No. of Recommendations: 30
Today I let this board go. I have lurked frequently; posted rarely; recommended often. And then less often. And now rarely.

There was a time when both the tone of the posts and the content were substantive. Over the months, I have seen the quality or content of the posts diminish and the words, spirit, and tone have often become rude and demeaning. Words are often said that would never be said to another person publicly.

It is my belief that this board at one time served a very constructive purpose. Now, it generally seems to have become a place to complain or fuss about trivial, insignficant matters. Not only that, but it seems that the rules and boundaries of acceptable social interchange are out the window because a poster put up $30. As I grew up, my Dad often remarked, "everyone finds a dog to kick around."

Please don't misunderstand. I strongly believe in constructive input. But the crass gritching about everything little thing in life that disturbs a poster has caused me to unmark the board. Might it be time for the Fool to do the same?

Thanks to all who have offered suggestions in a helpful manner than have resulted in an improved product for me.


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No. of Recommendations: 9

We listen for ways to improve our services through several media, and through numerous different inputs (at, everything from Web postings to site usage statistics). Many of the best suggestions we've ever obtained have been via e-mail, often from a single customer who was asking a question -- not even intending to make a formal suggestion!

What I'm saying is that this board is just one of many inputs, and naturally tends to be watched or ignored based on the quality of constructive criticism that it attains in any given week or month. We've had some wonderful gems here, and some very poor periods as well. I unmarked it months ago not out of any desire to stop improving Fooldom (quite the contrary, of course, as any business owner knows), but because a particularly prolonged period of preoccupation with things trivial became a timesink that seriously took away from my own efforts to improve the Fool. (That's just my personal take; I don't speak for anyone but myself, there.)

And yet I do tap back here from time to time -- and always will -- often led by one or more neat suggestions, or to provide my own suggestion for improvement (yep, I too have sometimes used this board for just that).

So while you've unmarked the board for now, I hope you'll consider two things:

(1) Sending me personally any suggestions you have to improve any aspect of The Motley Fool service (the more meaningful, the more appreciated) at, whenever you have them, and

(2) Coming back to this board from time to time when you have a creative suggestion or solution, or constructive criticism to provide, to help us help you better. This board doesn't have to be a daily read for anyone for it to still be an incredibly effective medium between our members and our internal decisionmakers. And a nice thing about posting here is that you can solicit others' thoughts to improve your own.

Foolish very best,

David Gardner
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No. of Recommendations: 25
I unmarked it months ago not out of any desire to stop improving Fooldom (quite the contrary, of course, as any business owner knows), but because a particularly prolonged period of preoccupation with things trivial became a timesink that seriously took away from my own efforts to improve the Fool.

I'd like to make a little plea here on behalf of community members who have relied on other Motley Fool boards to enhance their understanding of how to invest and handle their finances. The problem being referred to here does not apply only at this board, it applies at lots of others too. My personal concern is over the Retire Early board, which has been reduced to a place for the airing of political spats instead of the place to discuss realistic strategies for achieving financial independence that it once was and that many members of the community that congregates there would someday like it to again become.

Motley Fool's discussion boards are the best on the internet, in my opinion. I've looked for alternatives, and none measure up. But discussion boards are a new communications medium, and I don't think that anyone yet has figured out the formula for making this excting new medium as powerfully useful and popular as I believe it one day will become. I hope that there are ongoing discussions going on at TMF as to how to enhance the board discussions, not just though technical innovations but through effective board administration policies too. These boards offer incredible potential for helping middle-class people to share experiences with each other and thereby to learn about subjects of mutual concern, but much of that potential is being wasted.

A fundamental problem is the one you refer to above. People only have so much time, and it takes a lot of time to get to the valuable pieces of information posted on the boards everyday. I don't believe that the boards will reach their potential until there are ways to quickly access the best material. I believe that is going to mean in some cases limiting the abilities of some posters to conduct off-topic discussions or to post personal attacks or to disrupt conversations of people trying to use the boards for constructive purposes.

My reason for posting this here is that there has been a lot of talk of late of things that need to be done to make the Improve the Fool board more useful. I understand that concern, but each time I hear the message it pains me to think that there is not equal concern for accomplishing the same goal on all the other boards. The Improve the Fool board is special in its way, but the Retire Early board is just as "special" to me. I have put a lot of energy into a lot of posts there over the years, and have had to give up the board because of the policies by which debate there is now being controlled. There are many other fine posters who have had to give up posting at that board for similar reasons, and I think it's a shame.

I understand that there is no one at Motley Fool who can wave a magic wand and fix the problems of every board community. But I ask that, in any efforts you take to fix the problem which caused you to stop reading the Improve the Fool board for a time, you also reflect on the ways in which similar problems have caused many others to stop reading boards that were once valuable to them too. Access to the old Retire Early board was not worth $30 to me, it was worth hundreds; access to today's version isn't worth 30 cents. In your phrase, it's "a time sink."

That's a big loss in value to me. I don't place the entire blame for that loss on Motley Fool and I appreciate the benefit that Motley Fool provided me in creating a place for the board to be created in the first place. But it would mean a lot to me if Motley Fool would come up with posting administration rules that could restore to me the wonderful board that I once thought I "had."

My point is that free-for-all doesn't always work. The posters who make the most noise are sometimes the ones who care about a board the least. There are scores of posters on the Retire Early board who would love to see that board return to a discussion of on-topic issues, but there is also a vocal minority determined to block that from happening. If the operation of discussion boards is to become a longterm viable business proposition, I think there needs to be some means for majorities seeking to learn to achieve that goal without resorting to the sort of tactics sometimes employed by minorities pursuing other sorts of agendas.

If there is ever a time when anyone at Motley Fool would like to have longer conversations about this subject with me, I would be happy to meet with him or her to go over what thoughts I have in detail. I care deeply about these boards, and am disheartened that there is no suitable place for me to post on them anymore. I hope that that will change in the future, and I believe that it would be in Motley Fool's interest as well as my own if me and the many others who would like to share ideas for achieving financial independence had a place where we could go to do so without being attacked by those who find something objectionable in the idea. If there is ever anything I can do to help in this regard, I hope that someone at Motley Fool will let me know.
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No. of Recommendations: 13
hocus - in a suggestion to improve the boards...

"I believe that is going to mean in some cases limiting the abilities of some posters to conduct off-topic discussions..."

But who makes that call? What if, for instance, I found that your post (which I have no doubt was prepared with a great deal of thought and attention) was off-topic? Should I have the right to delete it, or to prevent you from posting in the future? Should hokieharry? TMF already has that ability - which is used either too little or too much, depending on your view and your expectations of the site.

I find that most boards develop a culture - there is the shared knowledge of recent (or not-so-recent) posts, and a certain familiarity with the other people who are active there. The level of discussion varies, but in general it seems to be comfortable for the people who are there (I know, that is a bit of a tautology). Interestingly, the same people post somewhat differently on different boards. The bright, witty ones don't suddenly get stupid, or anything - but their tone changes and they become more or less colloquial, jocular, or whimsical as they move between -say- the Berkshire Hathaway board and the Great Movies board.

I think it is fair to say that the culture of this board tends to be adversarial, even confrontational. I think that is partly inherent in a board devoted to the meta-discussion of message boards, conducted with those responsible for administration and operation of the site. For the most part, people come here to complain - and while every suggestion is a gift, it is also an implicit complaint: "things would be better if you did XYZ" implies "you are doing something wrong because you are not doing XYZ." In fairness, people also come here to note the improvements to the boards and offer thanks to the people who put in the work and effort to create them.

You note the instance of another board being disrupted by a minority of users who have 'their own agenda' - I have never understood the mechanics of a 'board takeover' such as this. Surely, if this is an identifible group, the P-Box feature will make much of their contributions invisible to you. If there truly is a majority who do not wish to interact with them, then they will get a diminishing response - and there is no reason why their messages have to interfere with your own. Boards can only be disrupted if they allow themselves to be disrupted: if the 'regular' participants are not sufficiently interested in the board and in the topics under discussion when the disruption occurs to preserve and pursue them.

In short - I think you are over-reacting. I think the boards work pretty well as they are now - they form a self-regulating system that seems to be pretty stable overall. The risk of disrupting that system by over-regulation, censorship, and intrusive monitoring is greater than the current risk of boards declining. The level of interest and discussion on every board tends to wax and wane for unknown reasons - weather, market factors, term papers due, and so on. That's just 'one of those things' that we have to learn to live with.

"I have put a lot of energy into a lot of posts there [Retire Early] over the years, and have had to give up the board because of the policies by which debate there is now being controlled."

That's what I don't understand - you still have your keyboard, and your internet connection is good: what 'policies' are 'controlling' your debate (or discussion)? Lets say you post a mesage on whther to use a 401(k), or just stuff money into a mattress. People either respond or they don't. If the responses are rational, and interesting to you, you enter into a discussion with the other person (or more likely, people) who finds that to be a valuable topic. If the responses are off base, yoiu decide whther to correct the misunderstanding or just ignore it and get on with life. If the responses are simply hostile to your participation, you either ignore them, start a flame war, or throw someone into your P-Box. The only 'control' is if nobody bothers to respond in a meaningful manner. In that case, the problem isn't that 'hooligans from the work forever board have invaded my board' - it is that the regulars you have dealt with over the years do not care to discuss that topic.

As always, if the discussion on a board is not addressing an issue that you find of interest, then prepare a new post about the issue with your best thoughts, and wait for reaction - but be ready to discuss it, not just to pontificate on it (that's a generalization, I am not accusing you of such a thing). If the level of discussion is not to your liking, do the same thing: post messages that are courteous and respectful, and see if that contributes to raising the standard - and if not, feel free to use the P-Box. I find both of those alternatives both emotionally preferable and more effective than complaining about how others conduct themselves.


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No. of Recommendations: 8
But who makes that call?

We are in agreement that this is the key question, dcardno. Ultimately, people disagree about issues of procedure as well as about issues of substance, and how things are going to be determined comes down to a question of "who makes the call?" Since the boards are owned by Motley Fool, it should be Motley Fool who makes the call, in my view.

If you check the published TMF posting rules, you read that: "If you disagree with an opinion set forth, challenge that opinion, refrain from ever attacking the person who asserted it. The online jargon for personal attacks is "flaming," an unfortunate phenomenon that is too much a part of many areas of cyperspace. In our area, we simply won't tolerate it."

When I first came to Motley Fool, I read that statement and decided that this was the sort of environment that I wanted to post at because that sort of policy creates more of an opportunity for learning than a pro-flaming environment. I believe that that statement and others like it should be enforced when violations are brought to the attention of Motley Fool. That statement has not been enforced on the Retire Early board. I cannot say for sure about other boards, but my impression is that there are other Speaker's Corner boards where the published rules have not been enforced.

I don't think that Motley Fool should be getting involved in every little board dispute. I have over 1,000 posts behind me, and I have never in that time filed a Fool Alert. So I don't think I can be accused of being trigger happy. But in circumstances in which a poster's actions become so extreme as to cause the slow death on a vibrant board community, I think that Motley Fool needs to intervene.

In the case of the Retire Early board, intercst (who founded the board) has publicly announced that he will give posters whose views he finds "loony" one warning to stop, and that if they fail to do so, he will conduct ridicule campaigns against them. He has conducted such campaigns not only against me, but against a good number of the strongest posters at the board.

If you asked me to name the best posters in the history of that board, the first five on the list would be wanderer, raddr, JWR1945, ptsurmr, and FoolMeOnce. Each and every one of those five left the board either because a ridicule campaign was directed against him or because he was so disgusted by a ridicule campaign conducted against another poster that he could no longer maintain his self-respect and continue to be associated with the board. Links can be offered to demonstrate all of this.

I pay money to participate in the community. More importantly, I invest my time in building up the community. Had I known at the start of my posting career that ridicule campaigns would be used to remove the strongest posters from the board each time one offered a viewpoint not in concert with those of the board founder, I would not have devoted the time I did to doing so.

When I informed TMFBogey of the problem at the Retire Early board, his response was that he favored free debate as an "ideal," but that he would tend to side with Intercst because of his status as a "board general." There is no statement in the published posting rules that gives any special status to "board generals." It is unacceptable to change the rules mid-steam. Either the rule is that differing viewpoints will be tolerated, or the rule is that the founders of Speaker's Corner boards are governed by a different set of rules than the rest of us. Whichever it is, Motley Fool should say so in published rules, and then administer the published rules.

TMFBogey expressed the same concern that you are noting re the preservation of "board culture." The problem is that board culture is a very hard thing to define.

The cause of the dispute in the debate held on the Retire Early board is that I raised some questions about the methodology of a study that intercst prepared on how to invest for early retirement. There were many posters in the course of the debate that agreed with intercst's view that my arguments were "irrational" and "loony." if you believe that those posts are representive of the board culture there, you might conclude he was right to direct a ridicule campaign at me to get me to stop posting.

But then how do you explain the many expressions of board culture coming from just the opposite direction? Two of my posts made during that debate received over 80 recs. There were scores of posters who thanked me for raising issues they had never heard on the board before and who argued that it's a good thing for there to be expressions of more than one opinion on investing issues.

Several times I suggested that the debate had become so poisonous that it would be best if I just dropped the issue, and posts were put up with titles like "Hocus is Really On to Something!" and "Hocus Started It All!" and asking me to continue engaging in the discussion. What would you do if a group of people who you have come to think of as friends begged you to continue discussing an issue that you have studied for 10 years and that happens to be your favorite issue in the world to talk about?

You suggest using the P-Box. That tool may work in some circumstanes, but not in all. The problem is that the people I want to have a discussion with are repulsed by the sorts of personal attacks and nonsense arguments that those trying to disrupt the debate injected into each thread in which it was raised. There are many people in the world who simply do not have a taste for that kind of nonsense.They enjoy back and forth discussions, but are not willing to get down in the mud. Using the P-Box blocks me from seeing the words in the disruptive posts, but it does not provide a means for allowing the debate I want to have to go forward. There is a point at which threads become so ugly that reasonable people simply will not participate.

To give you some idea of what I mean why I say that the disrupters pulled the debate into the mud, there was a post in which Galeno said that he was going to conduct a "holy war" if I continued to question the intercst study, and threatened to come after me with a baseball bat. When FoolMeOnce fool alerted the post, intercst's reaction was to admonish him for doing so, characterizing the reporting of the post as an effort to stifle free speech. He subsequently implored the board to fool alert no further posts on grounds that he wanted to be able to enjoy the "witty repartee" he finds in them.

You can have "witty repartee" or you can have serious discussions on how to plan for financial independence. You can't have both. My plea here is that Motley Fool decide which sort of thing it most wants to have its discussion boards become known for.

Intercst regularly expresses contempt for the Motley Fool posting rules, which call for Fool Alerting of violative posts. Personally, I have never Fool Alerted a post, but I do not feel comtempt for the published rules. Posters who do should not be given the special privileges of "board generals" on these boards, in my opinion. Posters who have contempt for the rules are not capable of administering "their" boards in the way that Motley Fool says it wants them administered.

The bottom line question here is, What does Motley Fool really want? For the business to suceed, there have to be some sort of rules. I'm not asking for any say in the writing of the rules, but I think it is fair to expect that whatever rules are adopted will be applied to all posters equally. I would not expect to still be posting here if I posted in the manner of intercst. So why is he still permitted to post here? Why are different standards being applied?

I could provide you with links to half a dozen posts in which Retire Early board posters have asked for a return to some on-topic posting and in which those posts were awared scores of recs. There is a great pent-up demand on that board for discussions relevant to the subject matter of the board. But it's hard for posters to find much in the way of on-topic posting material that either is not threatening to interest or that has not been discussed to death in 12 previous threads. Either the board allows for debate of issues not approved by intercst or it will die. That's only my opinion, but it is a sincere one and I am not entirely unknowledgeable on the goings on of that particular board.

Is it possible that the RE board as a whole has a death wish? I don't think so. I believe that there are lots of people on that board who would love to hear a good honest debate, but have not been able to come up with any constructive way to make it happen. I think it would be an improvement to the Fool if TMF came up with some procedures for protecting an asset that scores of community members (not intercst alone) have built up over the course of the past three years. It's our board, not his board.

I regret having to offer so many examples that relate to a single board, but it is the only one that I have much personal experience with. I believe that the problem described applies at other boards as well. If it does not, someday it probably will. Board generals not subject to the same rules as other posters are loose cannons not likely to do this community much long-term good, in my opinion.
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No. of Recommendations: 8
Let me confirm hocus's complaint. The latest relevant time period was from May through September 2002. It was on the Speaker's Corner/Retire Early Home Page discussion board. It takes quite a bit of time and effort to see exactly what happened. The tactics were subtle, but repeated again and again. Unless you are looking for it, you won't see it…not because hocus is overreacting but because it is hard to believe that anyone would behave so outrageously.

There were a series of tactics. The main one was to introduce a subtle shift in the discussion. Often, someone would slightly misquote hocus. Or someone would make a strong assertion that would seem relevant to a causal reader…but which intentionally shifted the train of thought.

Another tactic was to play games with semantics. Most frequently, the tactic was to use many different definitions of the phase safe withdrawal rate. Every time that hocus would use the term, he was ridiculed for not understanding the definition. The semantics game was exposed several times. But it kept on resurfacing.

The purpose of such tactics seems to have been to exhaust hocus…forcing him to respond to distractions. That lengthened each thread to the point that almost everybody would give up. Then someone would complain that the thread had lasted too long. The effect, of course, was to inhibit discussion and to prevent progress on the topics that hocus was interested in. As a final blow, several people would then complain because hocus did not present a full, accurate answer at the same time that he asked his questions.

Toward the very end of the period, several people ganged up to ridicule hocus in blatant violation of Fool rules.

The Penalty Box is not enough. It will never be able to handle such cases.

For the past two months I have been writing posts in anticipation of hocus's opening a new board on Financial Independence. I have written 13. But this morning I posted one of them elsewhere…because it has some new ideas that are worth developing right away.

BTW, I now have proof that there was no basis in fact for ridiculing hocus. But that will have to wait until a friendlier posting environment becomes available.

Fool on and Have fun.

John R.
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No. of Recommendations: 3

I didn't realize that things had gotten so out of hand on the RE board (and as far as citing a single specific board - well, if that's where this is happening, then that's where we have to look for examples). I am still unclear on why a 'ridicule campaign' can be effective, though. If, for example, you were to P-Box intercst you would sail on through life blissfully unaware of his campaigns - how could he then affect your posting? If you find that there are people who "join" his crusade, and whose ideas are not generally of interest to you, then -plonk- he has a companion.

I realize that it can get very lonely if there is no one to talk to - everyone is either a lurker or in your P-Box; but then the board was not worth much, anyway... The real problem, though, is if people whose opinions you generally respect become abusive or intolerant - I have seen this happen, but never to the point where I P-Boxed them; their views remained just valuable enough that I wanted to continue to see what they were saying. Obviously, your mileage will vary - but I just can't see how these 'board invasions' ever really work. Obviously intercst created a board that you thought worthwhile at one time, so it isn't really an 'invasion' but I think the principal is the same.

I don't know why you were hesitant to FA any of the offending posts. While I am (at least in my opinion <g>) pretty tolerant, I always view the "problem post" button as an opportunity (and my only opportunity) to enforce (or attempt to enforce) some quality control on the boards. If things were really as bad as you indicate, I think Bogey was drastically wrong (not that that's ever happened before) not to have acted: a deliberate plan to harass and ridicule people does not educate, amuse, or enrich even if they deserve it. At the same time, TMF already has all the capacity they need to deal with the problem - it seems the problem is not with the infrastructure as much as with the management. No doubt TMF has a different view, and it would be very enlightening to hear their opinion, but I am sure their "no comment on other user's accounts" policy will prevent that.

Cheers, and good luck in either sorting this out, or finding a new place to hang out,

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No. of Recommendations: 2
Hocus, please allow me to suggest respectfully that you consider starting over.

I can understand that you may not wish to, that you may well feel that you shouldn't have to, and that it may not do any good in the long (or even short) run. But it was worth five minutes for me to set it up as an experiment. And it may work.

Whatever you choose to do, I sympathize, and wish you luck.

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No. of Recommendations: 3
hocus, please count me as one lurker who would like to see you (or someone else) start a "Financial Independence" board.... It would be nice to see a place to discuss the financial side of preparing for either (or both?) of the "Retire Early" and the "Move out of the Fast Lane" options.

(and to pre-empt the "logical" reply from others.... I don't have the time, knowledge or talent to host such a board but I sure would love to lurk and contribute occasionally.)

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No. of Recommendations: 1
I hope that there are ongoing discussions going on at TMF as to how to enhance the board discussions, not just though technical innovations but through effective board administration policies too.

That would be private boards. Again I say, bring 'em on.

These boards offer incredible potential for helping middle-class people to share experiences with each other and thereby to learn about subjects of mutual concern, but much of that potential is being wasted.

What if you're not middle class?


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No. of Recommendations: 0
What if you're not middle class?

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No. of Recommendations: 1
Please allow me to suggest respectfully that you consider starting over [by opening a new board]

Thank you for offering a constructive suggestion, galagan.

I do intend to start my own board where people will be free to discuss a wide range of issues relating to early retirement and financial independence. I tried this about a year ago, when intercst's board administration policies first began causing serious problems for the existing board. That board is still in existence. It's called "Passion Saving." There's not much traffic there, though.

That board started off like gangbusters when there were a lot of people trying to escape the existing board who contributed on a daily basis. I became busy with some other projects, however, and had to give up posting there after a few weeks, and several others stopped posting as much after the early days as well. Without a group of regular posters, activity died down. It's a chicken and egg thing. Where there is lots of posting, more people come to post. Where there is not so much, few bother to try.

To create a new board that provides what the Retire Early board did when it was going good will take a lot of work. It will mean lining up in advance about a dozen regular posters who will make sure that there is always new and useful stuff to read there. It will also require the regular presence of a "monitor" who will offer new topics for debate each day. That's a time commitment that I am not able to make today.

I expect some time to open up in about six months, and I have said on the existing board that I will be starting a new one next year. I have also begun lining up regular contributors and preparing enough posts of my own to provide discussion fodder for the first month or so. My belief today is that if you want to create a thriving community, you need to start with a big enough bang to attract the involvement of a good number of community members.

So I am going to follow your suggestion, just not right now. Still, I'd like to point out some of the reasons why I think it is a bad idea from Motley Fool's perspective to require people who want to have discussions not approved by an existing board general to start their own boards.

One thing is that two smaller boards on a single subject will provide less value to the community than would one large one. Neither the posts on the new board or those on the existing one will generate as much feedback as they would if people could come to one place to get information on how to achieve financial independence early in life. The two-board approach is as inefficient use of limited resources (the primary resources being the community's time, energy, and attention).

Two, the establishment of the second board is likely to cause frictions of its own. There is a limited number of people in the Motley Fool community interested in the subject of early retirement. So, for the new board to thrive, I am going to have to go to the existing board and ask that people interested in a broader discussion agenda to leave that board and come to the new one. The more successful I am in that pursuit, the weaker the old board will become. How is intercst going to react when the existing board is only him and a few close friends instead of one of the most popular Fool boards?

Three, without new board administraton rules (or at least a willingness on Motley Fool's part to enforce the published ones), what is to prevent those who disrupted conversations at the old board from simply moving to the new one and disrupt ing conversations there? I think this is not entirely unlikely in the event that a good percentager of the old board community makes the move to the new board. Community builders build communities, and disrupters disrupt them. People's natures don't change just because you put new words at the top of the page of the discussion boards they visit.

Four, why should the people who did the work to make the existing board achieve the popularity it now enjoys be the ones to take on the task of building up a new board? I was only one of many who contributed to the growth of the old board, and I am only one of many who have left if out of revulsion over the board administration policies being followed there. Why should the ones who built the existing community be the ones who have to give it up? Shouldn't interest--who really needs a private board where his views will not be subject to questioning--be the one to start a new board? I haven't engaged in any attack posts or disruptions on the existing board. Why shouldn't I be able to contnue to use it for the purposes for which Motley Fool says it is to be used?

The bottom line is that setting up a new board is the most constructive option available to me, given the existing circumstances. So I am going to follow your suggestion when the time needed opens up. That said, though, I still think it would be an improvement to Motley Fool for it to rethink its board administration policies so that the efforts people put into building up communities are not wasted to the extent they have been at the existing Retire Early board.
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No. of Recommendations: 1
hocus, please count me as one lurker who would like to see you (or someone else) start a "Financial Independence" board.

Thanks for saying that, cere2000. I am intense about this issue and follow developments closely, and it is as clear to me as anything can be that there is a great pent-up demand for a board devoted to discussions of all aspects of the Retire Early question.

You saw it when the existing board took off in 2000. It was amazing how many people in those days would come to the board and declare that it was the most interesting board they had found on the internet. You don't get too much of that nowadays. No doubt there are some who enjoy having one more place to engage in bitter arguments over politics and religion. But that's not exactly a new concept for a discussion board.

The earlier version of the Retire Early board was unique. If Motley Fool would take the steps needed to allow the board to be what many people want it to be, I think that it is the sort of board experience that could attract new members to the Fool community and give existing ones a compelling reason to pay. People don't want to pay to argue over politics because they can do that in a hundred alternate places. There are a lot of people who want to learn how to retire early, and I believe that many would be willing to pay $30 a year for access to a board that took a serious approach to providing them the information needed to develop a realistic plan for doing so.

You also saw the demand for a board on the subject of retiring early when Soapbox was started, and several of the top-selling reports were on that niche subject. I even see it in the posts that go up on the existing board where long-time board members put up requests that the board please, please, please devote a thread now and then to the subject matter of the board.

There's customer demand for a board on this subject, and I would like to see Motley Fool reap the benefits of that demand. But people interested in a board that takes a serious look at what is needed for early retirement need a little assist from Motley Fool to make it happen.
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No. of Recommendations: 1
That would be private boards. Again I say, bring 'em on.

I don't object to the idea of private boards. But I think that there should not be boards where board generals get to decide the scope of permitted discussion unless this policy is announced in advance. If you know what you are getting into, then it's your decision whether to play or not. But I had no way of knowing when I began contributing to the Retire Early board that intercst possessed special powers to limit debate on that board not available to other community members. I don't think it is right to change the rules in mid-stream.

What if you're not middle class?

Anyone who wants to contribute to a board and who follows the rules should be permitted to do so, of course. My reference here was the expression of a thought that it is primarily middle-class workers workers who benefits from learning about strategies to retire early. Those who are wealth enough not to need to work don't need to know these strategies all that much, and those making minimum wage generally cannot make much use of them. The greatest benefits of a board on the subject matter in which I am most interested in go to the middle class, broadly defined.
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No. of Recommendations: 3
I didn't realize that things had gotten so out of hand on the RE board

As JWR1945 observes, it's a little hard to believe how out of hand things have gotten. That's true even for those who were there to see each and every post as it went up. I can't imagine how an outsider could come to a full appreciation of the situation. You'll just have to take the word of a long-time community contributor, it's real real bad.

I knew about the problems with the intercst study when I first came to the board three years ago. It was clear from the start that there were going to be fireworks if anyone pointed them out, so I kept my mouth shut for a long time. The two last straws were (1) when intercst started actually driving fantastic long-time contribtors off the board for the crime of disagreeing with him; and (2) when he began mocking people who listened to his investment ideas and were seeing their retirement plans go bust because of the factors he failed to consider in his study.

It got to be a matter of conscience at that point. I've posted a lot to that board, and there's a sense in which my many posts could be read by some as an endorsement of it. I expect to be writing about the subject of early retirement for a long time to come, and I don't want someone coming up to me three years from now and saying "Weren't you involved with that Motley Fool board that offered strategies that have caused a lot of retirement plans to go bust?" I wouldn't think that Motley Fool would want to have its name associated with that sort of thing either.

There's nothing wrong with hosting a board where someone puts up a study that is later determined to have a lot of holes in it. That happens on the internet all the time. Determining safe withdrawal rates is a complicated piece of business, and I do not believe that interest deliberately misled people when he initially announced the results of his study. I believe that the initial mistakes were honest ones.

But it's something different when the mistakes have been uncovered, and the individual involved announces a policy of conducting a ridicule campaign against anyone who explains the problems of the study to people coming to a discussion board to acquire knowledge on this subject matter.

There are a lot of fun aspects to the Retire Early question, but there are also times when a serious treatment of the topic is demanded. William Bernstein, who is an expert on the subject of asset allocation and has written two widely acclaimed books on the subject, says that the safe withdrawal rate for the allocation recommended by intercst is 2 percent; intercst says it is 4 percent. If people follow intercst's advice, and Bernstein ends up being right, that means that there will be people who need $2 million for a safe retirement who hand in their resignations with only $1 million accumulated.

Going broke in your 50s or 60s without access to a paycheck is a serious life setback. This dispute doesn't just affect intercst and me. There are a lot of people who stand to be hurt if he is wrong in his assertion that his study is the absolute last word on what it takes to prepare for early retirement.

I just can't see how these 'board invasions' ever really work

One big problem that is particular to this dispute is that the issue of safe withdrawal rates is of only minor interest to the majority of the board. The majority of the board does not rely on intercst's findings to plan their retirement, and have not read the study with any care. It's not a big deal to them. They come to the board because they are interested in the subject in general, and want to hear all sorts of ideas about strategies.

These are the people who ask me to post. They see some value in the posts I put up about investing, and would love to be able to ask questions about what I am saying and tease out the implications of my posts. I would like to be able to do that too because I often find the holes in my own thinking by being exposed to the questioning of others on the board.

It's the smaller group that has read the study and is relying on it for their retirement plans that is the problem. This group is alarmed to think that the plans they have built are based on a study that did not consider several factors bearing on the issue. Some of them have already lost a lot of money relying in the intercst approach, one he advertised as "100 percent safe," so they get a little hot at being exposed to the idea that the whole thing is just flat out wrong.

When this group disrupts, you see one or two attempts by the majority to pull things back on track. Someone will put up a post objecting to personal attacks, and it will get 40 recommendations. But when the disruptions continue, the reasonable majority checks out. They would like to have a discussion about the true safe withdrawal rate, but they are not willing to be exposed to a lot of attacks to make it happen. At that point, I'm the only one responding to the disrupters, and it gets a little silly to continue after awhile.

You might think that the disrupters would give up after awhile. But you would be surprised. I devoted four months to answering every possible objection to my posts that they could develop. I never engaged in attacks, I just patiently answered one question after another after another. After four months of disruptions, which tied the board up in knots and brought most other debates to a halt, I just decided to let it drop until I have the time available to start a new board. I don't know for sure whether that is going to work or not, but I think that it's important enough that people have a place to discuss reasonable approaches to early retirement that I am going to give to a serious try.

I don't know why you were hesitant to FA any of the offending posts.

There were others on the board who fool alerted the posts that threatened physical violence. Intercst was very upset that those posts were fool alerted and strongly urged the board to stop reporting offensive posts. If I were to have reported them, it would just have given him one more thing to attack me over, and that's not something I needed at the time.

The problem was not any one post, it is a publicly announced policy of intercst's that he will ridicule anyone who disagrees with him on safe withdrawal rates until they stop posting. My hope was to have Motley Fool come out in opposition to his general board administration policies, not to any one post he put up.

My personal belief is that it works to my benefit to have his attack and disruption posts remain on the board. If someone new to the board goes back and reviews the record, they will know why there is now no ongoing discusson of ways to determine the true safe withdrawal rate. I realize that most won't do that, but it's a option for those willing to make the effort. I think it's better for there to be a full record of what happened than to have the posts that caused the problem removed.

Besides, what I am going to do, report 50 posts in a single day? The whole disruption strategy was to flood the board with nonsense posts so that those seeking to have a serious discussion would give up and go away. Intercst would do things like attribute quotes to William Bernstein (an expert on stock allocation strategies) that Bernstein never said, and then not respond when I asked for page numbers where the supposed quotes appear.

A lot of board members respect his views because of contributions he had made in the past, so they have a hard time believing that he would flat out make things up. Many are not sure exactly what to believe, but I think that they believe that there must be at least a little validity to interest's claims. For many of them, there is not. He just posted whatever was needed to make the discussion so confusing that people who weren't willing to make it a full-time job to do so could never figure it all out.

There have to be some limits on the sorts of things people can say on message boards. No one has all the answers, and everyone makes mistakes, so the restrictions cannot be too tight. But when board members engage in deliberate deception and claim that their deceptions are backed up by scientific "studies," there is a need for a referee to step in and insist that all parties adhere to some basic ground rules. I don't think that discussion boards will work as a long-term business proposition if the companies hosting boards are not willing to step in in the truly eggregious cases.

No doubt TMF has a different view, and it would be very enlightening to hear their opinion, but I am sure their "no comment on other user's accounts" policy will prevent that.

I would love to hear a fuller explanation of the "board general" standard from TMFBogey. I don't think that he was entirely unsympathetic to my position. I sent him some e-mails showing how intercst has engaged in ridicule campaigns against various posters (not just me) and showing the broad support on the board for the discussion I was trying to hold, and he said that he found my comments "thoughtful" and would give a fuller response at a later time. I never received the fuller response, and I would like to know more about the ins and outs of the "board general" standard.

I don't think that a description of the "board general" standard would require revealing any information about particular user accounts. As I understand it, the board general standard applies to any board founder, not just intercst. TMFBogey discussed it a bit inn connection with the problems that came up on the Martini Club board. I am very unclear on my understanding of the standard. Bogey said in his description of it that no one board participant has more authority to determine the scope of debate than others (I agree), but then added that he would probably come down in favor of intercst because of his status as a "board general."

I frankly was not able to make sense of the standard. But I found that it put me at a great disadvantage in the debate. Intercst was able to disrupt and attack with impunity, and there was not much that I could do (other than fool alert individual posts). I never engaged in these tactics, but knew from the start that, if intercst was willing to continue the ridicule campaign long enough, TMFBogey was going to at some point going to come out in his support.

It's a hard position to be in, like being in a fight with one hand tied behind your back. I understand the subject of safe withdrawal rates well enough to know that I will win any fair debate. Intercst has no answer to the fact that experts like William Bernstein agree with me and describe the methodology he used in his study as "misleading." On a content basis, I can't lose. But the process has been slanted so heavily in favor of board generals that I see no way to make my points on the existing board in such a way that those community members interested in reasonable debate could hear them and appreciate them.
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No. of Recommendations: 2
With quips like this the guy can't be all bad:
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No. of Recommendations: 4
With quips like this the guy can't be all bad.

He's not all bad, SringCheeseMark. It's not my intent to leave anyone with that impression.

When I first posted to the Retire Early board and was a little tentative about it, intercst extended me a warm welcome. When I released my Soapbox report, he put up one of the first reviews of it, and it meant a lot to me that he did that because I had learned a lot about the subject from his web site and respected his views (and still do).

There is much in his study of safe withdrawal rates that is valid and important, and the study helped me in my planning of my own early retirement. Most of all, he started the Retire Early board here, and I learned tons about the subject matter both from stuff I've read there and from the work I did formulating my thoughts into posts I put up there. Lots of others have learned from reading posts by intercst and by reading posts by others on the board he founded. I am in the process of writing a book on the subject of early retirement, and intercst is one of the people whose help I will make note of on the acknowledgements page.

It may sound odd to you to hear me say that I think of intercst as a friend, and I acknowledge that we are not exactly on friendly terms with each other at this particular moment. But I hope that someday that changes. I owe intercst a debt of loyalty for things that he did for me at earlier times. He helped me achieve early retirement, and that's made a big difference in my personal happiness quotient. Nothing he has done in the course of the past six months changes that, and as bad as some of the stuff he has done in the past six months is, on net the postives outweigh the negatives.

It's possible for a single human being to engage in both positive and negative behavior, and both realities should be taken into account by the community of discussion board participants affected by his actions.
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No. of Recommendations: 3
This sounds like it got way too personal.
Happens often 'round here. The mask of annonominity (I don't think i spelled that right) allows people to say things in internet discussions that they's never say face to face. Unfortunately most people don't realize how hurtful their comments can be until its too late.

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No. of Recommendations: 3
This sounds like it got way too personal.

That's not the real problem, stringcheesemark. It's true that there were a good number of excessively personal comments made by people on one side of the debate, but any personal comments would be the concern of only the few people affected, not the entire board community. I brought this matter to the Improve the Fool board because it is an issue that affects all debates held at all Speaker's Corner boards. The issue is a change in the rules by which Speaker's Corner boards are administered that has never been officially announced by Motley Fool.

The improvement that I am suggesting that the Fool make is to administer its boards pursuant to the published rules. The published rules do prohibit personal attacks, but they do more than that. They state that the Fool mission is "learning together," and that part of learning together is being open to the voicing of alternative opinions. This is an essential rule because discussion board communities die when only one sort of opinion can be expressed at them.

Intercst has declared at the Retire Early board that his policy is that posters who express views he considers "loony" will be given a warning that this is not acceptable. If they ignore the warning, they will be ridiculed. Ridicule campaigns are not permitted under the published rules.

He then followed up on that threat, posting (or encouraging others to post) nonsense post after nonsense post (combined with a good number of personal attack posts as well) until the board demanded that the discussion on an issue he did not want to see discussed was brought to an end.This went on for four months. He put his personal desire to avoid seeing the limitations of his study exposed above the interests of the board in having a debate on an issue of critical importance to the board's mission.

That's not a case of a debate becoming too personal. It's a case of a debate being blocked altogether. As a way of resolving the problem, I proposed that intercst permit those who would like to discuss issues relating to the determination of the true safe withdrawal rate one nondisrupted thread per month to do so. I said that if intercst were willing to allow this, it was OK with me if he called my any names he wanted on the hundreds of other threads placed on the board each month. Personal attacks are not my concern. My concern is that the board is not being permitted to go about its legitimate business.

Here is a post from the Retire Early board from Thursday night.

The poster here says that nine-tenths of the posts on the board are greyed out on his screen because he has put off-topic posts on Ignore Thread. "This board has less focus than NADA," he says. The post obtained 17 recs.

These sorts of posts are a frequent occurance on the Retire Early board these days, and it's no mystery why. Five of the best posters who have ever posted to the board (I am not including myself in this list, but there are a good number on the board who have found my posts of value) no longer post there because they became disgusted with the manner in which the board debate is controlled. When the posters possessing the background and energy to post on-topic are removed, the result is that there is little left on a board but off-topic posts. The board is dying.

If it were dying of natural causes, that's the concern of no one other than those on the board. But this board is dying because of the deliberate acts of a single poster. it is dying because one individual is uneasy with the idea of the board being put to the use to which Motley Fool says in its published rules it is to be put, "learning together." There are many people at that board who would like to employ it as a resource to learn about the subject matter. One individual is blocking them from receiving what they want. This should not be permitted.

It is not permitted, under the rules. But TMFBogey has said that he is not applying the rules, at least not exactly in their published form. He has said that when problems of this sort occur on Speaker's Corner boards, his policy is to "side with" the "board general." If you ever post on Speaker's Corner boards, you need to be aware of this reality and you might want to think through the implications before you post too much longer.

My suggested improvement to the Fool is that either the "board general" standard be dropped altogether or that it be made part of the published rules. I believe that the board general standard has been demonstrated to be a impediment to the growth of discussion boards in this community.
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