I installed the Brix Project XBRL application on my iPod Touch. It was simple enough. Go to the iTunes App store, search on XBRL, select the application, and install it.
The application certainly is no killer app which will change the world, but it does demonstrate some possibilities. If you are a business person, go try out the application and apply your imagination.
- You will realize that the SEC XBRL viewer is not the only way one can view an SEC XBRL or even an HTML filing. Clearly the iPhone application shows that being able to reconfigure the presentation of information is a desirable thing as different user interfaces have different characteristics. For example, the screen real estate is different in a browser on your computer, on an iPhone, or on something like an iPad.
- The XBRL taxonomy impacts what you can do in terms of creating an interface. Look at the US GAAP Taxonomy and look at the iPhone application interface. What is in the XBRL taxonomy and filer extension taxonomies impacts (a) what you can do with something like an iPhone app or (b) the effort one has to go through to reconfigure the US GAAP Taxonomy so that you can do what you desire when you build something like an iPhone application.
- So here you have data flowing from the SEC filer, to the SEC, out to your iPhone. (I would be curious to know how long it takes to have a filing show up on an iPhone after it is filed...I will check on that.) How do you know the data is correct? This shows how important things like business rules are in making the information trustworthy enough to use.
- If XBRL is a global standard, seems to me that one should be able to "change a URL" and change the information the iPhone application shows from say the SEC XBRL filings to say maybe XBRL filings of some other regulator who has also implemented XBRL. It is not that easy today to do this, but that is the idea behind XBRL.
- Taking the last point even further, what if the iPhone application interfaced not with the SEC, but with all the regulators around the world.
Oh the possibilities...
Generic Information Feed Engine
XBRL is "behind the scenes" providing the standard data payload and agreed upon business semantics making this work. We have a standard format for video (MPEG4), audio (MP3), pictures (JPEG), documents (PDF)....What is the standard format for business data which will make business information exchange work like YouTube or Flicker or iTunes or an iPhone?
I have always thought that this would be a fantastic idea and a great way to communicate the value of XBRL. You are probably familiar with a stock ticker. Years ago I had an application which showed New York Stock Exchange prices on my desktop with a 15 minute delay. It must have cost the NYSE millions of dollars to stream that information out and a lot of people find that stock price information valuable.
But there is other information in the world other than stock prices. What if any business could, for pennies (i.e. for far less than what the NYSE spent), make available a "ticker" of some sort to stream information to whomever they desired. I used to work for a produce distributor. They needed to know the price of lettuce in California, how much lettuce was in the fields of the 25 growers they worked for, the current price of lettuce which fluctuated between $2 per box and $30 per box, and other such inputs. They did this to set their price, serve the growers and satisfy their customers.
That produce distributor managed all this with phone calls, faxes, guess work, etc. I worked there as an accountant an build an interface which helped the buyers and sellers manage some of this information first in Microsoft Excel and then it was used so much that I converted it to Microsoft Access. These were the days before the Web, but we did have PC Anyware and dial up connects from one computer to another. These guys loved this system. It took a lot of different skills to weave all this together and it was held together with bailing wire and band aids.
I could build the same thing today, far cheaper, far more robustly using XBRL in the system. But what if I didn't have to do even that. What if I could go purchase or subscribe to a service where I simply plugged in an XBRL taxonomy, plugged in a URL to a repository of XBRL instance documents, put in a few configuration settings, and I could have all that literally for pennies.
What if there were a service similar to say YouTube or Flicker where you did not upload videos of photos, but rather you uploaded data feeds to some public or private set of business information? People do this today. But since that service does not exist (yet), they use Excel spreadsheets, email, and expensive human effort to fit all the pieces together. For example, a friend of mine is the financial officer of a university which exchanges benchmarking information with 25 other private universities. Another friend is in sales at a big company which benchmarks their information against other companies.
What if there was an iPhone or iPad or web browser application where you could do all this? You set the URL to some publicly available or private spot on the internet and share the boatloads of information we share the applications were as easy to use a an iPhone of Flicker or iTunes or Picassa.
Perhaps that will be the second XBRL iPhone app. What sort of application can you imagine?