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Weekend reading: Readers pooling their smarts via Monevator

Weekend reading

Good reads from around the Web.

The advanced cloud-based super-server infrastructure that powers Monevator (i.e. two tin cans with a bit of string tied between) almost melted down this week, thanks to the follow-up from iii’s surprise fee hike.

Last week we were bombarded with readers alerting us via email to the cost-grenade lobbed into the midst of their best-laid plans.

They were angry and confused, but this week they fought back, swapping strategies in the comment sections of our first and second posts about the iii whammy.

If you’re one of the thousands of subscribers who now reads Monevator through your email in-box, you may not know that many of our posts get dozens of comments. Those two posts about iii now have nearly 100 between them.

What’s great about the comments on this website, so far at least, is that they are overwhelmingly constructive and polite, whether it’s feedback on our articles or readers helping each other out.

Having seen discussion forums ruined by abusive posters and the comment sections of online newspapers turn into a cesspit of bigotry and abuse, I show zero hesitation in deleting rude and willfully misleading or antagonistic comments. But so far I haven’t had to delete more than a couple a month.

In fact, the iii incident has made me wonder again about whether to introduce a discussion forum on Monevator.

One reason not to do so is there’s plenty of places where money-minded folk can swap tips across the Internet.

Another forum would hardly fill a void – it’d be more like elbowing your way to the bar!

The other reason is I’m pretty sure it’d be a time sink. A financial website forum isn’t like a discussion board for cat lovers. The potential for dangerous misinformation is vast, making timely moderation vital.

On the other hand, I imagine a simple board split across three or four sub-sections – Passive, Active, Financial Freedom Strategies, and Money Making Tips, or similar – could grow into something quite nice.

What do you guys think?

Are you happy banding together on Money Saving Expert or Bogleheads or The Motley Fool or similar and making hit-and-run raids on our articles? Or do you perceive a yawning gap in the market?

Reminder: You can get a snapshot of the latest comments on Monevator via the Discuss link in the top right of the page.

From the money blogs

Book of the week: I could pretend to have read The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty but it only came out two days ago, and I haven’t read a book in two days since I was a student living in bed. The truth is I got the skinny via the Allan Roth blog above, and I’m fascinated by self-deception so it’s now on my reading list. There are investment angles galore, especially if you’re not already a passive investor

Mainstream media money

  • Burgernomics and McWages – The Economist
  • Forest management in the US [full of surprises]The Economist
  • How to pick stocks after Facebook’s IPO – The New York Times
  • Outer London prices are diverging from the prime core – FT
  • The case for emerging markets [Roundtable]FT
  • Beware of falling prices for villas in the sun – FT
  • Retirement income gender gap is narrowing – FT
  • A new kind of financial advisor, or a waste of money? – Telegraph
  • Long-term carers need respite holidays… – Telegraph
  • … given the grim truth about longevity – New York Magazine
  • Career change possibility beckons: Male stripper – Independent
  • Collectibles: Worth more than memories? – Independent
  • Where to buy a holiday home in ‘Costa Catastrophe’ – Guardian
  • LED bulbs pay for themselves in less than two years – Guardian

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{ 23 comments… add one }
  • 1 dean June 9, 2012, 1:01 pm

    Personally I like Monevator the way it is. You get friendly clear advice, not all the the bickering and the “you must listen to me” kind of attitude that so many sites have a problem with. But it’s not my site, if it needs developing, do it I suppose. If not, why change it?

  • 2 RetirementInvestingToday June 9, 2012, 1:42 pm

    Hi TI

    I would love to see a UK version of Bogleheads although Monevator goes a long way towards spreading the UK version of the Bogleheads message anyway. It would however give an outlet for the intelligent UK Bogleheads to provide some of their knowledge athough The Fool forums possible already meet this need.

    The problem is moderation as you allude to. It looks like a lot of work to keep the forum focused, importantly non political, free of conspiracy theory which a lot of free financial web pages are full of today and free of rambling.

    I think it would be a very good way to improve your Alexa rank (if that’s important to you) if you want to monetise. If you want something saleable in the future it could also help boost sale price. I’m thinking of the sale of HousePriceCrash a few years ago and also the more recent sale of MoneySavingExpert which was a kind of blog/forum hybrid.

    Not sure if you read Mr Money Mustache but he’s recently decided to put in a forum.

    Cheers
    RIT

  • 3 RetirementInvestingToday June 9, 2012, 1:43 pm

    Almost also forgot to thank you for the link today. It’s been quite a UK focused week for me looking at both the FTSE 100 CAPE and UK House Affordability.

  • 4 ermine June 9, 2012, 2:03 pm

    I like it here and all thing being equal I’d favour a forum here, although I’d probably be one of the awkward squad as I don’t have quite the passive thing.

    However, having run a few I can attest to the fact that they can cause ructions, and be a time and nervous-energy sink. OTOH they can also be rewarding and you can find out all sorts of new things from other people.

    For me MSE is too wide-ranging, the urge to swipe some of the fellow participants about the chops with a wet fish and yell ‘take responsibility for your life’ is at times tempting, at others there’s the heavy IFA stuff which is interesting but intimidating. All the debt-free wannabe folks I find bizarre – the way to not have debt is not to take it out in the first place, rather than running up stupendous debts and then chipping away at the millstone with a toothpick.

    I don’t get MF forums – the very sliced forums made it like reading a newspaper through a maginifying glass, it’s hard to stand back and get the helicopter view.

    If you focused on investing and to some extent money-management that would be a different proposition to MSE and TMF IMO. And the extra pageviews might be a help on the bottom line. Dunno if you’d have to delurk a little, however 😉

    And congrats on bringing the arrogant toe-rag Tomas Carruthers of III to heel. Cheeky pup telling us all we had to trade more, it’s for our own good!

  • 5 Dave June 9, 2012, 6:07 pm

    I think a forum would grow the site, it depends if that is what you want. It seems there is a gap in the market for a UK focused investment community – especially a passive one.

    I think the debate in MSE is generally polite and well manner, and the IFA behave themselves very well(and in fact many of them seem like throughly decent chaps who are happy to dispense advise and help for free).

    In general I feel the standard of the MSE economy forum is terrible with some people posting the same ideas over and over again. As an economic graduate I wish their was a good UK economic forum, but the whole subject is probably too political. I would probably avoid having an economic sub-board.

  • 6 Salis Grano June 9, 2012, 7:00 pm

    I really like the site as it is. No objection to a forum as long as it did not mean fewer articles (which help to keep the discussion focussed).

    I realise that, after so many years, you may feel that there is a danger of repetition, but I see nothing wrong with that since times change and topics can often do with updating periodically.

  • 7 gadgetmind June 9, 2012, 7:42 pm

    There is a gap IMO. Motley Fool has clued-up people but the forum platform from hell. Want to edit a post, or be informed of follow-ups? Sorry, those aren’t 1980s features!

    Money Saving expert has good forum software, and some good posters, but lots of anti-pension trolls, gold bugs, and such like.

    I also use iii and advfn, but they suffer the worst of both.

  • 8 Alex June 9, 2012, 9:20 pm

    1. Great effort this week from everyone here on Interactive Investor. I was somewhat surprised last week when my comment about the, ahem, ‘pricing changes’ on The Investor’s ‘Weekend reading’ post didn’t attract any comment. I couldn’t believe I was apparently the only unhappy customer.

    2. As to the discussion on, er, discussion forums (fora?), I enjoy your current model of publishing articles around which discussion, if any, can develop. Article-led discussion, in other words. I can only agree with your assessment of the nature of ‘discussion’ so often found below newspaper articles online – so tedious. Particularly galling is when people leaving comments proudly state they haven’t actually read the relevant article: they’re responding on the basis of the headline only. Yes, thanks for that.

    3. Back to the issue of alternative execution-only share dealing brokers: I noticed that The Accumulator didn’t include x-o.co.uk in his round-up of contenders last week. Perhaps he [it is him, isn’t it?] ignored them since they don’t offer funds? Does anyone have anything useful to share about x-o.co.uk? Thanks in advance.

  • 9 Mr. Money Mustache June 9, 2012, 11:22 pm

    I agree with some of the other opinions above – a Monevator forum would probably be quite useful.

    My reservations about adding a forum to Mr. Money Mustache were exactly the same ones that you have. But a reader encouraged me repeatedly until I finally did it.

    2.5 months later, the new forum has are over a thousand active writers, tens of thousands of guests, and page views well over a million. The discussion is intelligent, people are helping each other in great ways, abuse is minimal (easily handled by the six volunteer moderators), and although I only visit the forum occasionally myself, it is still are a great source of new article ideas. It is not a time-sink at all for me, although Mrs. Money Mustache spends quite a bit of time there.

    I think the main benefit is to the users rather than the blogger. Alexa rank is essentially meaningless, since it only measures traffic from people who run the Alexa browser toolbar (thus, obscure bloggers-only sites like commissionjunction.com have ranks like 307, while Monevator.com, with much higher traffic, ranks 166,000 or so!). I suppose the large amount of useful content might help a site score better with search engines, but I know nothing about search engines so this is just a guess.

    As for the yawning market opportunity – I have read many laments that personal finance is under-served in the UK, so your people would surely thank you!

  • 10 The Accumulator June 10, 2012, 8:45 am

    @ Alex – I did ignore X-O and Simply Stockbroking because they don’t deal in funds and shares aren’t my bag. I didn’t want to cross the streams so to speak. All I know is that X-O have the cheapest trading fees I’ve ever seen and if I did dabble in shares that would be the first place I’d look. The more informed user comments I’ve seen say much the same thing: no-frills, but does the job.

  • 11 Alex June 10, 2012, 11:47 am

    @The Accumulator:

    1. Thanks for such a prompt and helpful response. I don’t intend to start trading individual company shares – only to continue with ‘simple’, transparent ETFs for buy-and-hold.

    2. I’ve been aware of X-O for a while now, and continue to be impressed by the bare-bones simplicity of their website. No extraneous guff about the latest ‘hot’ share/sector/fund, for example. I can come here for that. [Joke.] It’s always been extremely easy to find their charges, and they present them very clearly. [Perhaps these facts aren’t unrelated to how low their charges are.]

    3. The latter point – presentation of charges – is important, I think. For instance, I’d also found IWeb a while ago, and so decided again to check their current charges. As you said in your second post last week, their charges are low, especially for ‘Regular Investments’. What I can’t understand is how the IWeb website fails to tell us that it’s possible to use their ‘Regular Investments’ service for one-off purchases, too. This is very useful, if the terminology is rather confusing (well, the same dual-functionality is just as confusing for the same-named service on Interactive Investor). Only a call to IWeb revealed this nugget. Strange – I’d have thought they’d be shouting about the inherent flexibility here.

    4. Over at TD Direct Investing, ‘Regular investing’ is available, too – but it’s a different beast to the one we’re used to on Interactive Investor. For a start, it requires direct debits. Importantly, low-cost, one-off purchases aren’t available in their implementation. This put me off – even if it’s consistent with the nomenclature! Unlike IWeb, then, TD Direct Investing do actually explain what they mean by ‘Regular investing’.

  • 12 The Investor June 10, 2012, 1:34 pm

    Thanks for all the views shared so far. Have to admit it reinforces all the pros and cons from my perspective, but at least it’s useful to see they’re not all in my head. 🙂

    @dean — Thank you. There are somethings I need to do with Monevator even before any forum. For instance, this comment system is getting a little old-fashioned; it might be better to enable people to also comment via Facebook or Twitter. The main motivation for a forum would be if it increased the utility of the site. I got the impression this week that there was a gap from the iii debate, but whether I/we want to commit to filling it is another mater! 😉

    @RIT — Yes, all that conspiracy theory economic meltdown man the lifeboats hysteria is exactly my worry. Perhaps there’s a place for it, but it isn’t this site. But even if you decide to delete it, that’s a lot of work — even before you get all the follow-up rants etc. Interesting what you say about Monetisation — my limited experience is forum traffic is actually useless from a monetisation POV. They never click on ads so advertisers don’t like them, so they’re near-valueless. The advantage beyond any usefulness for readers who be as you say generating a whole load of new copy to increase Monevator’s web footprint. Interesting what you say about HPC being sold, I never knew that. Do you have a link/details, please?

    @ermine — Thanks for your insights as someone who has run one. This is the sort of thing I hear from friends involved in this area, too — massive time sink. Dealing with ructions is by far my least favourite bit of blogging; I even had no comments for a long time for this reason. Perhaps the solution is to wait until someone becomes available / I can pay someone to moderate it all for me. (Unfortunately on the current trajectory of site earnings that will be around 2020. 😉 ).

    @Dave — Absolutely agree re: economics. There’s lots to be discussed, but even I find myself drawn into blaming Brown for the structural deficit etc. And that is small beans compared to the Ponzi-money-Fed-theft crowd.

    @Salis — Repetition, here? Here? Repetition? 😉 Seriously, I do worry about this but there’s still seems a mountain of stuff to cover, even on the passive side. When Vanguard introduced LifeStrategy I thought that’s that. And then we have a landslide like these iii changes. So I suspect there’ll be lots to keep us busy with.

    @gadgetmind — You’ve obviously been around the block more than me! Interesting insights for that reason, but also a sign at how impossible it is to please everyone. I really *like* that you can’t edit comments on TMF, because it stops people saying something, a huge thread developing, and then them changing the original to say they didn’t say it. Perhaps if you could edit whilst leaving a log, that’d be useful. It is annoying to post something and immediately spot an error w/o editing. (Editing is another plug-in I could add for comments here, incidentally).

    @Alex — Exactly. What did these people do before the Internet? I guess pubs are bore-free zones now. Or maybe they use laptops.

    @MMM — Thanks for sharing your experiences. If I could have your outcome, I would implement a forum tomorrow! I doubt I’d spend a great deal of time on the forum, either, it’d be for site user’s benefit. I’m much more of a reader generally, and a perfectionist when it comes to writing. (If only my articles were even close to half-perfect, but it’s not for want of trying! 🙂 ) Alexa rank is indeed no guide to anything — when I was trying to get it sorted for Wisebread or similar I was easily able to get down to about 65,000. I have about twice the daily traffic now. Alexa is skewed very much towards US sites, too, presumably because that’s who uses the Toolbar.

    @TA/Alex — I’ve been meaning to open an X-O account for a while, so perhaps I’ll be able to give a hands on review soon. The regular investing charges probably depend on what underlying system they use? (I think at least a few are white label versions of other sites). I used the low-cost one of option when buying the demo HYP. It’s a shame Monevator isn’t 10 times the size it is now. If so I could perhaps try to get a white label dealing platform here and cost it on a low fee / transparent basis for easy passive investing. 🙂 Then again, I doubt the provider would be much drawn to that business proposition! 😉

  • 13 Greg June 10, 2012, 7:20 pm

    @ Alex
    It is possible to use TD’s regular investing for one off purchases, as long as you have the DD as well. The orders you queue up don’t have to bear any relation to the DD.

    TD don’t allow all shares to be bought and sold using regular investing but most of them are ok. I haven’t been able to work out what their criteria for inclusion are.

  • 14 Alex June 10, 2012, 8:23 pm

    @Greg:

    Thanks for the clarification on TD Direct Investing. I was only reporting my understanding following calling them. Interesting. Nevertheless, I still don’t want to be constrained by direct debits: I want to invest lump sums only; intermittently.

  • 15 RetirementInvestingToday June 10, 2012, 10:20 pm

    Hi TI

    HPC was sold in 2006 to Fubra. Link here http://www.housepricecrash.co.uk/about-us.php

    Cheers
    RIT

  • 16 Romford Dave June 10, 2012, 10:42 pm

    I’d say leave it as it is, but then that’s probably more to do with my phobia of changes.

    If you’re determined to go for it could I recommend a format used by the lotus 7 club (blatchat.com) rather than TMF approach, just seems easier to follow posts and to search subject matter.

    Obviously they avoid trolls by having it members only posting which may not be quite what you were thinking of, although maybe a £5 membership fee may be enough to put the trolls off and pad out your pockets a little;)

  • 17 Alex June 11, 2012, 4:27 am

    Execution-only share dealing brokers: They come; and they go

    1. JPJShare.com: very cheap share dealing – even cheaper than X-O.

    2. Visit JPJShare.com: “JPJShare.com will cease to do business from Friday 22nd June 2012”

    3. Rather inconvenient for their customers, I imagine.

  • 18 Ian June 11, 2012, 7:57 am

    The iii fee hike is one of the reasons I don’t have a SIPP or an ISA.
    The fact it’s all held as a nominee account makes me unable to sleep at night and the fact they can charge you anything they like whenever they like is annoying too.

    I get all my shares in certificate form. Costs me £15 extra but after that I never have any further fees to pay (unless I sell).

    If my broker goes bust I don’t have all the fuss of sorting out my shareholdings.
    The financial crisis taught me one thing: Hold everything yourself. Don’t rely on any company to hold things on your behalf.

  • 19 Ian June 11, 2012, 7:58 am

    Alex,
    I seem to remember JPJshare customers can transfer to The Share Centre. Or they’ve been transferred already. I don’t know the ins and outs. Just saw something on Share Centre’s website.

  • 20 MCF June 11, 2012, 10:17 am

    Would love to see a forum here! Judging by the comments i think a solid community could be formed.

    I have an account with X-O but recently i have decided to invest via HL, i think that HL service, reliability and wide range of invesment availability is ideal and worth paying that little bit extra for.

  • 21 The Investor June 11, 2012, 10:59 am

    There’s no doubt we have some savvy commentators, both on the active and passive side. And I actually prefer forums when they’re not too massive, and you get the opportunity to know other posters.

    Perhaps there could be a ‘politics and economics’ quarantine area, where all posts of that nature could be contained?

    Some might think I’m being paranoid about this, but I’ve seen it ruin board after board on Motley Fool and the iii forum, so would be very keen to avoid it here. Will ponder some more.

  • 22 Juan June 11, 2012, 4:19 pm

    What I think is that the internet and forums (like this) are making Civil Society stronger and stronger each passing day.

  • 23 Rob June 13, 2012, 4:55 pm

    +1 for a forum.

    I would go for categories along these lines:

    Asset allocation & high level strategy
    Platforms (discussion of brokers based on fees, customer service etc.)
    Passive investing
    Active investing
    Newbie forum? (for those just getting started, or scenario based questions like “I’ve inherited £50k, what do I do with it?”)
    Politics/economics/peak oil/gold/survivalism/troll bait forum

    That’d probably cover it!

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