To paraphrase Tolstoy, all buoyant stocks are the same; while the issues sinking fast are all different. Two types of decline are notable: the first is cacophonous— in which too much information and noise are continuous, as with BP stock during the 2010 Gulf oil spill. The other is silent: with the stock’s initial drop traceable to an external event or analyst downgrade; but with subsequent price-action unrelated to news events.

Frustration grows at the corporation’s lack of explanation. Sometimes class action lawyers circle hungrily, canvassing for lead plaintiffs eyeing lucrative judicial gain. Short-sellers clamor for bankruptcy and longs brace for nauseating dips on the financial roller coaster.

Online, investment firms and independent analysts weigh in to influence the market- their for-profit postings prominently displayed next to time lagged market data on Google and Yahoo sites. As tensions rise with a bottoming equity, a singularly interested virtual team goes to work: the participants of the online message board.

Like any corporate work-team, message boarders reflect a heterogeneous mix of skills and temperaments. What they share are two things: a primary focus on a particular equity at a particular time; and a desire to be heard— whether to confirm their viewpoint, to proselytize, to allay anxiety, or to seek the solace of understanding others.

Notably, while the board provides a textual record extending across time of opinion and response, it corresponds to several dimensions of small group behavior. First, each team or group enterprise reflects a consensus of feeling— even through the passionate hit-and-run conflicts of its participants’ ad hominem attacks on one another—not only on the dimension of optimism-pessimism about the stock— but also on aspects of longer term strategy. Second, teams represent a pooling of working knowledge— as when someone has read (and provides the link to) an obscure journal or posting— which is piggybacked upon by another’s associations— leading to surmises about the issue, from far-fetched to trenchant.

Each of these dimensions is the product of what group theorists call “storming” behavior— the “fight or flight” bare knuckle conflict, punctuated by moments of bonding or “pairing” between several contributors.

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Online Equity Message-Boards as Virtual Workteams


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