OT? Discussion Board Economics

It amazes me how often I hear “economics” as the main reason for the dismantling of our beloved discussion boards. In fairness, most of the many times I’ve heard this, have come from near- and non-TMFrs, but I assume it comes from the top.

I have learned a lot from some of the publications I’ve subscribed to at TMF. But I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that the real value of my time spent here, has been from the adjoining communities. That means posters and discussions. Without them, I would be less wealthy (and elsewhere.)

I still am a subscriber to 2 of TMF’s many publications. Reluctantly I will admit to not using 1 of them for years, and the other I glance over only when I am forced to a Premium area, which is frustratingly often now. I suspect the future of TMF will include nothing but Premium. To be clear, I subscribe in order to take part in the discussion boards, and I’m grateful to TMF.

I’m not an expert in website econ. That said, I have managed sales and marketing for a sizeable organization, and was VP of sales and marketing for a successful startup. But both were years ago, so maybe I’m out of touch with all the new tech which can supposedly tell management which directions and actions they should take in order to maximize profits.

I am rather sure, though, of this: The value of TMF for newcomers to investing might be the subscribers-only publications, but only if said newbies don’t intend to learn anything more than what stocks are possibly worth buying. But sooner or later, the vast majority of newbies learn many of the thousands of details and practices that bring investing success long-term, and become “serious” investors. Then they meet a Wendy along the way, maybe a Mungofitch or a TMFWhatever. They run into people who know what the hell they’re talking about, and who go down the road less taken, all the while explaining and sharing why they do such and such and avoid something else and such, teaching at every step and time after time.

So, can the VALUE of, and the PROFIT of TMF remain without active discussion boards? I don’t see it. Sure, I could be missing something. But if I am forced to spend my reading time on this version of discussion boards, if I am herded to the Premium side of TMF to read advertisement after advertisement at every login, if I am relegated to watch 30-minute videos every day instead of discussing my investments with my colleagues … well, I won’t be pushed so far, and don’t have the time to waste.

The boards were old-tech, expensive to run and very labor-intensive. I get that, I think we all do. And you couldn’t post links, nor graphics, nor edit your glaring mistakes in a long post. I get it, been there, done that. And now you can! Nice, right? But can you glance at 500 new posts on a popular board after you were away for a couple days, and decide which you have time to read? No. You must go through every single one, including those written by gurus, trolls, hacks and fools alike. Maneuver to a favorite board? No! Tag a topic. What???

If others feel the way I do, I guess we will find out if I’m right, or just an out-of-touch old fart, because I feel strongly that Without their favorite posters and discussion boards at TMF, people will have less and less reason to hang around.

Given all this talk about how expensive the boards were to maintain, I can’t help but wonder: Of the more profitable segments of TMF, how many would have thrived (or would even exist) without the accompanying discussion boards?

So maybe, just maybe, the very glue that has held TMF together has been the discussion boards all along. Maybe it was the source of almost every subscription and renewal. Maybe the boards were the main reason most of us are here. Maybe instead of 0% profit, the boards were the very magic which generated 100% of the profit for TMF!

I really hope I’m wrong, but I suspect we’re about to find out. Why? Because you didn’t ask us what we want.

Now I hope you will allow me to return the favor of offering sound investing advice, but only once: Please tread carefully and listen to your viewers. They are your CUSTOMERS, harder to herd than the average sheep, and have opinions.


As a goat, I feel this is a very important point and worth highlighting.


I am but a lawyer, and so know very little of discussion board economics broadly. But I am a regular user of the TMF Discussion Boards. Or maybe was? Not sure if this is a change or a break to a new product.

Anyhoo, I can’t see that TMF was still deriving very much benefit from the old freemium boards. Oh, sure - back in the old days, when the internet was all about Monetizing Eyeballs the boards were an important part of the site. People were super active on the Boards, banner ads were duly delivered, books and other products were sold, and there was a constant stream of newly-energized Fools to start delivering content (and ultimately subscription products) to.

But those days have been gone for a long time. Over the last many years, almost everyone posting already had that Big Green or Big Yellow Star. New regular posters were few and far between. Old regular posters faded away. Posting on stock boards all but disappeared.

I’m not on the premium side of the paywall, so I can’t speak to the traffic flow over there. But I doubt very seriously that TMF has derived a lot of benefit from the Boards for quite a while. Either directly selling ads or selling its subscription products. Message boards are very Early Internet, anyway - in a world with a gazillion social media apps on your phone, this has been a very old-fashioned way to communicate for a while.

I think that if these freemium boards gradually disappear, TMF will be largely unaffected. At least, monetarily. I happen to think that they are/were an important part of what TMF is/was…but even as I believe that, I know that they haven’t made much of a financial difference to the company for quite a while.


As a counterpoint, switching to this vendor-supported set of discussion boards is certainly not without cost. So there must be some benefit to the company that these boards provide. If they weren’t making a difference in some way, they could have simply been discontinued.



But you’re not average, so … :slight_smile:

Hi albaby,

Those may be fair points. In trying to imagine/“see” what others are doing, it’s hard for me to imagine that folks could actively invest with one of the TMF services, then not read what others thought about certain stocks, the economy, etc. But maybe you’re right, maybe they do, and maybe I’m in the minority of finding the value in hearing opinions from the herd.

So yeah, I’m projecting my own experience to others, the only tool I have when further data is unavailable. Points taken.

Peter, one big advantage of switching to these new boards is that the software is maintained by a vendor instead of requiring TMF to have staff to maintain in-house created software of considerable age.

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Oh, sure. I’m not saying it’s zero. I just don’t think it’s much of a muchness. And since they were going to keep the Premium Boards up and running anyway, I don’t know how much of a marginal cost there is to running these boards. Again, not zero - migrating all the old Board 1.0 categories and tags and ID’s and everything was almost certainly a job and a half, and TMF is to be commended for managing all that and at least trying to continue to provide that service.

I just think it’s a teeny, tiny part of TMF these days. I expect most (if not all) of their revenues come from other ventures (the paid services, ads served alongside their generated content, maybe books and whatnot). I expect very little of their customer base for those products comes from the Board 1.0 group, but instead from their ads and articles splattered across the Financial Web.

Fair enough.

If I were to make an educated guess (gotta do something with all of that education, I suppose), it would be that the newsletter subscribers expect some kind of discussion boards to go along with the newsletter. Since TMF is going to have some kind of discussion board system for those paying customers, it doesn’t take too much additional effort to allow some free boards as well. Turn us volunteers loose on all sorts of investing adjacent topics (LBYM, the macro economy, taxes, retirement) and create free content for their paying subscribers.


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Just about to say, we need to think a bit like the business owner. The business is not setting up a threat to our powerlessness. Instead the business is looking to expand These boards are far faster, editable and more…

Imagine how many investors young and old saw the old boards and went away.


I have to agree with that statement. Just think of all of the posts that were written about how much the old boards s**ked. Maybe, just maybe The Fools at HQ were really trying to improve things?

And as far as thinking that TMF would ever go back to those boards, I would bet my left one that it will never happen. Once a management decision is made to re-platform (a HUGE strategic decision) and the investment in time, resources and money has been plowed into that new strategic direction, there’s usually no going back. You move forward and adjust some as necessary, but you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

I’m just hoping that folks adjust to the new format and get on with it.



I hope we do not lose people. I am hoping Jaak gets back here he is in a way half of the conversation on energy.

I am looking forward to businesspeople in the millennial group getting in here. Imagine what an edge that can give some of us.

The boards are going to lose people. Period. Almost any significant change is negative at first, if it is truly good for the long term that will show up - but it takes time. We have already seen the demise of several esteemed posters (Mungofitch on the BRK board perhaps the most notable.)

The new boards are organized in ways that may be logical for some things but are truly illogical for others - including, I submit, the current Fool users. (I am putting together some notes which I will eventually post on ITF in what I hope to be a helpful post.)

Yes, the new features are nice, and long overdue. Editing, for instance. Pictures/charts, for instance (I fail to see why this is such a big deal, the paid boards in the old software have had it for years.) But there are many and several downsides to this new scheme, even if it is better for Fool management, costs, or all the other things that go into such a momentous decision.

My early complaint, and not one for my ITF list is how the iteration was accomplished. Plenty of notice, followed by no instruction at all. We have Fools posting tips on “how to do something” - something basic, I note. Where was the “official” instruction video or post telling us how to do these things? I wonder if the TMFers we see here (Mints, 1138, etc.) were just thrown in the deep end as the rest of us were, or whether they had some over-the-shoulder help from somewhere.

I have not decided whether to stay or depart, even though I have been with the Fool since ‘94 or ‘95 on the AOL boards, and have been generally supportive of them, even through some difficult times. I will say my posting is way down, I am not posting about anything investment related; it’s all “new software”, and pretty useless as far as the real Fool mission. So is most else of what I see, so that’s not good. Hopefully that settles out before people flee.

I understand the changed Fool rule about politics, and of closing down boards which don’t support the “investing” mission. Who wanted to introduce people to the boards and have them find themselves in the middle of a mud-fight with crap-slinging among hyper-partisans. Good move, even as it lost some people.

The new format? Not so sure. We’ll find out, but which time it will be a success or, perhaps, the death blow for these boards. Good luck to us all.


It is not a deathblow.