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9/9/98

Internet Stock-Discussion Groups Have a Language All Their Own
    By TERRI CULLEN
    THE WALL STREET JOURNAL INTERACTIVE EDITION

    Joseph Copia remembers the humiliation he felt the first time he waded
into an Internet  stock-discussion group.

    After spending several months researching a stock he was interested in
buying, the  40-year-old sales executive mustered the nerve to ask some
questions about some confusing investing terms he had come across on a message
board on the Silicon  Investor Web site (http://www.techstocks.com). The
reception he received from veteran  board participants, he says, left him
feeling wet behind the ears.

    "You get mocked sometimes by people who don't want to take the time to
respond to  your posts," says Mr. Copia , Vice President of International Sales
at Copia Associates  Inc., a propane and butane business in Shreveport, La. "I
felt so stupid. It was like I was  a kid going to a new school in another
town, and I had to learn the new language and customs."

    Different Language
    As the Web has exploded in popularity, so too has the language of on-line
denizens, introducing a wealth of jargon and terminology, and accelerating the
exchange of the  latest buzzwords. In the growing number of on-line stock and
investing discussion  forums, this so-called geek-speak has morphed into a new
dialect. Call it trade-speak: the slang terminology that is used most often by
Wall Street professionals.

    Talk the Talk
    See a glossary of some of the more common forms of on-line message board
terms and abbreviations, and their meanings.

    "Financial terminology, or any other kind of 'inside' jargon, is more
likely to spread when used frequently in an Internet community due to the
medium's sheer reach," says Jesse Sheidlower, project director of the Random
House Historical Dictionary of American Slang. "When there's something you're
talking about that really begs a description and someone comes up with an
appropriate term that describes it in a hip or pithy way, it tends to get
repeated."
    But unlike geek-speak -- which is often punctuated with those annoying
"emoticons" that portray feelings of happiness and sadness -- trade-speak is a
hybrid both of the professional shorthand traders use to make transactions
efficiently and the chop-shop slang of investors struggling to get their
messages across with the fewest possible keystrokes.

    "It's kind of like when you're watching 'E.R.' on television," says Steven
Goldman, head trader at Yamner & Co., a brokerage firm in Fair Lawn, N.J.
"There are doctors who are watching the show and know exactly what the doctors
... are talking about, while their families sitting right next to them
probably have no idea what's really going on."

    For example, dialogue on a message board devoted to Xybernaut Corp., a
Fairfax, Va., company that develops specialized computer gear, might go
something like this:

    MarketStud: Wow! Look at that XYBR gapping up! I can't believe it turned
out to be a triple-bagger. I'm bummed that I missed that momo.

    Cybergrrl: Know what you mean. With all the hype on the boards it sounded
like a
    definite P&D. Next time I'll do the DD.

    MarketStud: OT. BTW, received your PM with the EGRP chart. Thx.

    After 1 1/2 years of carefully monitoring Internet stock-discussion
forums, and mastering  the ins and outs of the Silicon Investor message
boards, Mr. Copia has become a sort of  on-line investing guru. He now
dispenses his hard-won knowledge to novice investors who seek out his advice
on his own message board. By far, he says, the most frequently asked questions
concern on-line lingo.

    "After reading a post on a momentum stock that I'm following, I'll get a
message from a lurker asking, 'What does momo mean?' " he says. "Most ask
questions through a private message because they don't want to appear stupid
in public, and I'm glad to be able to help out behind the scenes."

    Most newcomers to the on-line message boards start out as "lurkers." One
longtime lurker on a Silicon Investor message board for Sanguine Corp., a
Pasadena, Calif., biotechnology company that trades on the Nasdaq OTC Bulletin
Board, recently "uncloaked" to complain about a prominent stock "basher."

    "I feel we are all here lurking and soaking in the good D&D on this
thread, but somebody keeps on disturbing the good D&D," posted Topfuel, the
on-line alias of David G. Smith, a novice investor who resides in Vernon, N.J.

    Learn by Doing
    Mr. Smith spent several months lurking on the Yahoo! Web site
(quote.yahoo.com) and Silicon Investor message boards of stocks that he
follows before making his first post. "I really felt that I couldn't add to
what people were saying because I'm just a machinist, and what do I know about
technology and financials?" he says. But Mr. Smith says that after reading up
on several boards devoted to novice investors and PM-ing questions to  those
he has come across on-line, he feels he has a handle on the some of the more
common phraseology.

    Mr. Copia encourages novice investors to follow Mr. Smith's lead. "A
person who is
serious about on-line investing should spend some time just absorbing the
culture and learning the terminology, and then do the DD before making
investment decisions based on the boards," he says.

    Mr. Goldman of Yamner & Co. agrees that an investor would be a fool to try
to trade on information found in these on-line discussion groups without first
becoming familiar with the native tongue. "I've found that a lot of investors
make costly mistakes when they're not familiar with the proper terminology,"
he says.

    For example, a person might read several enthusiastic posts on an Internet
message board that tout a particular stock, but also make cautious references
to its "float." A  novice investor caught up in the hype might make the
mistake of diving right in and investing in the stock without appreciating the
significance of its float -- the number of  shares publicly held. A stock with
an extremely small float might make selling the shares difficult due to the
illiquidity, particularly when its share price is plunging.

    "There are people out there whom I know for a fact lost their kids'
college money
making wrong moves with penny stocks," Mr. Copia says, "and that just makes me
sick."

    -- Ms. Cullen is money and investing editor for The Wall Street Journal
Interactive
    Edition in New York.

 

 

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