Monday, August 24, 2009

Ask About Money Forum Loses the Plot

Well, it's taken some time, but it was bound to happen eventually - and it has come to pass. OverseasCafe has been banned from the Ask About Money (AAM) Overseas Property Forum. We bit our tongues on the state of this section of the much renowned investment forum for a long time - but eventually the dam burst - and the inevitable banning ensued.

It's a pity really, it was quite a good forum once upon a time. People with genuine queries went there in the hopes of getting them answered. People who had put down deposits on properties abroad went there to query why the companies with which they had been dealing had suddenly disappeared - with their money. Those who were having problems getting developers to finish properties to the standard promised made sure that everybody else knew the score. If guaranteed returns were guaranteed to do nothing more than disappear then you would find someone writing about it there. It was used as a forum to enable those most vulnerable in the whole overseas property pyramid scheme - the misfortunate investor at the bottom of the pile - to gain some traction in an otherwise arcane, unregulated and unyielding industry. In its prime it was a vibrant and excellent example of what a forum can be and that to which many fora (forums, take your pick) should aspire.

Then it all changed. Most likely because of the popularity of the forum, agents and developers didn't like having their names in lights for all the wrong reasons - heaven forbid people should know how they actually ran their businesses - so they did what all good companies do - they threatened legal action. It's a natural, and very cheap, reaction to such blatant bad publicity - get your big-shot lawyers to send threatening letters and hey-presto - 99% of forums couldn't be bothered with the hassle and will remove their posts as quickly as they were put up there. And unfortunately AAM was no different.

All this legal traffic eventually became a bit tedious for the Mods at AAM though. For a start they don't really consider overseas property purchases to be 'investment' per se. It's always been treated as the idiot child of the forum - it had to be there but if it was going to cause nuisance then it would be severely reprimanded. No credence was ever given to the fact that overseas property is the least regulated investment in the spectrum, in what has proven to be a pretty miserably regulated industry to begin with, so it perhaps needs more, rather than less, assistance from those in a position of power such as the Great Ones at AAM.

Regardless, the Mods started introducing posting guidelines that essentially strangled the forum to death. Visiting it now is like passing through an old Wild West prospecting town after the gold rush - there is tumbleweed drifting down the deserted streets where once there was the vitality and virility of public opinion and debate. You essentially can't breathe a word about anything worth mentioning on the forum, so anyone of any consequence either got banned or left of their own volition.

In our case the disenchantment with the forum had been growing for some time. Shortly before the banning a completely innocuous thread about a book on the overseas property industry, on which we had posted a number of comments, disappeared completely without a mention of why this should happen. There was certainly nothing in the thread that, even in the newly regulated environment of the AAM overseas property section, could be found in breach. Some Mod obviously decided it simply shouldn't be there - as AAM Mods seem to do.

Our banning came in relation to another relatively innocuous posting that yet another overseas property agent, Property Secrets, had gone to the wall. The poster put in as an aside that: "This overseas forum is itself looking like it is going under! first it was consigned to a sub thread of property investment and now there is virtually no one posting any more. Have we all deserted at the bust? Is there anyone still out there? Where are all the regular posters!"

Well, that was it. The tongue biting could be entertained no longer. The question was out there and it had to be answered, so it was, in a frank and forthright manner (you won't find it there now, of course, the Mods at AAM are much too thin-skinned to leave criticism of the way they run their empire exist online).

We received a severe dressing down from the chief Mod via Private Message (PM) - apparently all this sort of stuff must be done in private, no dirty laundry washing in public. We sought to disagree with said chief Mod's interpretation of what the general public should be entitled to expect from the most powerful financial services forum in the country. We offered to have the debate on the issue publicly, which wasn't even entertained, and we were accused (as you'll see on the picture accompanying this blog) of being offensive. I can assure you we were not offensive in any way, but we did have an opinion we wished to express. Being offensive in AAM parlance is, apparently, speaking your mind and this is not to be entertained under any circumstance. It is an environment that seems uncomfortably close to the Communist ethos of suffocating the truth rather than the Democracy one would expect to find embraced by any forum seeking to deliver worthy debate on the topics that matter.

In any case, that is the price of having an opinion on AAM it would appear. It is somewhat of a standing joke in Irish forum communities that most other forums were started because people were banned from AAM for expressing an opinion that differed from that of the AAM Mods. Hopefully some good will come to pass from this incident and someone will set up an overseas property forum that will actually serve the community rather than being subservient to the opinions and desires of those who set it up.

It is a great shame though, AAM had the ideal platform, and for a time, served the overseas property community very well.

AAM Overseas Property Forum - RIP 2009


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