Words of Caution About Internet Forums

Guest editorial by Scott Kraska, Proprietor Bay State Militaria

I wanted to say a few things about Internet forums and other online information exchanges. First thing: Great idea!! People from all over the world can share photos of discoveries, ask questions and make contacts. There are thousands of people that benefit from these sites and we ourselves have had pages of compliments from our customers written on these sites.

    However, there is the downside.

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU BELIEVE
    There are individuals that gravitate toward these sites; let’s call them, “Text Book Experts” or “TBEs”, for the sake of brevity. They love to buy reference books, and they might have one or two on each subject. TBEs love to talk to other collectors and prove what “experts” they are by citing page numbers and illustrations from popular books.

    The problem, though, with many TBEs is that they have no “feel” for the subject matter. Most of the time they do not own any of the material that the books cover, and have seen little or any real items. They cruise all the various sections of these sites and shoot down people’s collections or recent acquisitions, claiming that the material is dubious or outright fake.

    TBEs have lots of free time. In many cases, they have posted thousands of responses covering every subject under the rainbow. They thrive on creating arguments and disagreements with the members of these sites and usually have a following of one or two “rubes” that have been taken in by their claims of expertise. These rubes will jump to defend any statements made by the “TBE”, although they also know nothing about the subject. They don’t even own any of the reference books!

    Senior collectors will frequently jump in and tell a TBE that he is wrong, only to have another response and a different reason given why the item is flawed. Many forum members grow tired of this nonsense and endless arguing, which leaves the TBE with the last post of the subject.

    Due to this level of activity and harassment about items, many collectors I know who were members and even moderators no longer participate in discussions on these sites. They have left due to the trouble and infighting these people cause, all under the “right to speak freely” provided by the forums.

A NEGATIVE TREND HAS EMERGED
    Why have I taken the time to write and submit this editorial to Military Trader? Reputable militaria dealers, like myself, have seen a disturbing trend enter the hobby. It starts with people making purchases, showing them on these sites and then encountering these second-guessers.

    The “TBEs” pronounce the items as problematic and create doubt in the mind of the collector. Many of these collectors are new to the hobby and may depend on others’ information.

    I am paid by institutions, museums and collectors to know the subject in which I deal and to warranty those items. Personally, I have 25 years of study under my belt and many dealers out there have the same or more. As an example of the level of integrity reputable dealers bring to the hobby, I will cite the record of my own company, Bay State Militaria (www.BayStateMilitaria.com).

    Bay State’s return rate is about 1 out of every 1,000 items sold. The tiny percentage of items that have come back over the last two years is almost always a direct result of these TBEs and nothing to do with the item itself!

WHAT’S A DEALER TO DO?
    What are we as dealers supposed to do? Do we take items back that are 100 percent authentic, due to these idiots? Or do we tell the customer that the information he has been given by these TBEs is wrong and tell him to keep the item, angering him in the process? Either way we lose. 
 
THE BOTTOM LINE
    I offer two bits of advice: 1) Do use Internet forums. 2) Don’t listen to people who don’t really know the subject but seem to have an opinion on everything.

    Not that simple, you say? Check their posting history. Read some of the other things that they have written. Many of these people are known in the online community for what they are.  Ask the questions. Know who you are dealing with. Don’t become a rube!

    You can actually influence the health of the forums by applying pressure to the moderators or forum owners to police their members and enforce conduct issues. Encourage them to take the time to identify members who are simply there to cause trouble. Most forums have rules in place which are simply not enforced.

    Internet forums are a wonderful learning and sharing tool if they are looked at with open eyes. Anyone can join, which means all types will show up — both good and bad. Take the time to find out!

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