Online Investors, What's Your Wish List? Tell What Works

Plus, more on the MSN tracker, a portfolio treat at E*Trade and the debate on ease of use.
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This New Year,

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investors are probably wishing for a rising market.

But why waste a New Year's wish on something you can't control?

Instead, think about the changes you'd like to see in online investing sites and services. Maybe you can't make these improvements happen yourself, but if we ankle bite together, we might just get some results.

Consider your broker. What services, discounts, features do you wish it offered that it doesn't? How about stock research sites? Market news sites? Message boards? Fund sites? Stock screeners? (That's a

topic What Works addressed recently.) What about IPO sites, options sites, bond sites? Where do they fall short? What could they be doing better?

Please write to me with improvements that would help you become a better, more efficient investor. As 2000 showed, we all need all the help we can get. Email

whatworks@thestreet.com with your wish list and please include your full name.

Portfolio POVs

Meanwhile, What Works continues its portfolio tracker series, with articles now posted on

real-time account updates at brokerages and

online trackers at MSN MoneyCentral, Quicken.com and Yahoo!. Next topic up: real-time decision-making tools, such as streaming quotes (no refresh button needed) and real-time intraday charts.

In this week's

evaluation of online portfolio trackers, What Works gave MSN MoneyCentral's tracker the nod overthe competition. Judging by the mail, most readers who've used MSN are satisfied. (I have yet to hear from Quicken.com or Yahoo! defenders since the article went up. Any

takers? And I don't mean company employees!)

I did receive a few MSN complaints (beyond the fact that its tracker, like Quicken.com's, doesn't have real-time quotes -- a popular grievance). The first concerns access. You either need a Hotmail email account or an MSN "passport" account to use the MSN tracker. Scott Kleekamp, a budget analyst in Boston, reports being unable to access his portfolio because, he was informed, his Hotmail account expired due to "inactivity." "Why we need to log into Hotmail to see our portfolios is beyond me," says Kleekamp.

MSN explains that users either have to log on to their Hotmail account at least once every 90 days, or their portfolio manager at least once every 180 days to keep their portfolio data active. If they don't, they may have to "restore" data using the "restore portfolio wizard." The data is not lost, it just needs to be restored. MSN acknowledges, however, that recently there was a blip in the system. Chris Jolley, MSN Money Central's lead product manager, says: "Hotmail was not recognizing when you log in or authenticate using MoneyCentral. He

the user wasn't recognized when he should have been." Jolley says the problem has been fixed.

Meanwhile, two readers report problems with the portfolio value function.

Pete Duncan found the "cash balance" feature of MSN's tracker unreliable. The cash balance is supposed to change based on your trading activity (essentially, if you have $100 and buy $30 worth of stock you should have $70 in your cash balance). "The unresolved problem that occurred is very serious for anyone who might rely on this system to track important data such as a real portfolio." Oliver Ruppert from Luxembourg who still uses the MSN tracker says it "never calculates my portfolio performance correctly. It may be a problem with cash in- and outflows, not sure."

When told of these details, Jolley responded that MSN was not aware of any general problem and would "need to work through any specific issues with the individual(s)." He urges readers to use MSN's

email support. (There is no phone support.)

Has anyone else experienced these problems? They may be isolated incidents. Please email me at

whatworks@thestreet.com.

E*Trade's New Tracker Treat

Ruppert, our reader from Luxembourg, wrote in raving about a new portfolio tracking feature at E*Trade called ME*dex. The tool lets you graph daily, monthly and quarterly performance of your portfolio again any of 13 indices. As of Jan. 1, users will be able to track year-to-date performance as well, according to spokesman Tim Whitehead. Also, you can track your historical and cumulative stock and cash value back through April 1, 2000.

Sounds similar to the tool MSN has on its tracker in "portfolio review" under "analysis, as we

wrote about earlier. Nice to see a broker make the improvement, since brokers don't usually boast the best portfolio tools.

Ease of Use Views

Last week I asked, just how easy should an online tool be? The reader debate rages on. Ironically, it's the techies who are insisting on usability. Shekhar Borde, a software engineer from Cupertino, Calif., reveals "techies in general pride themselves on 'investigating' and 'discovering' obscure features that are not easily discerned by the casual user." He contends that flexibility and power do not have to come at the expense of ease of use.

But Keith Newcomb of Brentwood, Tenn. says a good tool is worth the trouble. A financial professional, he has a Bloomberg terminal (much more snazzy and $$ than many Web sites). You have to "memorize a vast array of coded abbreviations and commands and figure out the nuances of how to prioritize the layers of desired criteria," he says. But Newcomb isn't complaining. "I don't mind scaling a steep learning curve to harness a powerful tool."

Any other views on ease of use? Please send them, along with other concerns and comments on online sites and services, to

whatworks@thestreet.com, and please include your full name.