If you're a person who always walks on the sunny side of the street, looks on the bright side and never says a bad word about anyone, you may as well stop reading right here. None of these sites set out to be mean, but they do offer ample opportunity to indulge in the bitter pleasures of gossip about life inside America's corporations, including the investment industry. Of course, some of the chatter comes from disgruntled former workers with axes to grind. And some, especially during the height of the market mania, from investors and executives with obvious vested interests. However, that doesn't make it any less fun to read.
What's more, you can often find valuable info on corporate shenanigans. A study by two Central Michigan University professors recently brought to light anonymous Yahoo.com message board postings that challenged Enron's accounting as early as March 2000. “Dig deep behind the Enron financials and you'll see a growing mountain of off-balance-sheet debt which will eventually swallow this company,” one message said. “There's a reason they layer so many subsidiaries and affiliates. Be careful.” By April of last year, one posting predicted the demise of Enron and jail time for its executives.
Yahoo!'s Message Boards
Yahoo's finance message boards are largely day-trader fluff, but you can find occasional nuggets about many top companies, including the Enron warnings cited above. Most inside views are posted from deep within the corporate machine. Still, the descriptions are occasionally vivid and true to life. Take this recent rundown of one wirehouse's training program: “If you don't bring in a certain level of assets by month six in the training program, the fat bastard gets your accounts and, well, I guess I don't have to say what happens to you.” To hunt further, you may want to look at the clubs/groups section of the Yahoo! empire as well. While most of the groups seem to be for Romanian business analysts or get-rich-quick guys trying to sell Alaskan shopping centers, there may be a group that interests you. If not — and it's a very slow day — you might try creating the 1,458th group. Starting a group appears to be a quick and fairly painless process (although the up-to-50 friends you're allowed to spam with an invitation may not agree).
CNET News.com: Investor's Channel
If you're not quite ready to devote your entire day to nursing grudges, CNET, the tech news site, offers a screen that gives you access to postings from five of the leading message boards. A number of sites trawl message boards, but CNET's message screen is distinguished by a clean interface that gives you an up-to-the-minute look at messages pulled from every site, organized into a single column. To get there, type in your company's ticker on the investor home page and then when the quote comes up, click on “messages.”
For a bird's-eye view of a company, go to the SEC. For the worm's eye, the Vault is a pretty good source. The perspective offered on this career site's message boards seems to be primarily from disgruntled people near the bottom of the food chain, but some messages contain views you might not get anywhere else. Here's a typical sample: “Just a warning to everyone from an insider — [Securities firm's technology group]…has had the highest analyst turnover rate in the last two years probably out of all the groups [at the company]. Don't ever choose this group!” There's also less venomous but potentially more useful material to be had: posts in which people exchange such details as the hiring routines of various firms and typical pay scales.
Dilbert isn't gossip, but you could argue that in his comic strip on corporate life, Scott Adams has taken the quality of office gossip — the anger, the frustration, the bitterness, the sense of entrapment in an absurd world — and distilled it to its sour essence. A new strip is posted every day, and archives are maintained. After a particularly bad staff meeting it may be just the thing to convince you not to take the latest lunacy from the executive suite too seriously.