The rise of free Internet message boards hasn't been a boon to everyone -- and one of the victims seems to be Silicon Investor.

The subscription-based investor message board has long been considered a sane destination in the arguably insane world of Internet stock message boards. But as retail investing grows, and more individual investors head to the Web for stock tips, it doesn't help all the players in associated industries. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Silicon Investor is losing traffic to free discussion forums such as those on Raging Bull and Yahoo! ( YHOO) Finance.

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When Silicon Investor was launched in August 1995 by Jeff and Brad Dryer, two brothers from Kansas City, it quickly became a meeting ground for traders who preferred SI's members-only atmosphere to the anonymous, rough and tumble, spam-filled Raging Bull and Yahoo! sites. By 1997 it was at its peak, being the place to go to gain insight into the hottest stocks of the day. In 1998 the three-person operation -- the Dryers plus a "Webmistress" -- was snapped up by Go2Net ( GNET), a Seattle-based network.

But the shine seems to be off for Silicon Investor.

"All of a sudden there are fewer posts," says Mary Calhoun, president of the Calhoun Consulting Group and a frequenter of the penny stock boards. "I used to have sometimes 500 posts a day on my bookmarks, but now some days I'll have 50."

Silicon Investor wouldn't release numbers. But TheStreet.com took a count of messages logged for hot stocks, and compared them with those on Raging Bull and Yahoo!. This rather unscientific survey suggests that the lion's share of posts in hot stocks recently has been to Silicon Investor's free competitors.

CMGI ( CMGI), for example, is always talked about, regardless of news. Posters headed for Raging Bull on Feb. 1, where it got 641 posts. Yahoo! got 348 posts the same day and Silicon Investor's CMGI board a measly 36.

Even when stock talk increases, it seems posters are steering away from Silicon Investor. Last Thanksgiving, remote access card maker Ariel ( ADSP) saw a mind-boggling run-up. After closing at 10 3/4 on Wednesday and reaching an intraday high of 57 on Friday, the stock spurred a flurry of activity on the message boards. Yahoo! received 5,581 posts on the Ariel forum between Nov. 24 and Nov. 26, Raging Bull had 1,132 posts during the same period, while Silicon Investor had a mere 404.

When eToys ( ETYS) stock declined some 20% on Jan. 27 on a weak earnings report, a negligible six messages were posted to the Silicon Investor eToys thread, plus a sprinkling of another 10 on other threads, totaling 16. Yahoo!, on the other hand, received 454 posts and Raging Bull 198.

SI Webmistress Jill Munden concedes that growth isn't as strong as it once was. "Posts haven't been growing exponentially like they used to be," she says. Munden notes that the site has always had fewer, but more quality posts, in part because of its "country club" atmosphere.

Bryan Burdick, managing director at SI, has a slightly different story. "On a particular ticker maybe posts are dying down for a number of reasons, but on an aggregate basis our growth is very strong," he says.

But if the numbers are so low for the most buzzed-about stocks, then the question remains -- where are members "aggregating"? Not on Silicon Investor.

Granted, Silicon Investor's discussion boards aren't as ticker-based as those of Raging Bull and Yahoo!, and it has never enjoyed the volume that the two free sites have. SI gets about 20,000 posts a day and has 200,000 members, who pay $200 for a lifetime membership, or $60 for a six-month membership. Raging Bull averages 55,000 posts a day, and has 440,000 registered members. Yahoo! doesn't tally its message board figures. Even so, the numbers for SI speak for themselves.

Some Silicon Investor members suspect that all of the boards are quieter because of recent cases against message board posters who criticize companies, such as that against Floyd Schneider, by Ziasun ( ZSUN), a stock he'd been slamming on the message boards. TheStreet.com covered the story . "I think people in general are reacting to all the lawsuits," says Jeffrey Mitchell, a Silicon Investor member who was involved in a suit filed by Business Wire after he and two other Silicon Investor members set up a fake Web site as an April Fool's prank last year. The case was settled out of court last December.

Silicon Investor, known for spawning celebrity stock pickers, may also be losing traffic to sites set up by characters like Tokyo Joe, Anthony Elgindy and Barbara J. Simon, who built up followings on Silicon Investor then started private, paid sites.

Or it may just be a case of fading glory in the fickle world of Internet message boards.

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