Semantic Web and XBRL
Tim Bray joins in the discussion:
Right now, if I hear of some company by name (for example, lets imagine a company called Example Corporation) I know that if I stick www. in front of the name and .com after it, then I can point a web browser at www.example.com and find out a bunch of stuff, including:
– How long theyve been around.
– Whether I know anyone in their management.
– Whether theyre private or public.
– If theyre private, who their investors are, and if theyre public, a whole lot of detailed financial information.
– Where their office is.
– What their phone number is.
– Whether theyre hiring.
– What the names of their products are.
Of course, when I say I can find out I mean that I as a human can plow through Flash intros and HTML pages and PDF printouts to laboriously hand-assemble all this useful information. Which basically sucks.
So imagine that given any www.example.com, I could count on there also being a data.example.com, which would typically have all these facts available in some straightforward XML dialect, so that I could use a program to do the tedious basic factfinding work.
In this context, its interesting to note that I gave a keynote speech last week at the 8th XBRL International Conference; XBRL is Extensible Business Reporting Language, designed to capture all the minutiae of financial statements in a machine-processable form. The value proposition for XBRL is a no-brainer: cost reduction. The financial industry depends totally on consuming accurate financial information, and since at the moment this is generally available only on paper, or if electronically, in PDF or the hardly-more-useful EDGAR version, a huge amount of time and error-prone human effort goes into extracting and repackaging it.
Of course, if companies as a matter of routine posted XBRL versions of their financials at addresses like data.ibm.com and data.renault.com and data.hsbc.com and data.daimler-chrysler.com, a huge amount of time and money would be saved. And youd have taken some useful steps towards a machine-processable web.
Excellent ideas – which we should apply to build a SME Trade Information Marketplace.