inappropriate, publish only a few chosen comments which you think will enhance the original article.

    This would save people like me from embarrassment, when I make a naïve comment which isn’t bad enough to delete and so remains on the site to show people how little I understand.

    It would save people getting cross when their comments are deleted, because they wouldn’t be published in the first place.

    And it would put people on their mettle to write particularly interesting and considered comments.

    Of course it would mean you reading and vetting every comment as it comes in, which would be a lot of work.

  • 24 hosimpson February 18, 2017, 11:05 pm

    I’m with The Accumulator, especially with regards to Putin and coal. (but mostly Putin)

  • 25 The Rhino February 18, 2017, 11:30 pm

    Decided to try and overcome my ferris aversion so listened to that pod cast with pete

    It wasn’t too bad, but are podcasts normally that long? Had to burn 4 pomodoros to get through it. That’s half a days work for me

    Even tim sounded like he’d zoned out by the end. There were a few gems in there though

    I think i like reading more than listening

  • 26 EHB February 19, 2017, 10:09 am

    Hmm! Here speaks a victim of deletion – I have only previously commented once on this site and that comment, along with a few responses, were subsequently deleted. I would be fascinated to know why – it certainly wasn’t off-topic.

    I suspect that I spoke some uncomfortable truths about housing in our land.

    Too many of us on this site are old, conservative (with a small c) and financially comfortable. We tend to form a circle of self-confirmation of ideas (a “bubble” in today’s parlance).

    For what it is worth, I believe that anything that is known to be lie or which infers an untruth (the great expertise of the tabloids and the “post-truth” news sites) or which contains personal abuse, should be straightforwardly deleted. Anything else that the moderator deems to be “off-topic” (and any subsequent replies) should be rendered such that some small active action (per item) by the potential reader is required to reveal each one.

  • 27 The Investor February 19, 2017, 10:33 am
  • 28 Andrew February 19, 2017, 10:51 am

    For my part I’d encourage more rather than less curation of comments. Never worry about deleting the crazies or off topic ers. It makes monevator an even more useful and valuable resource for the rest of us.

  • 29 Matt February 19, 2017, 11:02 am

    I think too many people commenting on websites on the net assume it’s like mouthing off on Speaker’s Corner and its not. It’s like mouthing off in someone’s shop – when the owner asks you to leave, he’s perfectly entitled to. The free speech part comes where you’re free to set up your own website to publish your opinions!

  • 30 EHB February 19, 2017, 11:54 am

    Well, what can I say? There it was. There it was, gone. There it is again!

    Sincere apologies.

  • 31 FI Warrior February 19, 2017, 12:05 pm

    I agree with Matt, I’ve also had a deletion once, but it was nicely explained (off topic) and so fair enough. I actually hadn’t meant to have gone off on a tangent, but I’d replied to someone who did and then felt I should respond because they were so polite about it. Ironically though, since I derive value from this site mainly for educational purposes, (it is also interesting and pleasant generally, but even though widely read, it has taught me a lot) I appreciate the comments being focused.

    Not everyone has the time to weed out inaccurate comments, so I really see the point of keeping it relevant and the rude ones we just shouldn’t have to put up with, those people can bond with their ilk over at the Daily Mail.

  • 32 PC February 19, 2017, 12:05 pm

    The other place comments are worth reading is the FT. I’ve always guessed that this is due to the extra hurdle of registration and subscribing, but there’s probably some moderation going on too.

    The other thing the FT does, is to allow comments to be recommended and sorted by number of recommendations. That might work on Monevator, although I’d like to be able to “not recommend” too.

  • 33 Dave February 19, 2017, 12:35 pm

    I rarely comment as I have little of worth to add to the site – you say it all so eloquently, TI and TA. However, maybe we could have a upvote / downvote system and the 5-10 rated comments are shown at the top?

  • 34 The Investor February 19, 2017, 12:49 pm

    @all — Thanks for all the comments, which I’m digesting over the weekend, and I appreciate the understanding and supportive vibe. We’ll see how the new policy survives when under fire, of course. But at least we have this post and thread to point to. The idea of exploring some sort of moderating or ‘surfacing’ technology is interesting, and I read nearly all the comments so shrinking off-topic but not off-colour ones wouldn’t be out of the question. But I’m wary of creating a sort of ranking system or similar. I am happy with everyone feeling they can contribute, if they have something useful and relevant to say, without fearing a sort of Lord of the Flies aspect to proceedings. As I say, I don’t delete much. I will be deleting more under this new policy, but don’t want to go crazy.

    @EHB — Perhaps it had something to do with the comment pagination? You’ll see you’re at the bottom of the comment thread there, and you have to page over for the latest comments. This happens after a certain fairly high chunk of comments (50 I think). So maybe you missed the “older comments” link, and you’d been pushed back a page. Perhaps it’s time I raised this comments-per-page threshold.

    @MrOptimist — Greybeard’s article title included the words “a dependable income for deaccumulating investors” and the very first paragraph said “generate an income in retirement”. There was a link in each of the first three paragraphs to the previous articles about income trusts and retirement. It was all there, clear and readable.

  • 35 Marked February 19, 2017, 2:48 pm


    Interesting comments and policy (loosely). I have to say I like reading contrarian views (on investing!) – An example was your £ hedge strategy with ETF’s that had a little disagreement in the comments. I am guessing, as I know you like to encourage debate, you’ll allow different views which round a reader’s opinion but cut it off if it goes into the weeds. I was saving Greybeard’s article to read today and wouldn’t think an initial post promoting the life strategy is an issue as it can be explained but I can see where there is a groundswell of comments it’s irksome. We all have to remember we’re at different points in our accumulation phase so different views chime with different people.

    Great write-up and explanation.

  • 36 IanH February 19, 2017, 3:30 pm

    I feel you are doing the right thing with your new comment policy, but I hope it doesn’t become overwhelming for you to manage. I’m the type of reader who cannot help but scroll down from articles into the comment areas, and one consequence for example is that I find I am unable to support the Guardian as a subscriber because although I read most of the online content, the benefit I receive is crushed by the standard of comment they distribute alongside their journalism. The same goes for the MMM website whose comments can run to thousands on each post, rendering them useless. Monevator blog is currently in a sweet spot where the articles receive commentary that are mutually informative and useful, and curating them to protect this is still posssible while the blog readership remains a manageable size.

    It is interesting that the greybeard article was the last straw. I’d say I’m a relatively new self-investor with a couple of years experience now, but not a raw recruit. I’ve been convinced by the merits of passive investing in global funds for someone like me, but now I am moving into the later part of investing life where I have to derive an income from my investments with as stress-free and uneventful management of them as is possible, so reading graybeard’s views on the possible merits of focussing on income via investment trust are very interesting to me, as are inputs on this topic from commenters. It is crucial that these discussion don’t get derailed and stay focussed though, so I’m sure comment moderation can play a part here, especially as it is a topic that it seems to me few people are qualified to comment on, and on which insights are still being developed. I’m particularly interested to follow points that amplify greybeard’s proposition that the case argued for passive investing via index funds may not apply to portfolios designed to generate steady incomes. I think he has said this will be drilled down futher in his future posts and I look forward to reading them – these can’t come quickly enough for me.

  • 37 Andy February 19, 2017, 9:08 pm

    I’m in favour of a stricter commenting policy. Even if that means deleting a lot of comments. Or perhaps I should say especially if that means deleting a lot of comments.

    Perhaps you could make it clear at the top of the comments section what topic you expect to be discussed in the comments and what you consider off topic. You might think this is fairly obvious from the title of the article, for example “Can ETFs deliver a dependable income for deaccumulating investors?”, but it appears that by the time people have read down to the bottom of the article (if they have) they have forgotten.

  • 38 The Rhino February 19, 2017, 9:27 pm

    Delete as you see fit, but obviously not mine..

  • 39 blaine February 20, 2017, 1:47 am

    Your writing is the highlight of my weekend read. Please keep writing what you want to. Hearing a variety of positions is wonderful. I do agree some of the passive crowd are getting pretty assertive. Potato potato as Cole Porter said makes the world go round.

  • 40 L February 20, 2017, 10:08 am

    @TI – I was genuinely interested when I asked you to discuss your own ‘process’ more, you had dropped a hint that you were doing well vs. your chosen indices and there is always something more to learn.

    I appreciate that this site is focused on passive investing, but isn’t there a bit of cognitive dissonance being an ‘active man’ who feels the need to drop in a self-deprecating comment about the fact on many of the articles published?

    As others have said – it’s your pub – why not show us some of your special reserve? 🙂

  • 41 The Rhino February 20, 2017, 11:21 am

    One idea could be to have a ‘naughty corner’. Get your name on the blacklist and all your comments end up there – automatically whisked away to fester at arms length where they can’t do any harm. Every now and then you could be up for parole and allowed back out if it looked like you’d turned over a new leaf. You could stick me, neverland and paul claireux on it just to get the ball rolling.. actually don’t stick me on it, I’m not that bad??

  • 42 hyperhypo February 20, 2017, 12:29 pm

    Another vote from me on Graybeard and his deaccumulation themes…i’m in same position as IanH above …more Graybeard please ! I’d trust your instincts over the management of your blog …it’s a stellar resource on the basis and spirit that it’s been managed so far…

  • 43 flotron February 20, 2017, 2:12 pm

    The most recent comment on “Keep calm and stay invested [Search result] – FT” is by Paul Claireux and I think it demonstrates TIs point quite nicely. A comment that has no relevance to the contents of the article, in order to drive traffic to his website. Its no better than clickbait.

  • 44 The Rhino February 20, 2017, 4:30 pm

    Therein lies the problem with the interweb ‘coaches’ or completely unregulated IFAs in other words.
    I have the feeling that in order to know whether you’re getting a good one, you would already have to know enough not to need one.
    The only ‘safe’ way of using one would perhaps be the use-case where you were 95% there and just needed a bit of gentle reassurance that all was well.
    Some are probably very good, I wouldn’t be surprised if liberate life and TEA fell into this category, but others you wouldn’t want to touch with a barge pole (ahem, aforementioned)
    How does one who needs the help tell the difference?

  • 45 PlanLess February 20, 2017, 6:22 pm

    Buy a global tracker fund!

    Ha, couldn’t resist! Have said it before but I really do value this site. I agree with your decision re comments, I often find reading through the comments brings a lot of additional information and insight further to the original article and it does break the flow when the conversation gets dragged off topic. Although it is funny when someone is clearly getting irate! Censor away, start with this one if you like.

  • 46 The Rhino February 20, 2017, 7:42 pm

    head over to the latest comments on ermines site for an example of what a top-notch IFA should look like

  • 47 The Investor February 21, 2017, 12:41 am

    @all — Another thanks for all the very useful feedback here – I’m very glad so many of you have taken the time to say that you see the need for some sort of moderation – and of course for the generous words about the site! We’re only human. 🙂 I’ve never done anything else that gets as much positive feedback as Monevator, and that is why we keep at it really, despite the odd nasty comment or email.

    @L — The reason for the self-deprecating asides when discussing active investing… basically I’m very aware of the potential paradox of me talking about either active investing or passive investing, given my own investing activities versus the main thrust of this blog, the apparent incongruity.

    To me it’s not actually that anomalous. I never stop reminding myself how hard it is to skillfully beat index funds over many years. When I do a quick check of how I’m doing at any particular moment, I look at the over/under-performance against my main benchmarks *before* looking at the portfolio value, and often I don’t even bother with the latter! (And we’re talking multiple times a day these days, not once a year). Unlike many investors I meet (active but also many passive) I have deeply integrated that I’m playing a zero sum game as an active investor. I can meet someone like Lars for one of our occasional lunches and we might talk passive fees or about some active digression. It’s all part of a piece to me.

    But this blog is different. We want to leave people in a better shape then they came to us, when it comes to investing! 🙂 I have three choices at the extremes — don’t mention I invest actively, mention it in a positive way, or mention it in a negative way — and obviously less extreme positions along those axis.

    The first seems to me dishonest. Of the other two, generally I think it will do more good for me not to encourage people to invest actively here on Monevator, and to try to encourage passive investing. Most people make terrible investing choices. That’s not a boast; it’s nothing to do with me, or my relative performance. It’s just my observation and it’s backed up by research as you know. I believe one can usefully help people be better active investors — or at least to try — but it ideally has to be a full-on experience. If I was to to really talk a lot about my personal active investing, I’d therefore likely put it behind a paywall or similar, similar to what John Rosier or John Kingham do. Or at least write a book where I knew they’d start on page one.

    However I do like to write about wider-scope active things sometimes — I can’t help it, it’s my major hobby and passion these days — and a certain cohort of readers like to read it. So when I do, I usually put in that reminder that most people should be passive and that perhaps I should be, too. That’s not because it’s going badly, but because we only live once (both from a “is it really worth the time?” perspective, but also from a “is one life enough to even tell if you were lucky or skilled?” perspective…)

    This is also why I stopped my would-be series of about a year ago (which you read the first installment of) where I was going to talk about my emotional journey in active investing. I was writing up part two, the results bit, I tried three or four drafts, but I was nagged by this feeling that it wouldn’t really add value, either to people who might be inspired and then do worse than if they hadn’t, or to me if I became hubristic or worse (I’m also a bit superstitious!) Plus some reader or another sniped at me in the comments or over email… 😉

    Perhaps I should just jump to part 3; the (very hard to quantify, since it’s not about money) price I’ve paid for what’s become a bit of an obsession.

    Anyway, hopefully that makes my reasoning a bit clearer, even if you don’t agree with it! It’s not fixed in stone, and as I say I’m human and I love the game of active investing, so doubtless more bits will appear on here now and then.

  • 48 L February 21, 2017, 12:41 pm

    @TI – Thank you for the detailed response and the fascinating insight into your thought processes – it is very much appreciated.

    While not everyone taking part in the discussions on this blog can agree re. reasoning, I have always loved the fact that the vast majority of contributors respect (if you will) the reasons behind the reasoning and the rights of individuals to walk their own path.

    An active side project/blog sounds like a great idea for when you hit your number.

    Interestingly enough, I think passive investors are just as bad for obsession as active investors. Freed from the responsibility of stock picking, we agonise over expense ratios, asset allocation and ways to optimise our budgets to accelerate the journey towards our goals.

  • 49 Amit February 21, 2017, 1:10 pm

    I echo the sentiments that the comments on this site in general add a lot of value to the post. I have read this post pretty late and only flicked through the 48 comments. Apologies if I am repeating something already deliberated, but as a reader I do like comments feature such as one on guardian where you can rate comments and sort comments by ratings, and see responses branched from the original comment. Also it is possible to report offensive posts that could perhaps ease moderation. There are clearly comments that deserve to be read and if there was a way to bringing them to the top that would be great.

  • 50 FI Warrior February 21, 2017, 1:16 pm

    @TI – as someone who only lives by the grace of being an investor and who really enjoys learning, my perception here is that I come to your blog to learn new things by hearing what others have tried and how it worked. In return, I give back the same and in this way we should all benefit by all being the best we can be. I have zero interest in being right on the strategy for the sake of it, yes it’s nice if it happens, but I’d rather be happy by getting things right, then by being right in the first place.

    So I’m interested in hearing all strategies, even if I feel they’re not for me. Given human nature though, I don’t see how you can’t have some rules to organise this ‘forum’ otherwise it’ll be devalued by the confusion.

    I think most of the value and therefore power of your site comes from the ability of a person with an open mind to know for free what works, for real, from other people’s experimentation. This is crowdfunded excellence in knowledge and a beautiful thing.

  • 51 Malcolm Beaton February 22, 2017, 10:17 am

    Hi-can I endorse all the appreciative comments and and add mine!
    Now a passive investor of some years but I only came to that position through my active investing trials and tribulations
    I came to realise that I was not very good at it. Wayne Buffet and Charlie Munger I am not!
    All investing however is a continual learning process.It is such an interesting subject especially if you have “skin in the game”
    Even passive investors have to keep on top of their investments-asset allocation,costs etc
    Reading constantly around the subject of investing-active/passive keeps me sharp.
    Reading fine blogs like this does the buisness
    I remember getting out of Equitable Life intact through a Motley Fool blog-sadly no longer with us
    This Blog fills a critical role keeping us up to the mark and well informed
    Especially important now as more of us do our own finances/ investing
    Keep up the good work-we need you!

  • 52 Malcolm Beaton February 22, 2017, 10:57 am

    Apologies-Warren Buffet!

  • 53 Al February 23, 2017, 10:22 am

    Imagine that you notice that Monevator is no longer appearing in Google searches. Eventually, after receiving nothing but automated responses to your increasingly indignant enquiries, a fan of Monevator (and an employee of Google), contacts you privately to tell you that she knows why your posts have been removed. In short, your views on passive investment are devaluing Google’s active investments; your content is costing the business money. And so, with the implementation of their new algorithm (‘Putins-a-Penguin’), your site is no longer ranked. It is futile complaining, she says: Pichai’s mantra is “I run it; I call it.” And, what’s more, ultimately he argues that this in the best interests of users: because without investments, Google cannot run; and without Google, “they’d be stuck with Yahoo!”

    My thinly-vailed parable highlights a few issues raised by your post.

    1. Ownership. In one sense, of course, the website belongs to the owner and the owner gets to call the shots (within the boundaries of what is lawful). However, on the other hand, there is a sense in which websites belong to the readers. As the comments of your Monevator readers highlight, the blog is a fixture of their reading week; they feel affection and attachment to it; it is like a member of their family (some might say their only friend); others have invested hours of their otherwise meaningless lives posting hundreds of comments. Does this give them rights? Legally, Copyright Law recognises that authorship does confer rights, unless this is waved. Morally, the sense of injustice that you might feel if Google removed your listing, would also suggest there is a moral case to be made: one might feel that Google has in some sense profited from your work (no one reads Google as an end in itself) and is therefore accountable or at least responsible to you as the producer of quality blog content. It also purports to provide users with a service and not just exist for its own benefit, like Monevator.

    2. Freedom. Some of the comments on your post highlight a common underlying, erroneous belief about the internet: that it is a democratic space (or at least more democratic than previous media forms). Of course it is the case that the internet allows consumers to become publishers – we can (and enthusiastically do) share our ignorance on Monevator. But websites are subject to rules, be that at the hands of an automated bot or an old school flesh-and-blood moderator, like The Investor. They can be more easily censored compared to previous forms. Information is commonly prioritised according to what is popular and pays, rather than what is necessarily true. Some would therefore argue that the internet has its own internal dynamics that often actually stifles important contrarian truths. For, as it was said by Michael Polanyi (the philosopher and scientist) in the face of the threat of communist totalitarianism, freedom is very important for both science and art, because freedom is a necessary condition for creativity. And, of course, it is those creative, contrarian gadflies that cause Copernican revolutions, including shifts from active to passive investing.

    3. Transparency & Consistency. The democratic façade of the internet also raises the issue of transparency. It is often not clear what editorial or algorithmic filters are applied to the information we read online. Google is notoriously secretive about such things; Monevator is thankfully not so cagey. But will future blog-dippers stumble upon this post and realise how their interactions are being selectively edited, before spending precious time investing in comments that maybe deleted? There is also an issue of consistency. I am sure that most would agree that abuse and spam negatively affects the reading experience (although spammers might argue that it is a valuable investment stream that we should try!); some would see the value of deleting ‘annoying’ posts (as long as it is not them); but if the moral principle of selection is utilitarian, reader usability, then (and forgive the cheeky challenge) why not also delete the obsequious posts that praise Monevator. These are also off-topic and prevent the flow of discussion, even if they benefit the authors’ sense of self-worth and reduce their counselling bill (I also love you guys, BTW).

    I didn’t set out to write a essay or sermon, and forgive me if I have repeated what others have said (I tend to avert my eyes when confronted by bare-faced backslapping, whether in the comments section of blogs or the basements of Russian Saunas). But may I use this (limited) democratic space to make the following pleas to you fine gentlemen.

    i. Allow the contrarians to keep posting (rather than delete their comments), even though they are irritating. I think it is better to answer objections once, and then refer back to previous comments with a link, as you have been doing. Patience in the face of objection could actually be a wise investment and result in Monevator being at the vanguard of the next investment revolution (‘Catatonic Investing’?) with all the financial rewards.

    ii. Be as hard on the Praisers as the Pests, they also affect the reading experience. Maybe you could invest in a bot that emails such well-intentioned people to thank them for their kind words and suggest that they make a donation to your retirement fund as they have benefited so much (that will soon stop them)!

    iii. Continue to be transparent in your editorial policy. What about having a brief statement with a link to your editorial policy in your comment section, along with your current investment disclaimer link?

    One of the things that I have appreciated about you chaps is that you do read and graciously respond to your readers’ comments (as I discovered the first and last time that I posted, which resulted in you changing in your linking strategy). Thanks again.

    Much love to you, and all Global Tracker Lovers

  • 54 The Investor February 23, 2017, 12:58 pm

    @Al — Thanks for your extensive comments and thoughts, which I’m going to reply to more briefly because, well, there’s only one of me. 🙂

    As a precocious user of Internet newsgroups since before there was the World Wide Web, I recognize these sentiments. Unfortunately the experiment has failed, at least on the current outing, IMHO, and democratizing comment and access to all without restraint has, in my personal opinion, created a sh*tstorm of which irritating people on investment blogs are the least of it. I’d turn off comments here before I stopped moderating them. In fact I’d turn off the blog before I stopped moderating them!

    I have journalist friends and their rule is simply to never read below the article line — on their own articles or others. That’s where the general level of conversation on the Internet has got us.

    All that said, your use of the word “contrarians” might mean we’re at cross-purposes. I haven’t got a problem with intelligent, reasoned, and on-topic differing views. I certainly don’t delete those on-sight, and I’m not proposing to. (Your own comment here is a case in point! 🙂 )

    And I would also stress again deletion is not commonplace. I’ve just done some sums, and leaving aside the oceans of spam auto-rebuffed I would estimate far fewer than 0.02% of comments submitted have been manually deleted. In most of those cases, a few hardcore people knew what they were doing, and their comments ramp the numbers up.

    What I have a problem with — besides general rudeness, racism, whatever — is off-topic comments that derail on-topic conversation, futile repetition, spammy-style comments, people who want to just say something without apparently reading the article or noting its caveats, and errors that I have to either let stand and confuse other people or correct (or delete). The more recent contentious stuff like (a) active investors endlessly bemoaning passive or (b) vice-versa in posts about say (a) getting the lowest fees or (b) investment trusts for income, it doesn’t add value. But I’m not speedy to actually delete and usually semi-successfully get by with a desist request (last week being a notable exception).

    Anyway, that’s where the moderation happens.

    As for deleting nice comments, ha ha, you must be joking. 🙂 The reason Monevator is still extant is because, as I said above, people have never been so vocally nice about anything else I’ve done. We don’t do it for the money/business, which long ago undershot even my pessimistic assumptions. It turns out creating a blog with inaccessible post-graduate level writing (according to online tools) that encourages smart people not to waste their money on nonsense, and to invest in tracker funds then go off and do something else instead — it’s not great for business. Who knew? As the kids say.

    So while it does these days make enough money to justify the time, it doesn’t to justify the effort. What does justify the effort is the feeling that people are getting lots of value out of it, and I’m all for them telling me every day, twice if possible. (Traffic figures are irrelevant, every day sites like this lose more time and visits to others promising we won’t believe what this celebrity looks like after her latest plastic surgery, etc).

    Besides, I’m human and proud of it, and the nasty comments and emails need offsetting. (You know how losses are twice as painful as gains, right?) Just recently I’ve separately been called a traitor, told to go to Europe if I love it so much, told to go to Syria if I love it so much, accused of a “dummy spit” whatever that is, and urged to seek counseling because I’m having a nervous breakdown. And things are quiet at the moment! 🙂

    I’m grateful people come here to read, and that they share our stuff. There are plenty of constructive and useful comments, too.

    But my blog, and it’s a benign dictatorship.

  • 55 Al February 23, 2017, 6:19 pm

    @Investor – Thanks for your response.

    I agree!

    Total Internet freedom doesn’t work for precisely the reasons that you state. Paradoxically, to flourish, I think freedom of expression requires limiting structures (like moderation); and implementing those structures is costly (like taking time, effort, and even suffering abuse).

    The interesting question is where one draws lines. I think it is good for bloggers to be transparent about this judgement, as you have been.

    What prompted my post was my impression that you were tightening up your editorial policy; whereas I felt your practice, in the past, had produced (unusually) good content with robust, and mainly helpful, debate in the comments section.

    I have actually found helpful some of your interactions with ‘irritating’ posts – I dip in-and-out of the blog so haven’t necessarily read the same comment hundreds of times like you, and therefore I read your response with interest and, often, a smile! Tangents have also sometimes given me some good leads; Gold is found in slurry.

    So really I was saying, “Monevator’s good; I hope you keep it as it is.”

    Having said all that, if I were subjected to the abuse that you mention, I would probably want to draw some new lines in the sand – that is very unpleasant. Also Monevator is your site, and I would be the first to raise a glass to you publishing content as you wish – and to you getting all the good wishes that hard work deserves!

    My light-hearted pokes about ownership and consistency were not a personal criticism and reveal more about my interest in Internet ethics. It is important area of discussion – but not to be had here!

    Thanks again.

  • 56 PC February 24, 2017, 10:57 am
  • 57 Al February 25, 2017, 10:26 am

    @PC. Google would no doubt have us believe that their programme is the solution to our commenting problems! But Artificial Intelligence is a long way off being able to make the subtle judgments that The Investor lists above. And if one’s principle is “my blog, my rules” (which I would defend, with caveats), one might not want the cold, hard consistency of a computer making judgements – it might delete The Praisers, as well as The Pests! Dictatorships are unaccountable and inconsistent by nature because of their ultimate commitment to the capricious ‘self’ (and which dictator doesn’t view their rule as benign?). That is why the American Fathers insisted that freedom requires not just good structures but also virtuous citizens and leaders. And I am sure Donald Trump would be the first to argue that the same principle should be applied to the media, including to the contributors of Monevator. And I would agree!

  • 58 PC February 25, 2017, 11:19 am

    Well yes, I’m pretty skeptical .. you only need to look at some of the Kaggle competitions to see how hard this sort of thing is – for example https://www.kaggle.com/c/sentiment-analysis-on-movie-reviews

  • 59 PC March 3, 2017, 10:00 am

    I quite like this idea – pass a quiz to comment ..

  • 60 The Investor March 3, 2017, 1:59 pm

    @PC — Hah, that’s awesome.

Leave a Comment