There are nearly as many "best of" lists for online investor services as there are actual investing sites these days. But rather than provide frank assessments, assessments that are -- heaven forbid -- based on actual use, the rosters heap on the praise for a site's "interactivity," "in-depth" analysis, and "top-notch" tools.
Typical site reviews don't review. They highlight quotes, company profiles and portfolio trackers but don't say whether they're any better than what you're probably already getting from your broker or from portals like
. If a tracker boasts some unique twist, the review rarely says whether it pays to switch.
They praise things like stock tools and news wires as "cool features" without mentioning just how commonplace these services have become.
They rarely come out and say a site stinks.
Most perplexing of all: Most reviews don't ask readers -- investors who actually use these sites -- what
think of them.
In short, reporting about Web financial offerings is pretty disappointing.
We Want to Do More for You
Imagine if a writer were to team up with scores of online investors in a kind of reportorial site lab, where together they ferreted out the best and worst investor sites and services.
That's what we intend to do in a new
. Each week, we'll select a different topic -- from
IPO access to real-time portfolio trackers to fundamental analysis and charting services to economic data sites -- and we'll size up which sites and services really work.
Who's we? Me, the reporter/writer, and you the reader/investor. Together, we'll divide and conquer:
You are the field soldiers, the ones actually using these sites to research stock ideas, place trades, select mutual funds, manage portfolios, track taxes, etc. With your own money in play, you are unabashed critics. You'll help choose which types of sites and services we'll focus on. (You're the investors, so you know your needs best.) Then you'll evaluate them. You'll report your findings back to
I run the war room. My job is to sift through the intelligence you deliver to me via email and phone. I check in with firm reps, get answers to questions and do plenty of investigating myself -- the kind a reporter has the time, inclination and responsibility to do. I kick the tires, test the food, play guinea pig -- you name the cliche. I pull it together into articles that will help steer readers away from the Net's slew of useless sites and services and highlight the features that can help your investing.
What Works Ground Rules
For you, the reader: When you write in to email@example.com, you'll send me your full name so that I can contact you privately and confidentially with follow-up questions.
For me, the writer: I won't reveal your name in the column (or to anyone) without your permission.
For staff of companies and sites we're writing about: You'll identify yourself and firm when writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. You'll get a fair shake. Just please don't try to disguise yourself as a cheerleading reader.
Together, we decipher What Works and what doesn't.
We can pull this venture off in a way that dead-tree newspapers and magazines, even TV, never could, for a few reasons:
First, we're online. We can exchange information easily and quickly via email.
Second, we've got mass. Readers of
-- hundreds of thousands of you -- find yourselves involuntarily cast in the role of beta testers for the reams of services that investing sites churn out. Plus,
readers generally don't have to be invited to be opinionated. Which is good, because the more detailed and pointed you are in your evaluations, the better able we'll be to name names -- good and bad. To this end, please tell your friends what we are trying to accomplish -- the more folks who contribute, the better!
Third, you are a "consumer population" that companies such as brokerages, stock research and personal finance services care about. If we single out What Works, and what
, we may get these folks' attention and ideally some improvements in response.
So that's the concept in its original incarnation. Does it need tweaking? Speak up, because this is a true joint venture. Please tell me what you think is going to make this new column, What Works,
. Email me at
What Works in Wireless Trading
To get going, we'll look first at wireless trading. If you've been following the marketing blitz around wireless lately, you may have the impression that buying stocks over a Palm, pager, or Web-enabled phone is as easy as flipping TV channels.
"So easy to use, so much access," boasts
of its PocketBroker wireless service in a recent full-page
New York Times
is at the forefront of the wireless revolution," said that broker's prez in August. "The future of wireless financial services is happening right now, and
is again leading ... to enhance access and value for the customer," claimed an E*Trade exec in April.
Sounds, well, revolutionary. But is it? Are its purported conveniences really worth the extra effort and costs involved? That's what we'll figure out.
Have you tried wireless trading and tracking, and what have you found? Please email to
email@example.com about the following, and please include your full name:
What broker do you use?
What wireless device(s) do you use, do you like it, and why?
Which wireless features (trading, checking order status, charting, news, etc.) that your broker offers do you find most useful?
Which wireless features would be useful if only they worked better?
What wireless features would you like your broker to add?
How reliable is this technology compared to PC trading?
What's the customer service experience been like?
What else should other investors know?
Next week we'll have our results on wireless trading, and we'll also start our next topic. Some topics in the works are "create-your-own-fund" sites like
; best sites for short-selling and finding overvalued stocks; and portfolio planning sites, like
. Please write in to
firstname.lastname@example.org with other topics you'd like covered in future columns.
A La Carte
Each week, in addition to our main topic, What Works will offer a few other features.
CUSTOMER SERVICE HERO/HORROR
Did you ever find yourself feeling deeply grateful to an investing customer service rep, or, more likely, deeply frustrated? Write in your story to What Works, where each week we'll dub a Customer Service Hero and tell a Customer Service Horror Story.
WHAT WORKS BOOK CLUB
Investment books are nearly as plentiful as Web sites in this seemingly ageless bull market. Let's select some new titles along with some classics, set a time frame and start reviewing these books. We'll come up with a What Works Top Titles list.
Email in some books you'd like us to read.
WHAT WORKS ACCORDING TO...
Each week in What Works, we're going to ask a market pro, pundit or otherwise prominent market type about one or two of his or her favorite (or least favorite) sites. We're starting this week with
, CEO of
MetaMarkets.com. Luskin has helped the individual investor cause by running a mutual fund, the
, that discloses its holdings online in real time. Below are his picks for What Works.
But first, email in names of some fancy folks you'd like What Works to quiz about their sites or service likes and dislikes at
That's it for this week. Let's get to work!