28 February 2008

Discussion thread: Netiquette


This is a true story. Names and countless other details have been changed to protect the innocent. Personally, I'm worried that this might not be enough. Read on. And do post comments, no matter what your opinion might be.

This all started one day on a forum that I happen to be a moderator on. It's a forum on finance generally.

What is relevant about this forum, is that you don't need a password or a user ID to access it. Anyone can comment on any thread. Anyone can read it. Various posts come up in search engine listings. It is as public as you get. I won't be linking there today, though for a number of reasons:
  1. You won't need to see the forum in order to get the general gist of this post.
  2. Various topics discussed and certain comments made will bore you silly.
  3. Other sundry reasons too mundane to go into
This story begins just the other day when I had initiated a thread about something or other. The subject is neither relevant nor interesting (except maybe to us financial nerds).

A good buddy of mine in meatspace, who we'll call "James", is a regular poster to these forums and can be counted on to always dish up something interesting. And you know, James can also be counted on calling me on some of the rubbish that I come out with.

Regular readers of this blog probably know exactly the type of chit-chat that I'm referring to here. I talk a lot of shit.

And, just before I continue, readers of this blog who have been here a long time will note that I occasionally quote from discussions with a friend of mine who I chose to call "Bob". I wish to advise that I will no longer be calling him "Bob" as I have a regular reader, Bob who he might get confused with. His next appearance will be under a different name.

"James" is not the same person as "Bob".

But back to the story. Somewhere down the thread, I chose to illustrate a point in one of the subsequent comments with a throwaway comment about someone. We all know about this type of comment. It usually starts with, "This bloke I know reckons..." or "Some say this. I happen to know this one girl who..." or even "I know this person who said to me just the other day..."

Prior to me coming out with this, James had made the following point:
You know, a lot of people think that charting is an effective way for deciding between shares of a similar nature.
Don't get me started on charting. I'll leave my opinions about charting and technical analysis generally for another day and another post.

So I responded to James' comment with the throwaway "There's this mate of ours..." line:
James, I really don't like charting. You know, there's this friend of ours who bases his whole investment strategy on charting. He told me the other day that BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are such similar companies that the only way you can split the difference is to use charting on them. Even then, he said, they track roughly similarly, so it really doesn't matter which one you invest in. Of course, I had to ask the question, "Mate, do you ever read a company's financials?"
Now this might sound innocuous or it might not. I'll let you be the judge, but read on.

James quickly followed this up with this:
Hey Dikkii, you know perfectly well that that particular friend of ours is a former lecturer in fine art. It makes sense that he prefers to see stuff graphically rather than wade through reams of numbers.
We'll call this friend of ours "David".

While I was reading James' comment I must have put my moderator's hat on, because I actually considered deleting James comment. I had used David as an example, anonymously, to illustrate a point.

The reason that I considered deletion was that I felt that James had crossed a line in effectively outing David. Although most other regulars at the forum wouldn't have known who we were talking about, anyone who knows James and I would certainly know that we only know one person who used to be a lecturer in fine art.

David also knows that I talk a lot of shit. But unlike James, David never reads this particular forum. And why would he? None of it is of any interest to him.

My next comment voiced my displeasure and confusion as to why James chose to out David (amongst other things) but I left it at that. I don't know if James has read my response, as he, to date, hasn't left a response of his own.

Anyway, the next day, I'm having a chat with another friend of ours, who we'll call "Rob". Rob said to me, "Hey Dikkii, I was chatting with David last night and he mentioned something about comments that you and James made about him at your online forum."

The only way that David would know about these comments would be if James had told him.

I instantly got a very bad feeling, so I asked Rob what he (David) felt about them. Rob said, "He didn't say much, only that he was 'over it'. I couldn't tell if he was pissed off or not. He didn't seem upset with James."

I said to Rob, "Well if James has told him, I suspect that I'll end up looking the bad guy."

So to date, I don't know if David is annoyed at me or James or whoever.

But this did raise a few questions, which I'd like to pose.

First of all, should I have sought David's approval to offer his circumstances as an anonymous "I have a friend who..." to illustrate a point? This seems completely unfeasible to me. David is not the first friend who I have turned to for one of these references, and he certainly won't be the last.

Secondly, if David is annoyed with me and not James, how and why? I don't understand what I could have done wrong here.

Lastly, should I have gone ahead and deleted James comment? I would have left myself open to claims of censorship.

As it happens, I am not annoyed with either James or David for this. I know I will be with James if it turns out that when he told David, he neglected to inform him that it was James who outed David. That's a missed point of biblical proportions there.

Anyway, I have a short seven question survey over on the right. Please complete it for my benefit. And discuss in the comments - I really haven't got a clue as to whether I've done anything wrong or not.

And "David", if you're reading this and you're upset with me, I do apologise. Email me if you would like the offending comments removed and I'll consider their removal.

Edit (27/03/2008): Survey removed. It had to go sometime.

Edit (29/02/2008): Upon re-reading this, it's clear that I did James a bit of a disservice with one of my remarks to Rob. Whilst I don't recall the actual words, I've edited it to read more correctly like what I would have been more likely to say. I also needed to add the following text:

Disclosure: This blogger owns shares in BHP Billiton Ltd.

Standard but necessary disclaimer: This is not advice. Only a complete idiot would think that any of this constituted advice. It's not even vaguely reasonable to consider this to be advice. If you are in any doubt as to the content of this, see a good, independent financial adviser immediately. They do exist.

18 comments:

Greg said...

I can't help but wonder if the whole situation could have been avoided had James said something like:

Hey Dikki, if you're talking about our mutual friend (and I think you are), then we both know that he's a visual thinker, due to temperament and training. It makes sense that he prefers to see stuff graphically rather than wade through reams of numbers.

It gets the point across without necessarily identifying "David".

In general, I reckon the risk of identification should be inversely proportional to the desired confidentiality of the party in question.

We do this for ourselves all the time. Doing it on behalf of friends is always going to be fraught.

David's views on the Australian mining sector and stock-picking methods don't seem hugely confidential to me (though I disagree with them). But, in general, it's David's call on where and how they are linked to him.

Dikkii said...

You know Greg, just between you and me, I think it's possible that David and James have conspired to get a rise out of me.

If so, they've succeeded.

David's views on the Australian mining sector and stock-picking methods don't seem hugely confidential to me (though I disagree with them).

One day, I'll do a post on charting. It certainly won't be charitable, that's for sure. And no, I know a lot of chartists, so I don't believe that this was particularly confidential at all.

Greg said...

Throwing caution to the wind here, but a good friend of mine is a big fan of "technical analysis" for stock picks.

I attribute it not to "visual thinking", but to a mistaken belief in electrical engineers' superior ability to "read" graphs. Years of doing Fourier analysis, signal processing theory, calculus, information theory and advanced data mining algorithms all lead to over-confidence.

Concepts like the Efficient Market Hypothesis or more popular books like "A Random Walk Down Wall Street" seem to have little effect in shaking this bias.

I've observed that this view is particularly damaging in foreign exchange and derivatives markets. (He's already got the free contracts-for-difference DVD and now he's talking margin loans. Heaven help us.)

How someone can believe that they can bet against the pool of highly-motivated and informed PhDs at Goldman Sachs and consistently win is beyond me.

Dikkii said...

Throwing caution to the wind here, but a good friend of mine is a big fan of "technical analysis" for stock picks.

I would probably add "...with gay abandon..." to the opening part of that sentence. Didn't you learn anything from my post? Sheesh.

Funnily enough, I know a couple of chartists with engineering/computer science backgrounds. I think that you're right with the "reads" graphs line.

Although, really, I think that there's a widespread superstition about patterns - that nothing is truly random.

He's already got the free contracts-for-difference DVD and now he's talking margin loans. Heaven help us.

Margin loans and CFDs? Bloody hell. Still, you can't legislate against stupidity.

How someone can believe that they can bet against the pool of highly-motivated and informed PhDs at Goldman Sachs and consistently win is beyond me.

You forgot to add, "...especially since those guys at Goldman Sachs (OK. Fund managers on aggregate) still only outperform the index less than half the time."

Anonymous said...

Dikkii,

The point I'd like to make is that although this forum is essentially anonymous, your postings to the forum are not. Over the years, a certain amount of information about you has leaked out and your friends, specifically the friends that you have in common with James, are perhaps aware of your postings to the blog.

The fine arts link could just as well have been the "charting link". As in, Dikkii only has one friend who has the combo of charting/mining/stocks/whatever and didn't I just hear him say so the other day...

Avoid being specific helps but it's next to impossible at times. In this situation you could have said: You had heard first hand from a charting enthusiast that.... BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are such similar companies that the only way you can split the difference is to use charting on them...."

So - my opinion here is that you weren't careful enough but I really think David is not likely to be unhappy with you. It's likely James talked to him to check his own pulse. "David? Ummm... I think I might have screwed up." or potentially he said "David? I got Dikkii's panties in a bunch while we were discussion your stock charting practices and you really should hear me out."

Posting anonymously this time. I'm wondering if you'll figure out who I am though from the style, diction and opinion.

Dikkii said...

Hi Anon, and thanks for dropping by:

As in, Dikkii only has one friend who has the combo of charting/mining/stocks/whatever and didn't I just hear him say so the other day...

"I" being James. This is a crucial point, as to my knowledge, if, for example, Rob was a regular reader (he is not) I'm not sure he would have identified David from this remark.

Agree that James (and David) would have, though.

So - my opinion here is that you weren't careful enough but I really think David is not likely to be unhappy with you. It's likely James talked to him to check his own pulse. "David? Ummm... I think I might have screwed up." or potentially he said "David? I got Dikkii's panties in a bunch while we were discussion your stock charting practices and you really should hear me out."

Point taken and noted. Although it's not hard to get paranoid when you hear something third-hand, which is not meant to be a criticism of Rob, either.

Posting anonymously this time. I'm wondering if you'll figure out who I am though from the style, diction and opinion.

You actually made it easier than that for me. See if you can work out where. :-)

Dikkii said...

You actually made it easier than that for me. See if you can work out where. :-)

Well, I feel like a goose. I just checked and it wasn't who I thought. Well done, Anon. You got me there.

Plonka said...

Netiquette is an interesting one. I try to "disclaimer" these things or at the very least, apologise up front when I write it.

For instance: You know, quite some time ago, a certain someone who's opinion I value, but who shall remain nameless, once accused me of being "life threateningly polite". It seems he may have run into a similar situation to that which caused me to be that way...:)

Dikkii said...

Yeah well, that guy is a goose, Plonka. Let's hope that he's learnt his lesson. ;-P

Dunc said...

Well, on the moderation question, I certainly wouldn't have deleted the post in question, but I might have edited it to remove any identifying details. And obviously I would include a clear statement that I had done so and explained why.

Moderating forums should get you lots of XPs on the Diplomat / Politician career tracks. ;) I quit because I just couldn't take it any more.

As for: Secondly, if David is annoyed with me and not James, how and why? I don't understand what I could have done wrong here.

The only thing I can suggest is to ask him. Most misunderstandings between friends can be easily cleared up with honest talk, or can be quickly made much worse by trying to second-guess each other.

Plonka said...

Quite the contrary Dikkii. It's an accusation I'm quite proud of, as that's the effect I was trying to achieve..:)

Dunc:

That second point is so true...

Dikkii said...

Hi Dunc,

Well, on the moderation question, I certainly wouldn't have deleted the post in question, but I might have edited it to remove any identifying details. And obviously I would include a clear statement that I had done so and explained why.

As it happens, I don't get the option to edit comments on this particular forum. I would have had to delete it and re-comment with edited text.

Moderating forums should get you lots of XPs on the Diplomat / Politician career tracks. ;) I quit because I just couldn't take it any more.

Food for thought. And I just had a horrifying one.

The only thing I can suggest is to ask him. Most misunderstandings between friends can be easily cleared up with honest talk, or can be quickly made much worse by trying to second-guess each other.

Correct. But it's sorted now, so it's all good.

Plonka, you certainly succeeded with that. Keep it up - there's not many who cop this allegation.

Plonka said...

Good to see it's sorted Dikkii.

Dikkii said...

Thanks Plonka.

Plonka said...

Yet another award for you, good sir. Head on over...:)

Plonka said...

You've been very quiet Dikkii. Everything alright?

Dikkii said...

New PC at home, Plonka. Still getting it sorted out. Then I'm off to Byron Bay for a week or so tomorrow. I'll probably be a bit quiter for a bit longer, so apologies. At this rate, I'll be lucky to get out a "Rock Epic of the Month" for March.

Plonka said...

In that case, enjoy the break and the new machine...