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On The Internet, Nobody Knows Where You Work

I have been writing this column for exactly two years now, and one of the things it has taught me is that people make a lot of assumptions.

Take this column itself. We publish it every day on my firm’s website at www.palisadeshudson.com under the heading, “Current Commentary.” It is then republished in a variety of venues. Google News often picks it up, especially when the column discusses well-known people or companies such as Target or Microsoft. Because Google sends readers directly to our site, we see the traffic in our own statistics; our page views can jump into the thousands, which is a lot for us.

But other sites publish the column (with my permission) under their own banner. People who read it in those places often assume that I work for those outlets or have some other direct relationship with them. Depending upon the context, this either gives me more or less credit than I deserve.

I appear regularly as a contributing author on Wallstreetpit.com, along with scores of others. You have certainly heard of some of them, including Robert Reich, Mark Cuban and, less recently, Carl Icahn. Many others, though less well-known, have impressive credentials in business, government and academia. It is an accomplished, intelligent group that represents a wide range of perspectives. The site’s readership seems to be similar. I am pleased to be included on the roster.

Businessinsider.com also publishes a lot, though not all, of the columns I write. This site was launched by Henry Blodget, a prominent stock analyst during the Internet boom who later settled civil fraud charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission and was barred from working in the securities industry. BI is an edgier, more rough-and-tumble venue. If Wall Street Pit is a lecture hall, Business Insider is a trading floor. Some of my posts languish there, while others can draw many more viewers and comments than we see on our own site. The comments, which are not moderated, can also be rougher and more personal.

Consider this one from a BI reader who calls himself “Paul Bot number One,” in response to a piece last month that reviewed the potential Republican presidential field: “To ignore Ron Paul AND Gary Johnson, while considering seriously Palin and religious maniacs like Sanitation [Santorum] and Huckabee is insulting not only to Paul and Johnson, but to me, a reader of this crack-cocaine news candy rag.”

A more constructive response to a BI-published piece came from Washburn University School of Law. Another column last month mentioned Harold R. Fatzer, the Kansas attorney general who defended school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, went on to become chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court, and received a posthumous award from Washburn. My column noted that the award failed to mention Fatzer’s role in the segregation lawsuit.

“Please note that the page cited above about Justice Fatzer on the Washburn University School of Law website has been updated to reflect his role in the Brown v. Board case,” wrote Martin Wisneski, head of technical services at Washburn University Law Library. “Thanks for bringing this to our attention.”

I only saw this response because I was researching this column. Although I see all the reader comments that are posted on our own website, I do not routinely see what gets posted in places like Wall Street Pit or Business Insider. But, naturally, readers on those sites do not realize this, so a lot of responses that are directed at me personally go unseen.

This may be just as well, since many of those comments are anonymous and reflect more heat than light. Writing this column has made me believe more than ever in the value of having comments pass through a moderator, as they do on our site, and requiring a name to be attached except in unusual circumstances. My associate Amy Laburda edits our posts and moderates the site. She weeds out spam and irrelevant responses, seeks names from anonymous posters whose comments otherwise are appropriate, and then posts whatever passes those filters. Neither she nor I care whether the comments agree or disagree with what we wrote. The result is fewer published replies but, generally, a pretty high quality of discourse.

I was especially glad for this when I waded into a sex-toy controversy that started on my daughter’s college campus and got national attention. My commentary was reposted by well-known sex columnist Dan Savage. Doubtless more people saw the column on his site than on ours, and more commented there, too. I was happy to have the wider exposure, but I liked the quality of the moderated discussion on the Palisades Hudson site more than the profanity-laced and often personal diatribes that were interspersed with other well-reasoned comments on Savage’s unmoderated forum.

The column appears elsewhere, too. An online newspaper in Westchester County, N.Y., the Yonkers Tribune, reprints some commentaries. We submit pieces on relevant topics to the investment news site Morningstar.com, and articles of more general interest to Ezinearticles.com, where I am a “platinum level expert author.” To recognize this status, Ezinearticles.com sent me a very nice coffee mug and leather coaster. This is the sum total of the remuneration I have received for this column since it began two years ago.

Well, all the material remuneration, anyway. I have made new friends through this column and strengthened bonds with old ones. I have been able to share my thoughts with colleagues, clients, acquaintances and others. That is, ultimately, an adviser’s job: to share the best thoughts he or she has about the issues at hand. I have been able to introduce myself and my firm to a wider audience, and to let readers like you get to know me if you choose to do so.

Feeding this beast remains a chore, though a gratifying one. I could not do it without the help I get from Amy and from Eliza Snelling, who left our firm to go to graduate school this year, but who I still dragoon into helping research and draft many of these posts. Wherever you may be reading this, I’ll be back here at Palisades Hudson for the foreseeable future, trying to think and write something worth your time.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s recently updated book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us,” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business.” Larry was also among the authors of the firm’s book The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth.

The views expressed in this post are solely those of the author. We welcome additional perspectives in our comments section as long as they are on topic, civil in tone and signed with the writer's full name. All comments will be reviewed by our moderator prior to publication.

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