April 19, 2017

Just how rich is Jeff Bezos? If you’re at your keyboard, the answer is just a Google search away: $75.6 billion. But if you’re swiping through an article that doesn’t include the info (or has an out-of-date figure) on your phone, you have to spend an extra minute or three tapping out the question to come up with an answer.

Bloomberg — with its ever-present emphasis on speed — thinks there should be a better way. So, the financial news colossus has teamed up with Postlight, the digital studio co-founded by journalist and programmer Paul Ford, to create a tool that aims to solve that problem.

The pair began working together after Bloomberg digital boss Scott Havens attended a Postlight Labs event, said Michael Shane, the global head of digital innovation at Bloomberg. Employees at both agencies began brainstorming ideas for a potential shared project and they eventually decided to find something that played to their respective strengths.

“What technology does Postlight have that is special and powerful and great?” Shane said. “What technology does Bloomberg have that is also special and powerful…and what product comes out when you smush them together?”

They settled on the idea of providing instant context and data in stories. Bloomberg, with its terminal business, has tons of data. Postlight has Mercury, a web parser that scans and reformats text. Together, they could create an application that scans news articles for newsmakers (people, companies, institutions) and serves up financial data around them.

Now, users who download the Bloomberg Lens chrome extension (or Bloomberg’s iOS app for consumers) can scan any news story on any website and get additional context on the publicly traded companies and individuals that are mentioned in the article. This is particularly useful, they said, for in-depth magazine articles that are years old and may be lacking the latest financial information.

“There’s a user model in our head, which is that, when you read something from The Atlantic, The Times, any major publication, there’s so much context that is implied,” Ford said. “This is a lens into the world where it’s just: Here’s the data about this. Here’s who this person is. Here’s what the company is worth.”

The extension works on any webpage with a sharesheet icon, which means there are some apps and formats it doesn’t work for. You can’t scan the YouTube app (or any other video app) and expect it to serve up financial data. Some proprietary “walled gardens” are similarly out of bounds.

“If the platform is out there saying ‘you can only read things in our platform, in our point of view using our share tools,’ we’re not in there,” Ford said. “We don’t get to participate.”

Both were quick to note that the new tool is focused on improving reader experiences, not making money for Postlight or Bloomberg. They haven’t larded Bloomberg Lens with a bunch of the company’s own links, and it’s free to download.

“While Postlight’s job is to make money and my job is to help Bloomberg make money, we really set out to make a product that, first and foremost, is going to make the internet a better, more edifying, more powerful place for people who are reading news on the internet,” Shane said.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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