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All I see is an interface with short blurbs, very similar to Twitter, and a few replies on those blurbs. Is the the major new feature you're talking about? It doesn't seem to have much at all to do with articles and article comments. Though this presentation has its strengths, I can't imagine an ongoing durable conversation centered around this sort of design. Am I looking at the wrong thing?   

The strength of a written article is that it can articulate a thesis about an company or group of companies, and a strength of comments attached to that article is that the discussion is generally guided and informed by the content of that article. I don't see any such unifying structure here. 

Is there any assurance or promise that the StockTalk discussion won't be paywalled sooner or later? Based on precedent, if it becomes useful or popular, SA may decide to monetize it by paywalling it. If you intend for it to remain free forever, SA's leadership should probably articulate that really, really clearly: many people aren't going to waste their time creating content that vanishes with the whims of policy. 

Just as a single data point, not conclusive of anything, in the FCEL article I linked above, about 1/3rd of comments attached to the article were two sentences or less.  (  A number of the longer comments were junky and could/should arguably be deleted. About 1/6th of the comments in the FCEL article were discussion of SA's adventures in paywalling and comment policy. 

Numbers and metrics can often be used by the confident and/or insecure to prove whatever desired point they want to make. More interesting would be to do a carefully objective analysis of comment content: get a disinterested collection of experts to grade comment coherence, insight, and quality among a random selection of articles pre-paywall and post-paywall.  I don't pretend to know what the outcome of this study might be, but it would be interesting to read through the results whatever they are. 


You don't owe us any response. That said, if you were responding to my earlier message, you didn't respond to the core criticism in it, which is that your years of observation concerning patterns of use (past tense) and your highly restrictive new policy might be flawed in how it shuts down the natural evolution of growth of user communities. You've presupposed how comments will be used in the future, based on your careful and expert analysis of what's happened in the past, and you've built a paywall policy around those presuppositions. As I said earlier, "SA leadership's assertions about user behavior and patterns of user commenting become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy" as policies are built that enforce that behavior.  

A useful thought experiment is to consider how USENET communities and behaviors grew and changed from 1986-2005, or Facebook user behavior and conventions changed from 2007-2018. Interface is responsible for some part of that, but I would argue that what accounts for the biggest changes is what is generally called "culture" or "cultural evolution." 

Users will surprise you. With its paywall policy on comments, SA has locked in the pattern of use that it believes it is "correct", and it has basically halted the organic growth and evolution of this most valuable form of content on SA.

An honest conversation about whether you've seen any significant change in community comment statistics will include a discussion of what's being measured. Is there any test of length or quality? I have noticed a lot more one-line, throwaway comments since the new paywall came down, and indeed I commented on my own tendency toward offering shorter, crappier comments since SA settled on its 10-day comment policy in the recent FCEL article 

( : 

Getting meta here, I find myself posting more comments like the preceding one under SA's new paywall regime, in which you lose access even to the article comment stream if you don't comment within ten days. I try to provide at least a nugget of useful information in my posts, and this at least benefits investors new to an issue. More commonly I'm seeing people post things to the effect of "good article" or "I bought some hope it goes up LOL" or assorted non-sequiturs. SA leadership reports that the number of comments hasn't gone down post-paywall, but I wonder if anyone has tracked the quality of what's being posted as comments now.

A more interesting and imaginative and possibly remunerative tack would have been for Seeking Alpha to figure out a system that would reward highest-value posts and posters, either with free access or some manner of visibility and prestige. There is a universe of experts hanging out in the comments sections that aren't paywalled off yet. Under the present system they are as incentivized to post "nice article, opened a starter position" as they are to offer detailed, thoughtful analysis and insight from their domains of expertise

My comment from the recent FCEL article comes to mind, in which we were having a meta-discussion about SA's latest paywall policy:  

There have been some unconsciously defensive posts from some of SA leadership exploring this question of comments and comment policy. One line of argument is that they have observed that the vast majority of comments occur shortly after an article has been posted, and quickly tail off. Therefore, the thinking goes, the 10-day comment paywall policy is correct and won't overly affect the quality or quantity of user comment contributions.

The huge flaw in this line of thinking is that it presupposes the format, presentation, and patterns of use that SA comments take right now is the format, presentation, and pattern of use that SA comments will take for all time. If you think for sixty seconds about the growth and development of user communities, user interfaces, and user contributions during the last ten years, you'll probably recognize the folly of trying to predict or dictate how user-contributed content will evolve. The formats and modes of use of Facebook, for instance, are wildly different in 2018 than they were in 2008. Users will surprise you. With its paywall policy on comments, SA has locked in the pattern of use that it believes it is "correct", and it has basically halted the organic growth and evolution of this most valuable form of content on SA. I could imagine, for instance, that SA might grow in a way that the best articles' comment streams would track the success or failure of an article's thesis, becoming a semipermanent kind of "wiki" for a thesis or subject area. We were seeing some of that user behavior before the paywall hammer came down; changes to SA's presentation and UI could have facilitated that kind of growth. It won't now. SA leadership's assertions about user behavior and patterns of user commenting become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, as it enacts policies like the comment paywall that ensure that user behavior is set into a boring sort of concrete.

I'm saying this with great love for SA: these recent policies display of lack of vision and may betray a lack of experience. Riffing off of an earlier discussion elsewhere, users who express their opinions more forcefully and much more critically than SA leadership might prefer may be doing the community and the business of SA a service. Pay attention to the rocks and the tomatoes, too.

update: seekingalpha to its credit did cancel my subscriptions without argument and said it would issue a prorated refund to my credit card for the unused subscription time. I retain one marketplace subscription that is less dependent on the article archive. Hopefully in the future SA leadership will think carefully about how the marketplace subscriptions can be bundled somehow to the archive of articles.

I have sent a request to SA subscriptions to cancel two out of the three Marketplace subscriptions that I'm currently signed up for, and have requested a pro-rated refund of my unused subscription time per the terms that were in force when I signed up for them. Being a classy and professional organization, I have no doubt that SA will issue my refund expeditiously. This cancellation is a direct response to the new paywall. As I explained in my cancellation note:  

"The two marketplace subscriptions I wish to cancel both cover smaller issues. I liked that I could try to research those stocks at the time of my signup, and the SA ecosystem supported that. It doesn’t now, and it isn’t clear what form or price point SA will take next week, next month, next year. I’ll put this money to better use with other investment services."   

David: the paywall will affect the community and the conversation in some ways that will not be easily measured.   

One effect will be to sharply limit or eliminate the possibility of contributions of comments by what I will call "serendipitously appearing experts". An example of this was software engineering superstar John Carmack of iD software fame (_Wolfenstein 3d_, _Doom_, _Quake_) famously dropping  by and posting highly technical discussions to Slashdot's article comments in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Carmack wasn't a usual Slashdot participant, but he did contribute meaningfully to a few conversations about programming, game development, and 3D rendering. More recently, Quora has become a Thing as very famous people drop by to directly answer questions people ask about them. The analogy on SA would be if a company executive, company scientist, investor relations person, or other industry expert happened on a conversation attached to an SA  article, and decided they might contribute usefully to it. Chances are that someone in a position of influence will probably not even see a pertinent article in the 10 day window, seeing as they have many other things competing for their attention. Chances are a company executive or leading scientist is not going to subscribe to SA at any price point: they have other more remunirative stuff to do. The only chance you have to capture their input for the good of the community is by capturing their attention and minimizing the friction required for them to post. By paywalling your content, you basically become invisible to these potential contributors.  

Another effect of paywall will be to limit discussion to what's in the present. A common thing in comments was to refer to someone else's articles or thesis elsewhere on SA. People aren't going to do that if they know that most readers won't be able to follow the link. The community will have much less of a common memory and a common vocabulary in SA. 


Another effect of paywall is that you are locking in a particular mode of use for both articles and the comments feature, and discarding the possibility of innovation, growth, or unexpectedly awesome new uses of these features. You state that the vast majority of article reads and comments occur within 10 days of publication ... therefore, the 10 day paywall ... therefore the vast majority of article reads and comments *will* occur within 10 days of publication. It's a self-fulfilling and self-limiting prophecy, enforced by the paywall. The behavior is locked. The problem with locking behavior in this way is that time and time again, online user communities have used intended feature sets in totally unexpected ways, and some of these ways prove to be altogether more interesting and valuable than the original design intent. Read about YouTube's early days for an excellent example of users ultimately doing more interesting things with the tool than what was intended or designed for. It is difficult to presuppose and pre-imagine all of the editorial forms that might be created in the future, and how comments and user contributions might play into those forms and formats. 

SA's taking more of a "walled garden" approach, and that is your right: it's your property. But the uncertainties about how open and available SA will be in the future will have a chilling effect on the community. I know that I'm already finding myself a lot less inclined to expend time and energy on comments that will quickly lose attachment to any useful context. Seeking Alpha sort of seems all over the map regarding what form it will take in the future, how much of that will be visible to me, and how much I'll have to pay to play. I prefer my relationships to have some consistency. 

Since someone in SA appears to actually be listening to this feedback, here's a couple of other points that I posted yesterday to the chat room in Richard Lejeune's "Panick High Yield Report." The item about pump-and-dump defense is particularly important.

  • The SA archive served as a defense against stock promoters and pump-and-dump-ists: a reader could compare how a new article's contentions squared with older articles. Astute readers could also note the pattern of an author who wrote repeatedly and with excessive praise about a particular company. That ability to compare is gone now, and newer investors will be more easily fleeced.

  •  The value of the SA archive isn't so much as a means of doing "deep dives on underfollowed companies" so much as an essential bullshit check on a platform that basically allows anyone to write about anything.

In addition to "the data," "the number of sign ups", and other metrics that speak to the health of the numbers side of the business, you might want to solicit some outside perspectives on "good business," what's perceived as corporate "integrity," effective and ineffective ways to build online community,  and what behaviors seem consistent and inconsistent with quality corporate governance. (Admittedly, I am making the assumption that you continue to have some interest in the money-making potential of a community of writers and readers).   A disinterested consultant might be a very useful expenditure at this point. The way you guys and gals rolled this one out is really quite surprising.