AFTER almost of decade of putting up with archaic news release text and garbled financial tables, Yahoo! Finance users may finally be getting company news releases they can easily read and reuse.
Yesterday, I noticed that the world’s most popular finance website is using Business Wire‘s XHTML-based newsfeed, potentially ushering in a new era of usability for investors who rely on finance sites to keep informed about their investments.
Unlike current ASCII-based news releases, which often result in text and financial statements being hard-to-read, XHTML newsfeeds include mark-up like bold, italics, headings and hyperlinks.
It’s unclear if other PR wire services will follow Business Wire’s lead, but they likely will be under pressure from their clients to do so.
Improved financial statement display
The biggest benefit for investors of XHTML-based releases may relate to financial statements. XHTML financial statements are wider, clearer and easier to import into a spreadsheet program like Excel using Internet Explorer.
The difference between the new and the old formats is best illustrated by before and after screenshots. The first is from Google Inc.’s Q3 earnings release yesterday in the new XHTML format on Yahoo! Finance.
|XHTML financial tables are clearer, easier to read, and import cleanly into Excel.|
The second screenshot is of the same table above, but this time from the ASCII-based version of the release posted on the AOL Money & Finance website. This format is not easily reusable, such as copying and pasting or importing into Excel.
The presentation also tends to become corrupted on some sites. In the screenshot below, the figures are partially cut off on the right side of the page.
|ASCII-based financial tables can become garbled and do not import cleanly into Excel. Notice how the right column figures are cut off.|
More than a year in the works
Michael Becker, Business Wire’s vice president of global disclosure, calls the XHTML newsfeed “another cutting edge innovation brought to the industry first by Business Wire.”
Reviewing the news releases supplied to Yahoo! Finance by Business Wire’s three competitors — PR Newswire, PrimeNewswire and Marketwire — it looks as if they are all still providing ASCII text in their newsfeeds.
Explains Becker: “We developed this XHTML capability more than a year ago and are working closely with our media partners to implement the format.”
Business Wire is delivering both ASCII text and XHTML in its newsfeed. The decision on what format to display is made by finance websites.
None of Yahoo! Finance’s major competitors are yet using Business Wire’s XHTML. All have usability issues such as tiny text and hard-to-read financial tables.
I did not include CNN Money in the above list because they are not using a feed. They link to XHTML releases hosted directly by Business Wire.
Even though I don’t believe that PR wire services are necessary for disclosure if companies use their websites and push technologies like email alerts and RSS properly, XHTML newsfeeds are a long overdue and most welcome advancement that will make life easier for investors.
Looking at some of the XHTML news releases that companies have been issuing, I do think a few guidelines would be useful. There’s far too much enthusiasm for mark-up like underlined headings and entire paragraphs of bold text.
Perhaps another day.
Update: A representative from Marketwire posted some comments on this article that I believe were irrelevant and designed simply to plug Marketwire and its products, including one that I believe is bad for companies. I have removed the comments and my responses to them (pdf 35KB, 6 pages) because I will not tolerate “comment pollution” on this blog.