A few days ago, our CEO Jonathan Schwartz sent a letter to SEC Chairman Christopher Cox calling for SEC financial-disclosure regulations to allow for publishing material financials on the Web. It’s obviously a good idea, but there are some implementation issues. (Hey, I’m an engineer, I can’t help it.)
It seems self-evident that the Web ought to be at least as good as the traditional vehicles (press releases, telecons) at getting important business news out to everyone at the same time. But for any really material information, we’ll need a commitment to a little more than “posting it on the Web site”. Where on the web site? And does the world get any help in noticing that it’s arrived?
Need For Feed · It’s no accident that Jonathan wrote specifically of posting to a blog. Because a blog has an RSS feed, and people who want to follow the news can subscribe to it, and they’ll find out if anything shows up there. I’d say that if a company plans to release information on the Web, at a minimum you’d want to require that it appear at a well-known location, and that that location have a feed. I’d further urge that an Atom 1.0 feed be required; it’s a stable Internet Standard and you really don’t want to have to worry about the RSS propensity for silent data loss.
Need For Speed · Even a nice clean well-known feed doesn’t quite solve the whole problem. Your typical feed-reader is set up to poll every half-hour or even less often, and there are those in the financial community who are not going to be happy with a potential half-hour’s latency in getting the news.
I can think of one simple brute-force way to approach the problem, and another that’s a little more sophisticated. The simple solution is, assume that everyone who really cares will want to poll that material-news feed every few seconds. So, you stage Jonathan’s feed, not on the ordinary blogging infrastructure, but on a hyper-fast cache that can take that kind of transaction load; there might even be a business opportunity here for some infrastructure player to offer this kind of special-purpose staging.
If you want to get fancy, you could use something like the proposed new Atom-over-XMPP trick. The idea is that people who want ultra-low-latency feeds don’t poll, but set up a persistent connection to the provider’s server, which pushes entries down the wire the moment they become available. This is elegant in theory; in practice I’d bet on the brute-force polling approach, at least off the top.