As the W3C Team lead for financial data and the Semantic Web, I am looking at how the Web is changing the way investors assess the value of companies.
Public companies worldwide are required to file regular reports setting out the financial health of the company. These are available from corporate investor relations websites and from regulatory agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). If you want to analyze this data, you have to re-key it, which involves a lot of work and introduces errors. That is all about to change.
The SEC and kindred agencies around the world are starting to require companies to file reports in XBRL (the extensible business reporting language). XBRL ties each reported item of data to the reporting concept used to collect it, and moreover, does so in a way that computers can make sense of, avoiding the need for re-keying data.
XBRL will allow investor relation sites to support interactive access and sharing of tagged financial data. This will build upon Web 2.0 and the phenomenon of user provided content on wiki’s, blogs and social networking sites aimed at investors, e.g. wikinvest, where investors share data, insights and analyses. Youtube provides a powerful precedent in the way it allows people to share content by embedding a view or a link to a view in their blogs.
For XBRL, this means providing a way for people to browse the data, and to pull out tables and charts as needed for their blogs. These items could be rendered by the investor relations site and shared à la Youtube, or the blog could itself make use of a script to query data across one or more investor relations sites and render it locally. This is where the Semantic Web and linked open data comes in. I’ve previously reported on techniques for converting XBRL into RDF triples.
W3C and XBRL International are looking for your help in understanding what some people are calling “Investor relations 2.0″, and we invite you to attend a workshop at the FDIC training facility in Arlington, Virginia, this October. We want your help with identifying the opportunities and challenges for interactive access to business and financial data expressed in XBRL and related languages. This doesn’t just apply to the investor community, as the same technologies also offer huge potential for data published by governments on sites like data.gov (see demos). For more details on the workshop see the call for papers.