22 July 2011

XBRL gets "competitive"

In the past week both XEU (XBRL Spain), XUS (XBRL US Inc) and XBRL Japan have announced "competitions" with prize money for the winning entries. Initially I was quite uncomfortable with these competitions, as they almost seem like a great way to get some good ideas into the public domain – crowd sourcing if you will, from people without the contacts or economic ability to bring fully fledged products to market.

Maybe I'm a social Luddite, but I've always been uncomfortable with the idea of "crowd sourcing" - get bunches of people to donate their time and brain power, only to have a very few actually be able to apply the capital required to exploit those ideas.

XBRL US is offering a single $20,000 prize, while XBRL Spain is offering 5,000, and XBRL Japan is offering Y100,000 in prizes.

The best ideas will win (and will receive prizes that are of a recognition level and not product level), the second best ideas (and third, etc) will still be great ideas, and will now be available to anyone with the pockets to actually take to market. It sounds like a wonderful way to pick and choose from the best and brightest, and to then take their ideas to market.

Yet on the other than, all participants know exactly what the deal it. There's no exploitation.
Campbell Pryde of XBRL US Inc recognized the difficulty in coming to the right balance, but said that all entrants thus far were made aware that their  entries would then be in the public domain, hopefully as building blocks for a new generation of software and tools exploiting XBRL data.  He also said 

“The intent of the competition is to stimulate interest and awareness in the developer community about the opportunities available to them with XBRL data.  The more open source applications available, the more ideas generated and the more applications companies can build on.  All this leads to quicker and broader adoption among investors, analysts, and other users of corporate financial data.”

Great ideas will be given an airing. Some will make it to market, others won't.

And the individuals who present the ideas will be demonstrating their knowledge of XBRL, and demonstration that they are innovators. Best of all, they will be showing their skills and knowledge to a plethora of potential employers, to the securities industry, and to the wider XBRL community.

It has been my belief for quite some time that XBRL success requires two things; 1) a pool of XBRL data that is publicly available for use (which is now the case with SEC filings - but that was also available when the FDIC's program went live in 2006) and 2) the software to exploit that data. That software did not exist and was not developed after the FDIC program - and if it is not developed now, then the XBRL dream will suffer.

So in the final analysis - well done to both XBRL Spain, XBRL US and XBRL Japan for initiating these competitions. Soon there should be some pretty fantastic examples, open source all, of just what can be accomplished with the XBRL data that is available today.

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