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.
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…
- If only alpha were easy – Vanguard blog
- What makes something the best strategy? – Mullooly Asset
- Andrew Hallam interview, other passive tidbits [Podcast] – Canadian Couch Potato
- Six sigma Buffett and value fund returns – The Brooklyn Investor
- Three questions to ask on a profit warning – The Value Perspective
- Greatest of all-time: Buffett or Lynch? – Alpha Architect
- Charlie Munger speaks at The Daily Journal meeting – Market Folly
- Should stocks be worth more now than they used to be? – The Irrelevant Investor
- Valuing Snap[chat] ahead of its IPO – Musings On Markets
- The impact of longer investor time horizons – A Wealth of Common Sense
- Still angry at endowment mortgages after all these years – Simple Living in Suffolk
- How to work out your retirement figure – DIY Investor (UK)
- Households below a minimum income standard [PDF report] – Joseph Rowntree
- Tim Ferris interviews Mr Money Mustache [Podcast] – Tim Ferris Show
- How far should you trust market models? [Fairly geeky] – Retirement Researcher
- The theory of competition – Epsilon Theory
- And then the Breitbart lynch mob came for me – Moyers and Co
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
- 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
- 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!
- 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”. [↩]