Share community alive and kicking

Those of you who are regular readers of seeing digital will know that our new electronic communities are one of my favourite topics. While researching this article out on the internet I came across many communities that gathered together around common interests. They really are spreading like wildfire now that it is becoming slightly easier to get onto the net. While looking for something interesting to write, I realised that I had missed the most obvious community of all, and it exists right under my nose.

Sharetalk originated a year ago when I noticed that some people were copying notes to each other with share tips and discussion. At about the same time we had just installed new software to handle our internet eMail and it included an option for running a listserver. I decided that I would be putting the listserver to good use if I set up an eMail based discussion forum covering share investments. Thus Sharetalk was born.

For those of you who have heard the term but are perhaps still wondering what it is, a listserver is a very simple piece of software that allows people to join a mailing list by eMail. It’s a bit like the mailroom at Readers Digest. You would write to them and say please put me on your mailing list (unlikely as this sounds) and they start sending you mail. The difference is that instead of just Readers Digest being able to communicate with you (one way), everyone on the list is able to communicate with everyone else on the list.

So every member of the mailing list can post messages which are then forwarded on to all other members. If this sounds like a full inbox to you, you’re quite right. The eMail can accumulate very quickly. The listserv software does allow you various options, one of which sends you a single message each evening which contains both a summary and the full text of the messages for that day. This suits some users but most of the investors on Sharetalk get their mail directly so that they can act on it as it arrives.

Enough of the technical stuff. Why do these people hang out in this forum? Initial reactions from people when I asked them what they thought of sharetalk and whether it would become popular were negative. “Why would people share their stock market tips?”, was one comment. Many people thought that share investors were selfish and wanted to gleam as much information as possible without exchanging their own ideas..

The amazing thing was that within a few weeks, sharetalk had organised itself into a functioning community. One of the very first developments, which set the scene for the culture that developed, was a member with access to live share prices starting a trading game. Members are given R100 000 (US$22 000) and are free to buy and sell at the ruling prices. A base set of rules were agreed upon after some debate and they are posted to the forum periodically. The facilitator posts a daily update of all portfolios so that you can track how you are doing.

One of the almost unwritten rules of the game is that you give a reason for your trades. This in turn has led to a debate on the merits of fundamental versus technical analysis. With strong arguments coming from both sides, the proof lies in the pudding and the latest development is the techies keeping track of their profits based on their analysis and challenging the fundamentalists to do the same. At the moment techies 3, fundamentalists 0.

As much as the game is fun, real money has been made and lost on Sharetalk over the last year. A hot tip on Crendel, posted late one evening some months back, led to many members in the forum calling their brokers (there are a couple on the forum) the next morning. While many made good money, some held on to long and lost the bundle. The success and failure stories were posted to the forum for others to learn from the mistakes.

The level of knowledge on the forum varies from the first time share trader to the old hands who are executing bear trades and making profits from arbitrage. The attitude is relaxed and there is never a problem to share some hard earned knowledge with a new comer.

People come and go in the forum all the time. With a core of active members keeping the 10 to 30 messages a day circulating, there is always something interesting happening. Friday’s have become humour day and when trading slows down towards the end of the week, jokes start taking the place of share tips.

Latest developments include one of the members setting up a Sharetalk web page and an international search engine who now archive all messages making it easy to go back and find details of a discussion from a few months back.

To the sceptics who thought it wouldn’t work – well I think again the internet has proven that things aren’t always as you would expect them to be. There is a sense of community out there and people seen to naturally work together for the good of all without only looking out for #1.

Anyone interested in more information can send an eMail to ShareTalk-Help@stones.co.za to get a reply with instructions for joining.

Author: Dale Williams

Dale is based in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa from where he maintains connections with people all over the world through his portfolio life.