Initial public offerings - IPOs - when companies "go public" by issuing shares of stock, are back in vogue with last week's eye-popping LinkedIn debut. But is IPO investing good for you? Take a look.

IPOs 101. The Morningstar.com site for individual investors provides a do-it-yourself tutorial in the Byzantine IPO process - with helpful explanations on how they are timed by companies to game the price, how institutional investors who get the first crack at a stock stand to make the most money by "flipping" their IPO shares. There's an incentive to underprice IPO shares, Morningstar says - "Companies want headlines and underwriters want to ensure profits for their clients." And that's why a small investor may end up paying through the nose.

The IPO calendar at IPOScoop.com lists, by the expected date of the offering, companies planning a share sale. Company names link to details about the offering. From the left column on the page, you can view IPOs by industry, by managers, and in lists of the most recent and for the calendar year or the last 12 months.

Reality check. Another place to look at the range of recent IPOs is at Yahoo Finance, where among other things you can see how recent issues have done in the three, six, or 12 months since their introductions. The loser list could serve as a jarring gut check. It numbers some stunning declines, including, when we looked, a 96 percent drop in shares of Virginia biotechnology company Medgenics Inc. in the month since a stock offering.

The Motley Fool site offers this intriguing article about an exchange-traded fund, First Trust US IPO Index ETF, that tracks IPOs, but doesn't add a new company until the sixth trading day, thereby presumably avoiding some of the initial volatility of hotly minted shares. Such funds provide small investors the opportunity to step into the IPO river without heavy lifting. But the warnings to do your homework and stay safe still apply.

Contact staff writer Reid Kanaley at 215-854-5114, rkanaley@phillynews.com, or @ReidKan on Twitter.