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Pinterest: Interesting Interface, Great Way to Communicate Idea

This is an interesting interface: Pinterest.  Imagine a Pinterest-type interface into SEC filings.

Consider this organization of SEC filing information which lists filers by sector and then lets you look at the pieces of a filing for a filer. That is one way I chose to organize the information.  You decide what sector you want to look at, then you decide what company to look at, then you can view the pieces of the SEC filing for that company, here is one piece (Link 1). That is the first sector (Agricultural Production Crops); the first company (FRESH DEL MONTE PRODUCE INC); and the first piece of their financial report (Document information).  That is one path to that information.

Now, this is a different way to organize the information; by filing component.  If you go to that link, then go to the last item on the list, number 128 Document information (291 examples); click on that link and you get a list of companies,  go to item number 105 (or search on FRESH DEL MONTE PRODUCE INC); then click on that; you end up on this component of an SEC filing (Link 2).

Notice that those two components are the same, the first (Link 1) and second (Link 2).  They are two paths to the same information.

Why is that interesting?  Well, here is why.  Before XBRL, it would be impossible to link directly to a component of an SEC filing.  The best you could do is link to a document, such as this, the SEC Form 10-K for FRESH DEL MONTE PRODUCE INC from which that information came.  Granted, the document information is not that interesting; but I could do the same for the shareholders' equity disclosure metadata (i.e. taxonomy) or the information itself (i.e. fact table, I did not do a good job providing enough room to see the entire block of information, that was not necessarily my purpose and besides, I am not a very good programmer).  I could point to other component, any component, and I could even point to a human readable rendering of that component (but I did not provide that because generating such a rendering is beyond my programming skill, the SEC does not make the information available in this manner, and I have not found anyone else who provides information in this manner.)

What is the point of all this? I provided my two paths to the information (and there is actually a third path that I provided, a list of companies by company name that does NOT break the taxonomy down into pieces but rather shows all the pieces together); but what if you want some other path to the information?  Cool, no problem.  You can provide it.

Click on one of the links in Pintrest.  Here is one of some cute puppies.  Look at the URL, the ending is just a number.  Anyone can point to that link.  Anyone can organize whatever set of information they want, include information about cute puppies, and provide a link to that spot on the internet.

As the book Everything is Miscellaneous points out, there are many different ways you can organize information and no matter how well you plan an organization scheme; you will always want other organizations of the information.  Further, consider all this in the context of Tim Berners-Lee vision of "Linked Data".

This is the power of structured information which is organized in order to enable this type of functionality.  Poor organization gets in the way of this type of functionality.

In addition to the proper structuring of the information is the metadata, or data which explains the data.  In my three organizations, this is the metadata I am using to get you to where I want you to be: the company name, the sector of the company, and the component of the financial report which exist within the financial report. 

You have to reliably and accurately give meaning to a piece of information.  You get problems if, for example, information is grouped in unusable permutations/combinationsor if the pieces are not consistently and accurately identified at the appropriate level or if the metadata is not consistent enough.

This ability to organize digital information has huge ramifications for how things can and will be organized in the future.  If you are looking at SEC filings through the lens of the existing EDGAR system and existing means of distributing all that information and cannot grasp that these will soon be legacy; then you certainly will not be able to project what this means into the processes which impact your daily life. This understanding is critical.

Posted on Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 07:25AM by Registered CommenterCharlie in | CommentsPost a Comment

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