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2HRS2GO: An opinion leader speaks out

COMMENTARY -- I wonder how many people recently received an e-mail that started out along these lines:

"Hello,

"Your messages in Yahoo stock market discussions make a difference. On a scale from 1 to 100, your "opinion leader" rating is 86. That's why we sent you this e-mail. And we hope you're wonder (sic) what the heck we're talking about, so that you'll read on.

"We know you are an opinion leader in stock discussions because we've analyzed them in depth. We looked at all of the discussions for the last two years for the Nasdaq-100 (gigabytes of data), to measure a number of factors, such as how much the stock price went up or down after each person posted a message. We want to know who the most influential people are. You are one of them.

"More than 400,000 people posted messages on the boards we analyzed. We don't give a hoot what most of them think. You, on the other hand, we very much care about. You make a difference. For your sake, we hope that this means you've been able to make money in the market. But that's not why we sent this mail. We'll have more to say later about how our opinion leader ratings work as stock market predictors..."

The message came from a private company called Opion, whose founders include a former chief technology officer from Network Solutions -- now owned by VeriSign (Nasdaq: VRSN) -- and an ex-senior product manager for Verity (Nasdaq: VRTY). Opion is a "new, unannounced" outfit, apparently specializing in gathering data and plotting trends from message boards and their ilk: "Capturing the voice of electronic communities," proclaims Opion's website.

That's all I can tell you about Opion, because I haven't heard back from the company yet. Attempts to leave a message with CEO David Holtzman met with the following: "This mailbox is not initialized and cannot accept messages. Please try again later."

I did leave a message with Nick Arnett, vice-president of business development. That he hasn't called back before this column's deadline isn't necessarily his fault -- 2HRS2GO is written in a fairly narrow time window, Arnett is no doubt a busy person, and besides, today is Columbus Day.

It doesn't really matter. Like Opion, I don't much give a hoot about the details, unless they plan to file for an IPO. But I am puzzled as to how my message board alias represents an opinion leader, because I don't recall giving out many opinions on those boards. Why should I? I do that enough in this space.

It's been several months since I slapped anything on the finance message boards of Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO), and I've posted perhaps a dozen times total. Most of my messages were self-promotion: if I wrote a piece about Yahoo!, I might have clicked over to the YHOO board, and posted a tidbit with a link to the story.

In other words, spam. Hey, at least I didn't offer any get-rich-quick schemes.

(I can admit all this now, because I don't do it anymore. No need to, since ZDII landed a distribution deal that puts our content on Yahoo! Finance. Most of you reading this probably hit the link from there.)

Opion's message to me mentioned the title of a spam post of mine from nearly 11 months ago. So based on a handful of cheap marketing posts, I am an "opinion leader," one whose voice is worth polling for other matters:

"...We figure that if you're influential in stock market discussions, you're probably also influential in other areas. There's a presidential election underway, so we'd like your opinions about the candidates. We're concerned about maintaining high ethics in our business, so we have some simple questions about Internet privacy. The whole survey form shouldn't take more than a minute to fill out and we'll be happy to share the results with you.

"Go to our site and make your voice count. Everyone with an opinion will be entered in our random drawing to win an Opion leader t-shirt. Since your privacy is important to us, winners will be contacted by e-mail to discover where you prefer to have your prize sent to."

Wow, a T-shirt. I couldn't turn that down, so I filled out the survey of generic questions:

  • Whom do you plan to vote for in the U.S. presidential election? (Undecided)

  • Do you consider yourself likely to vote on November 7th? (Yes)

  • Would you speak more freely on the Internet if your privacy were protected by a pseudonym (pen name) that cannot be traced back to you? (No, but I'm paid to speak freely, so I'm probably not the best person to ask)

  • Some online retailers are using Dynamic Pricing Models, a strategy that gauges shoppers' desire, estimates their ability to pay, and then adjusts prices accordingly. Do you think this violates an individual's privacy? (No, but I still think it's a lousy way to treat consumers, and anyway, what the heck does this have to do with the presidential election?)

  • If you are currently using one or more pseudonyms (pen names), what are your reasons? (I don't post on message boards anymore, but when I did, I used a pseudonym. It just seemed like the thing to do.)

And there you have it: the utterances of an opinion leader. Hear my voice, movers and shakers, and tremble before its majesty.

My fellow influencers -- you posters of insults and flames, you pump-and-dump artists, you cheap advertisers for financial websites, you purveyors of "Cash Now" and "Never Work Again" pyramids, you pushers of "Make Millions" penny stock trading schemes -- yes, you, my influential spamming peers, all of you should exercise your rhetorical muscle to sway causes down the correct path.

Be sure to share your influence with friends, relatives and spouses. Show them that you're an opinion leader. Take it from me, it's fun -- I haven't heard my wife laugh so loud in a long time. 22GO>