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Thoughts on the tech threads


Guest ajc
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This post has been moved two comments down. For the sake of the thread and your own brain cells, believe me it is much better I think to start with the post just under this.

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So, I'd say the thing about discussions generally is that different associations of people and individuals normally end up having different things that are expected of them in terms of free speech, limits on behavior and all that type of thing.

 

Of course, anywhere individual rights are important these limits tend to always be kept as loose as is reasonably possible but regardless of that there's always going to be some type of limit to what you can acceptably say in any specific environment and if you do the wrong thing long enough and intensely enough then eventually you might, I don't know, lose your job, or get transferred or not get invited to the next society meeting or some such thing that would indicate you'd not internalized the norms that were expected of you for that particular group.

 

Some different types of places for example, which all have quite different norms in comparison with others are businesses (where bosses tend to usually have more power and can limit your behavior or speech with various disincentives), or boxing clubs (where the guy with the strongest and quickest fists can maybe act and talk however he wants so long as he delivers), or book clubs (where intellect, sociability and insight would matter far more, I think it's safe to say).

 

Anyway, folks act differently in all of these environments because there are very different views on what is acceptable and important in all those different places and so as a result the priorities and attributes required are often at opposite ends of the spectrum or maybe tend towards one side of the midpoint depending on what works and what people want.

 

In my opinion, having these norms which might seem restrictive to some or be in violation of some individual liberty are actually not that at all. In fact, I'd say they're really just about the opposite.

My understanding of the situation is that free association and free enterprise actually allow for a refinement of the concept of liberty in such a way that individuals can group together and follow specific interests and demand more of themselves in order that they can enjoy outsize benefits as a result of taking part in a process where maybe increased discipline, patience, creativity and so on are required of all the participants (I should include sense of humour in there as well!  :D That rules me out... )

 

So what I'm trying to suggest - in a long-winded way, admittedly - is that in my view, the tech threads on here unfortunately resemble more of say a macho kind of club or blog or whatever where the discussion revolves around the need to act superior, and to not appear imperfect, and not to ask questions in case you look like you don't know everything, and always to be hyper-competitive.

 

Anyone who has read a whole bunch of stuff online (which I'm guessing is pretty much everyone on here) will know what I'm talking about I think.

Usually, I'd say you find this on blogs about tech products or cars or status symbols or whatever and people will generally fight about why their car or watch and so on is better than yours and then they'll proceed to pull out all sorts of stuff 'justifying' exactly why they're completely right and you're completely wrong and usually that keeps all the animosity going and the stress levels up and everyone seems to constantly be chasing their own tails in many respects (at least to my mind, anyway).

 

The argument that I'd essentially attempt to reason in favor of is that value investors (at least all the good ones that I've read about and know of), tend to have their own set of loose general attributes when it comes to their associates and what type of discussions they usually end up engaging in and on top of that in how they mostly conduct themselves when they do talk or write about investing, stocks and other related matters.

That's not to say of course, that value folks have never thrown a barbed comment in their lives or made a witty riposte or that they're generally perfect but just that for a great majority of the time they will be the type of people who keep their ego's very much under wraps and save their often impressive self-confidence for those rare opportunities when they get to back up the truck.

Obviously, every value investor is different so a one-size-fits-all solution would definitely be naive but basically the humble, ego-less type of speech and behavior appears to work far, far better for successful value guys than does the opposite.

 

Anyway, in terms of norms and behaviors I think there are some simple things that clearly work and some which obviously don't.

Thing is, these are all habitual and so it's not like flicking a switch (more like digging a trench, in the rain - with a spoon) therefore there are virtuous circles and ominous whirpools which any individual or group can create and these things will always take time.

 

I'd say it's probably a reasonable conclusion to reach that some of the things that do work really well in terms of creating an atmosphere that allows intelligent analysis and steers away from cognitive biases and unnecessary arrogance are some of the following:

 

- People simply saying 'please' and 'thanks'

- Folks humbling themselves and ask genuine questions even if they have their own clear idea of what the correct answer is

- Even if they think they're right about a point, they still include 'can't be sure'(s) and 'what do you guys think'(s) in their posts

- They give credit to others for ideas and conclusions even when they played a part and don't require any more than a moderate amount of the spotlight for themselves.

 

I can't be 100%, but it seems to me that applying things like those (or with your own personal twist on them) and being genuine about it in conversations is part of what makes the general COBAF investment threads such an easy and fun place to post and also what makes it really simple to learn stuff off of all the many smart, funny and friendly people on here.

Of course, that's not to say they're perfect and occasionally some people get frustrated or a couple of obnoxious comments fly just for the hell of it, but overall they're still very much a darn good place to post and only a very tiny quantity of the posts are ever truly acidic or genuinely intended to insult and offend the others who're on there.

 

On the other hand, the tech threads, even though they're slowly improving in my opinion (these things clearly take time, I'm not trying to pretend that habits ever change overnight), unfortunately tend to be quite a bit more towards the other end of the spectrum.

 

There, you'll find a bunch of far more negative conversational techniques and behaviors happen. Stuff like:

 

- Not asking people, just telling them

- No 'please'(s) or 'thanks'(s), I can't remember the last time I saw someone thank another on them for having provided and insight or helped out with some information

- Instead of humbly posting an opinion (even if you're an expert) and asking what others think, the default setting right now seems to be to start with a bold and fully-explained position, invite no comment whatsoever and then defend it to the death without so much as even considering that the truth might in some or many instances be somewhere in between (or elsewhere completely),

- Asking very few genuine questions about what others think and mainly employing barbed comments, implied insults and so on as perhaps the primary method of communication rather than applying a disciplined, patient and collaborative approach to the discussion as a whole.

 

I think over time these habits and patterns have built up and so I figure it makes sense that the only way they'll break down is over time too.

However, the upside as I see it is that there'll be benefits for individuals and the forum as a whole in that I think the quality of the discussions and the crossover insights might be pretty awesome.

And on top of that it might also make Sanjeev's moderating work slightly easier and more enjoyable over the long run which would be good too, given the often thankless job he often seems to end up doing.

 

If you've read all this you truly are bored and masochistic. Also, since his original post got me thinking about this please blame VAL9000 for anything you didn't like!  :D

 

Also, to Sanjeev and all the 'old-timers' on this forum who've helped create and maintain the atmosphere you have my sincere thanks.

The intellectual enquiry, fun and no-nonsense analysis that goes on here is awesome and all of you deserve alot of recognition for continuously making that happen.

 

Would be interested to hear what others think (once you've stopped bashing your head against the desk, of course). 

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ajc,

 

I managed to read your double post ... so maybe I am a bit crazy, but I think you've opened up an important discussion so let me add my 2 cents

 

My Jurisprudence professor taught me that laws are made when norms are no longer respected, and laws, my Torts professor taught me, always have holes in them. Therein lies a human problem unlikely to be solved anytime soon ... (and if it did, we'd have lots of unemployed lawyers!). What I guess I am trying to say is that in the absence of something superior (without limiting free speech) we need to be more vocal about our norms and about what we want to get out of the Corner in general and a thread in particular, so let me follow my own advice.

 

I am personally here to learn and contribute (the little that I can). I assume I am wrong and have wonderful people on the Corner to thank not only for an education but for a profitable one (so far). If I see something I can correct or add, I bring it to the Corner's attention. I understand this is not everyone's goal and I respect that; I cherish everyone's rights as I do my own as I understand that absent this respect I too have no rights. I also realize sometimes the "heat of the battle" brings forth unexpected insights and learning. Perhaps the best way to go forward is for those fortunate enough to have an indepth understanding of technology or anything else to try and teach others humbly for pride cometh before the fall and you cannot force your views upon anyone in any case.

 

In any case, let me second ajc and ask others to chime in - I'd like to know what you think!

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PS: Having re-read this criticism of mine about the overly granular nature of most tech product discussions on here, I've concluded it was about 90% off-point (I'm being generous) and pretty seriously ignorant of me.

 

Anyway, I'm moving it down a post for the sake of the thread's readibility but keeping it posted as some kind of glorious ode to my own technological ignorance (note to self - probably not ever a good idea for you to invest in a tech consumer product business!).

 

If at some later point you want to feel better about your own lack of knowledge on anything, please feel free to read the post below and feel better about yourself. It really is that bad...

 

PS. I'm not saying others aren't perhaps killing themselves as well with information overload, but I've realized if you're tending in one direction then being somewhat on the side of too much is definitely preferable over a whole lot of too little (especially when it comes to tech products).

 

Just wanted to throw my 2 cents in regarding this and other tech topics.

 

Thanks VAL9000 for bring the subject up, if for no other reason than that I don't think there's anything wrong with discussing the way people discuss things and whether there are social norms which might possibly be more positive or more detrimental for the forum as a whole.

 

Not saying my ideas on this are correct, just that banning the discussion of these things is a dangerous move in my opinion.

Basically, I'm all for free speech - though that includes free speech about free speech and the form it takes.

Sounds somewhat paradoxical of course, but then again I'd argue that sometimes life is.

 

I just wanted to give two opinions on the tech threads. The first is about products, the second is about the approach that gets taken to discussions.

 

On products, I think (and obviously could be wrong) that there is slightly too much emphasis on them. Okay, so that's not saying I'm suggesting bans or punishments or whatever and furthermore I'm not saying that products aren't clearly important for the tech industry generally.

 

What I am trying to get at is that many companies on here General Electric, Fiat, Coca Cola sell consumer products of one kind or another yet... if you go to those threads there tends to me almost zero discussion of products.

Do I know what the latest GE green lightbulb is made of? No.

Do I care? Not really.

Do I know how many horsepower the latest 2013 top-of-the-range Fiat SUV has? No.

Again, do I care? Not that much.

 

My sense on this, just from a personal perspective, is that the reason simply is because these things matter far less than some people think they do. Too me, what matters is share of mind not specs. My assessment of this is perhaps kind of cynical, but basically I reason that folks don't buy an Apple phone for the 1.66Ghz processor (I'm showing my ignorance here aren't I) but because Apple is Apple!

Just as an example, I work with a bunch of folks many of whom are fans of Apple.

Can 95% of them tell you the first thing about its technological qualities? No.

Will they tell you Apple is cool though? Damn straight.

 

And so without going on too much about the product side, I'd say really all anyone needs to know about Apple products - for instance - is:

- are they an innovative company (so can they build a revolutionary - probably not evolutionary - product),

- do they have share of mind (see anecdotal evidence, sales figures and their ability to market themselves as the best of the best)

- and finally, do their products blow up and kill people because if they do then you might want to think about holding onto your investment dollars.

 

Ultimately, the thing that concerns me regarding product discussions is that it's too easy to start placing yourself in the shoes of the design team or tech team at the company or to let your inner tech-head take over and become all evangelistic about stuff.

I can guarantee you there are a million car blogs out there that will tell you exactly why some latest GM car is so much better than the similar-looking and performing Ford. They will break down every spec imaginable including what type of aftershaves the guys who put the cars together were wearing all in order to prove that they're right and the other guy is wrong.

 

Is any of that stuff wrong? Of course not. Someone has to do that stuff. Engineers at the firm, 2nd-hand car people, enthusiasts and regular folk who like to impress their friends at the bar.

 

The question in my mind though, is how different are tech products that they deserve the granular break-down that they get on these message boards as opposed to say vehicles (even Tesla, which doesn't get nearly as much attention dedicated to its specs on here), or banking products, or pharmaceutical products and so on.

 

In support of my rationale on this, I'll just quickly reference a Buffett quote (it's a must on here, right!) from his video to the Omaha press club from way back when. In it, he says about auto insurance that people will buy it based only on 2 things - price and service.

After that, he goes on to say that people will pretty much assume that the service will be mostly the same wherever they go and so they'll do it on price and therefore the only thing that matters to GEICO's moat is that they be the low-cost provider.

Too me, again this is a personal view (though I think it's a better view for value investors, hopefully not just because it's the one I've arrived at!), this boiling things down to being as simple as possible and no simpler is essential and to my mind it's something that's completely missing from the tech threads.

 

Ask me about Apple products (and I'm no genius by any measure) but I'll say are they innovative and functional, is the price point good and what status does the phone give me socially. As a value investor, I think that's all we need to be interested in (and should probably focus on) and whether they can keep on churning out products with the same qualities year after year.

If those all get checked as yes, and many of Fisher's (for example) qualities also do, then that's a thesis and its investable.

If not, then you post saying it misses on 7 of these criteria for me and therefore I don't see it as an opportunity.

 

No fighting as to why X is wrong on his checking or non-checking of certain criteria. Just post your thoughts and that's it, which brings me to my 2nd point which is the conversational or discussional approach taken on the tech threads as opposed to the others.

 

 

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I think these threads aren't serving any real purpose.  There is an ignore feature now, and you have moderation, as well as the ability to report posts.  Without turning this into an old Communist prison, I'm not sure what else board members want. 

 

You have no spam, no assholes spurting stock tips, and the only thing existing members have to do (including not paying a dime) is tolerate one another with a civil tone. 

 

Really, maybe board members are the ones asking too much at this point and you need a reality check on what you have here at your disposal, compared to the dead boards and crap on the Fool.com and Yahoo, or the elitism of Value Investors Club!  Cheers! 

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