Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Rating the Gem/Jewelry Forums

Rating the Gem/Jewelry Forums

by Richard W. Wise, G.G.

©2006

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall”

The Jefferson Airplane

The Internet is a fund of information. And, as some say, the Internet is free; grass roots democracy, freedom of speech in action. You can say anything about anything. The fact is, this so-called freedom is somewhat illusory. Freedom of speech implies the freedom to be heard. Without that what have you got or as the British philosopher Berkeley once asked: If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it fall, does it make any noise”?

The freedom to be heard, aye that is the issue! Recently the search engine, Google, kowtowed to the China’s Communist government, agreeing to restrict content available through Google’s Chinese search engine. What do you suppose a Chinese citizen will get when he googles “free speech?” What a perfect segue into a discussion of online gem forums:

Gem/Jewelry Forums have been sprung up all over the net like brown fungi after a summer rain. The major forums are; Pricescope, Diamondtalk, Gemologyonline and Pearl-Guide. Each of these sites claim to be online communities advocating the rights of the consumer and promoting a free exchange of ideas and information. Some are part of for profit websites and some are non-profit. Are they really all they claim to be? What’s a consumer to believe? The quick answer, like fungi some are edible and others will upset your tummy, lets try and separate the mushrooms from their less palatable cousins, the toadstools.

”When men on the chessboard
get up and tell you where to go
And you've just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice I think she'll know”

Size and Rank:

Of the four forums under review, Pricescope, according to Alexa ranks number at 35,120; way ahead number two, Diamondtalk at 102,139. Pearl-Guide is a close third at 113,210 followed by the newest forum Gemologyonline with an overall site rank of 521,632. Rank, however, is a bit misleading. All four of the forums under review declined in rank over the past three months and that may be a seasonal anomaly, vacations and so forth. Reach, a measure of forum users per million actual Internet users may be better. Pricescope’s reach is 30 users per million, Diamondtalk is second at 9.5 followed by Pearl-Guide at 7.5 and Gemologyonline at 1.5.

The Shill Factor:

Fairly early in the Internet game some genius discovered that you could build a commercial website, add a discussion forum and herd in a lot of traffic. Not only that but all those little doggies corralled into the forum would generate lots of ah content which would in turn, raise the website’s listing in the search engines. Of course a lot of the “content” would be questionable at best and odiferous at worst but either way it would do the job, sort of like using cow-pies to generate electricity, well if it works, it’s gotta be good, isn’t that the first rule of the marketplace?

Problem: open up a website and lots of people will join up, some with agendas different from those who pay to play. Solution: Add some “community rules” and a moderator, an all-powerful Wizard who determines who gets to say what. The what, may revolve around what the site is selling. Long story short: forums can pretty much be divided into two broad categories; true communities and shill-sites, the former interested in a free exchange of ideas, the latter interested in using the forum as a lure to rope in the unsuspecting and covert them into buyers.

Diamondtalk.com:

www,Diamondtalk.com personifies the term: shill site. Better not voice an independent opinion on Diamondtalk. I found myself defending one poor pilgrim who had the audacity to disagree with one of the paying “experts”. Immediately the vultures descended and proceeded to rip large gobbets of warm flesh from the soft parts of the poor pilgrim’s body. Diamondtalk is a for profit enterprise with two classes of members, those who pay and those who don’t and if you ain’t one of the first, say something nice or better, just shut-up and buy!

The paying “experts” and the owners of Diamondtalk use handles to hide their identity. Looked the website up on Alexa.com, the site is owned by a post office box and after several inquires I found a rather shadowy figure named Nathan. Tried to reach Nathan for six months, got one returned phone call. I was busy, my secretary took the call, he rudely refused to give his full name or a call back number. Checked with one of the paying members, he didn’t know Nathan’s last name either.

The moderator is the censor at the gate. He decides what gets posted and what does not. Some state their names but others like a medieval executioner, hide behind a mask or “handle”. What are the people at Diamondtalk trying to hide? Most us evaluate information based on the person giving it and his credentials. When I suggested that to the moderator, I was told to “believe and trust” him or her, that the forum members on Diamondtalk were smart enough to evaluate information without any of that.

Diamondtalk doesn’t want outside experts, particularly those who offer dissenting opinions. Though they have not banned me, my posts are “monitored”, reviewed before they are posted and my signature is disallowed because I list myself as a graduate gemologist and author. If I type in my credentials, they are deleted. Links to free online chapters of my book were also deleted. Credentials are termed “borderline spam” on Diamondtalk.

My advice: A real toadstool. If you value civility or are looking for a free and unbiased exchange of information, forgetabout Diamondtalk.

Pricescope.com

www.Pricescope.com is the 800 pound gorilla of the gem forums, the highest rated gem/jewelry forum on the internet. It is a commercial website and its professional members sell gems and jewelry. It has, in the past, posted some excellent content and has a lively forum with several knowledgeable members.

The owner is one Leonid Charny who also serves as moderator and he does not hide behind a handle. Leonid who styles himself a consumer advocate is something of a mother hen and like all mothers he has his favorite offspring. If you misbehave you will get a scolding from Leonid and if you persist you will be banned. Leonid is always alert for “commercial” postings meaning those postings that are not from people who pay to post commercial messages.

About six months ago, I was banned from Pricescope for mentioning and posting a link to a new non-profit forum. For Leonid the true search for knowledge can only take place on Pricescope. The mere mention of a world outside can get you banned and many have been. The pounding of boots on the stairway at midnight, a knock on the door and you disappear. Unlike most I did not go quietly with my tail tucked between my legs, I announced my banning on several other forums. Recently, Mr. Charny banned two members simply for mentioning my name.

Pricescope’s average reach has declined 27% in the past three months. Due, I think, to the moderator’s quixotic and heavy handed policies, many of the more knowledgeable members, miners, cutters and gemologists and knowledgeable civilians have either opted out or been banned. For those members wondering about absent friends, they have probably been banned. As a result the level of discourse has declined and the forum has become a bit of a bore. The most popular thread in the Colored Stone sub-forum this past year: “Show me your colored stone eye-candy.”

My advice: You can get some good information on Pricescope but if you are in the biz or are looking for a truly free exchange of ideas and opinions without big brother constantly looking over your shoulder, you will find Pricescope frustrating. Pricescope still has a few interesting and knowledgeable members but it is in decline with fewer and fewer talking more and more and saying less and less. Not yet a toadstool but it looks like they are working on it.

Pearl-Guide.com

www.Pearl-Guide.com ranks just behind Diamondtalk in overall rank. Given that its content is restricted to pearls, that is quite impressive and the reasons are readily apparent. The site is owned by Jeremy Shepherd who also owns Pearlparadise.com a very successful commercial site. The owner also serves as moderator but he doesn’t have much to do, very little content is removed. Occasional commercial references are tolerated. Links to other sites are welcome. I have not heard of anyone being banned at Pearl-Guide.

The first thing that strikes you about Pearl-Guide is its chutzpah. Despite the fact that the owner sells pearls, little or nothing is off-limits on pearl guide. All the dirty laundry of the pearl business is aired on the forum. One of the most active and knowledgeable members, a non-professional, irreverently refers to cultured pearls as “pearl-plated beads.” A great community, gemologists, pearl farmers, amateur beaders and civilians, all are welcome. Its an interesting mix and the content is stimulating. Pearl-Guide works because it is as advertised, truly free and open with a remarkable level of civility despite occasionally strong differences of opinion.

My Advice: An edible mushroom, if you are a professional and take a bite out of this one baby, you may have to rethink your inventory mix. If pearls are your thing, you can just lurk and learn, bookmark it, Danno!

Gemologyonline.com

www.Gemologyonline.com has only been up for about a year. The forum is similar in format to Pricescope and Diamondtalk with sub-forums covering diamonds, colored stones and various gemological and general topics. The owner is Barbara Voltaire is a professional gemologist with a Graduate Gemologist (GG) and is also a Fellow of the Gemological Association of Great Britain (FGA). The moderator, “snizzy”, is a recent G.G. Both use handles but everyone knows who they are.

Many of the “Brotherhood of the Banned”, folks who were booted off Pricescope or Diamondtalk or simply quit in disgust have found a home at Gemologyonline and the forum is all the richer for it. It is s true community with an excellent mix of professionals, miners, cutters, gemologists, jewelers and civilians.

The site is dominated by a group of young eager gemologists. The content is excellent. Recently several of the members cooperated on a thread about andesine, the current darling of the shopping channels. Gems were photographed and tested and the findings posted. The result: absolutely the most authoritative piece on this gem family available anywhere, just the antidote for the misconceptions and outright consumer disinformation currently being retailed on T.V.

My Advice: Deliciously edible fungi, easily digestible. If you are a consumer with a question and a willingness to learn or a professional with a desire to mix with other enthusiastic gemologists, Gemologyonline is the forum for you.

There are several other forums online, www.diamondchitchat.com, www.buyingadiamond.com and www.yourgemologist.com. and i’m sure I have missed a few. The first two are relatively small and the third is owned by the International School of Gemology (ISG) and its focus is mainly on its students though it is open to others.

The Future:

When logic and proportion
Have fallen softly dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's 'Off with her head!'
Remember what the Dormouse said.
Feed your Head, feed your Head!

Heraclites, the ancient Greek philosopher said it best: “You can’t step into the same river twice.” Everything is in flux, change is the only constant. Had he lived today rather than the 5th century BC, he could have been describing the internet. If you go by Alexa ratings all the forums are in decline. What does that mean, damned if I know! Perhaps a new type of information delivery is just over the horizon. One thing is sure, knowledge is power and whatever the source, people will always attempt to restrict information for their own purposes. After all, the gem business has believed that the ignorant buyer is the best buyer for two thousand years. The real challenge is, as always, separating the wheat from the chaff. Hope this helps. Stay tuned…

23 comments:

Maurice Oppenheimer said...

Hello Richard,

I finally got to your new blog site. It is very good and informative. I am not one of the banned from Pricescope but have noticed a decline in the value of the information given to more of an "Oh that is beautiful" (pat on the back).

Gemologyonline.com is more informative to me right now and has a wonderfull group of moderators and members that are not afraid to tell you their opinion and let up know their latest findings. As a novice gem collector I appreciate the information given and the experiance of others.

On another note I have learned alot from your book "Secrets Of The Gem Trade". I bought it when it was first published and reread it often when buying a new stone that is covered in the book

Robyn Hawk said...

I think that the increase in online and network jewelry shoppers should be telling us that while jewelry and gems are still popular...the snooty, know it all jeweler is passe'.

I totally agree with your opinions on the sites listed and I really enjoy the conversation on gemologyonline.com.

As Maurice mentioned...your book is a wealth of information. It is the first industry guide that I didn't automatically put on the shelf to pull down when in need of a reference guide...I actually sat down and read it cover-to-cover. It was written in such an interesting manner.

Again, Richard thanks for your insight and your willingness to share it.

Robyn Hawk
========================
Gemsdb, Marketing Rep., USA
http://www.gemsdb.com
========================

Ben said...

Richard,

The Alexa ratings may not be an accurate source of information to quote from in this article. The traffic measurements from Alexa only provide data for those users that have visited the gem forums that use the Alexa Toolbar. This is very small and limited. Reach per million users is one of the most inaccurate metrics Alexa provides, because its just about impossible for them to measure it with such limited data per site. So using the data that Alexa provides to draw conclusions about popularity is deceptive and confusing to your readers.

Instead of using Alexa, rather when measuring forum success look at length of time since inception, number of posts, average posts per day, hour, minute, number of registered users, how many users online at once, most users ever online, and generally the quality of the posts.

Anonymous said...

Hi Richard,

I have been recently banned from Pricescope, for my first infraction, if you will. Not only has my ability to Login been eliminated, I can no longer view the forum page from my computer.

I found their approach to be very heavy handed, as you say. My infraction was unintentional. I received a very brash email from pricescope, no name, and when they, it, whatever, decided that they did not care for my response, I was blocked.

I have written a rebuttal to them, it, whatever, but really do not except to elicit a response.

KR in Pennsylvania

Diamond said...

Hi there, just wanted to let you know that you missed Diamond Review at http://www.diamond.info. I would put us at #3 behind DT and PS

We're small, but we like it that way. :-)

Mike D. said...

On pricescope be sure not to mention the inferior product whiteflash.com carries. It will surely get you banned instantly. In the pictures on the website the rings are hollowed out and the princess cut channel sets have gaps in between the stones.

Evelyn said...

Richard,

I'm a young entreprenuer trying to establigh my jewelry business. I would love to know of a forum specifically for the trade where I would be able to find answers for my questions on finished jewelry and legal questions. Is gemologyonline.com the most suitable? It seems more of a gemologist site. Please inform. Thanks!

Adam smith said...

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Anonymous said...

It is with a chill, Richard, that I ran across this essay today - maybe I read it when you first penned it, but perhaps it was an abstract notion for me at the time.

"The fact is, this so-called freedom is somewhat illusory. Freedom of speech implies the freedom to be heard."

When that freedom to be heard is taken away by what appears to be a professional and educational gemology venue, what is to be said of that venue when it skews the picture painted for its unwary and uninformed community? It invalidates the stated goal, its premise, that of gemological exchange of ideas and learning.

I've reached the mid-century mark without ever having to experience a "banning" of any kind - not even in East Berlin of the 70's - that is, until living in Thailand where I found some Internet access denied on grounds of it having published anti-government stories at some point (odd that that government was at the time ousted, but the restriction stayed in place)- a cultural learning moment and a good wake-up nudge for an American guest in another country.

What is not realized by forum communities and by the non-members reading along, is that postings may or may not be what the original author penned - they can be altered or posts deleted from within a "thread" which effectively changes the thesis of the author. A poster may be able to go back and edit or delete an entry, but the software makes a visible note of it so that a reader can take that into consideration. A forum owner or moderator has the power to make any changes at will without any visible record of it -- at any time. They also have the ability to change the poster's screen name (to something with dubious connotations), even when that person has gone by their real name -effectively a slander of sorts. Of course once banned, one does not have power to respond to continued discourse or comment on what has been changed. Vincent Pardieu wrote quite a thought provoking entry on a forum regarding how a seemingly innocent post can come back to haunt you in a serious way years afterward... what if you can't get to that post to change it as he was able to do? Well, there are heavy handed ways to do it, but who would have thought it on a gemological forum of all things?!

"One thing is sure, knowledge is power and whatever the source, people will always attempt to restrict information for their own purposes."

It came as quite a surprise to be banned myself without warning and without explanation other than a very terse and unprofessional note. This after only writing technological and science issues relating to gemology. A review of my writing by noted authors and gemologists, and a not few academics in the gem industry and beyond, found nothing to fault and they were as mystified as myself. I fortunately kept a log of all that I wrote as posts and private messages -- along with responses -I valued the input of forum members and took the time to archive it. I would urge all members of any forums to do the same. As a gemologist, I might also say cyber-gemology isn't at all the real thing..... the time is better spent reading journals and getting out in the real world....well, it was a rough Northeast Winter, cabin-fever and all that, all the journals are getting dog-eared. But the impulse to share knowledge, exchange ideas, be part of a like-minded community is seductive; the outrage of banning is nothing less than visceral.

"Unlike most I did not go quietly with my tail tucked between my legs, I announced my banning on several other forums."

Probably that can start a war of sorts that is not constructive. Never-the-less, the longer I think about it, the more outrage I feel. My banning is an "anathema" as one mutual friend and author so-named it for me.

On that note, I close without having tasted the mushroom.
(and how did I get here? I was searching the lyrics to one of my favorite songs.....)

Tom.schavo said...

This is quite informative blog, helps in understanding the true behaviour of Jewelry in the market. Nice one, keep it going!

LifeDancer said...

Thank you for this blog. I'm buying your book. For the past 3 years I have been buying fine jewelry and gems and learning a lot. A jeweler friend of mine said I should become a jewelry consultant, helping people buy without representing anyone but the buyer, but I don't know how to get started. Any suggestions? Also, the more I read the more I realize I need, and want, to know. I have some of my experience with buying jewelry on HubPages,com , under the name LifeDancer and will refer people to your Blogger info. I've found very little useful on HubPages and so much more on Blogger.

Richard W. Wise said...

Lifedancer,

Thanks for the comment. As for becoming a consultant, seems like that would be similar to being a private jeweler. Otherwise, the consultant's fee just adds to the retail price.

Requires lots of research best to work for a high end jeweler to get to know the ropes.

Jyoti said...

Dear,
Very useful info. It helps us knowing the insider of the forums. I am a regular blogger and has started a forum about Gems and Jewelry. I would like to provide genuine and unbiased info.
Will you advice me how to run it and make it more useful to all?
Thanks,
Jyoti Kothari
http://vardhamangems.webs.com/apps/forums/
http://vardhamangems.webs.com/apps/blog/

Glass Of Venice said...

This is quite informative blog, helps in understanding the true behavior of Jewelry in the market. Nice one, keep it going!

Brenda Paul said...

I'm coming to this post quite late but I wanted to thank you for the helpful information. I found your post while looking for an alternative to Pearl-Guide, which is a decent resource, but not without its problems. People interested in talking about cultured pearls, for instance, won't find much there. The members are cheerleaders for FW pearls and those sold by the owner, in particular. It may not be homogenous by design, but that's how it's worked out in practice. The PPB person turned out to be making up most of her "knowledge" and was eventually banned, but not before a number of members had bowed to her superior expertise. Her posts full of misinformation remain available. There has been some hand wringing about that, but the posts are still there. Another prominent member waffles, saying a piece definitely is something, then changing her mind when someone else disagrees. Note, too, that there's only a small core of continuing members, few new additions and little activity. It's a good resource in addition to your own research, but it's more of an appetizer than a main course.

cendrAP said...

All these forums taken into account, the most useful site I found was Diamondcodes which let me compare prices and save a bundle on my ring.

trish davis said...

This is one of the most helpful blog that I read about jewelry but try to use beads like Copper Beads historically had been used in jewelry since ancient times. The oldest native copper (naturally occurring copper with no minerals) beads history goes back to 6000 B.C, the oldest copper pendent ever was found in Iraq belongs to the time period 8700 B.C. House of gems offers solid copper beads and copper charms at discount wholesale price.

trish davis said...

This is one of the most helpful blog that I read about jewelry but try to use beads like Copper Beads historically had been used in jewelry since ancient times. The oldest native copper (naturally occurring copper with no minerals) beads history goes back to 6000 B.C, the oldest copper pendent ever was found in Iraq belongs to the time period 8700 B.C. House of gems offers solid copper beads and copper charms at discount wholesale price.

davidwillson said...

Wow ! Nice post for jewelry lovers.

velouria said...

Hi Richard,

Very interesting perspective. I wonder if things have changed at all in the past few years.

I do want to say, though, that your citing of the colored gem eye-candy thread to demonstrate the diminished level of discourse of that forum is unfair.

The purpose of that thread-- which is a sticky and has been around for years before your blog-- is to showcase finished projects, with information, and link to their main thread. It is meant to serve as an index. I should know, as I started that thread.

Diamonds have a whole FORUM for showing off the bling. If anything, the eye-candy thread demonstrates the increased interest in colored gems and the maturation of that community.

Richard W. Wise said...

Velouria,

Have things changed, to some degree. Now on Pricescope the Colored Gemstones forum is dominated by a few who reward those who toe the line and punish those who do not.

Professional participation has declined because the pros know that to disagree with the few bullies who own the forum will bring revenge in the form usually of trashing that professional's goods.

As to your Eye Candy thread, its been a long time, but re-reading the post quickly I find no reference to it.

Best,
Richard

ayumi said...

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ayumi
www.brfe.net

Dinesh Bhardwaj said...

Hello Richard,

I get to your new blog site and get gemstones information. I got very nice gemstones forums from your blogs.

Thanks
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