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April 19, 2017, 9 a.m.
Mobile & Apps

This handy little tool draws from Bloomberg data to add financial context on top of any news article

Bloomberg Lens, built by the digital agency Postlight Labs, finds companies’ and people’s names in any news article — not just Bloomberg’s — and overlays key facts such as stock prices or a person’s previous company affiliations.

The United Airlines debacle earlier this month began with Chicago Aviation Police forcibly dragging a 69-year-old passenger from a flight and continued through a week of facepalm-worthy PR moves and unified public outrage.

When United CEO Oscar Munoz finally issued an apology, people seized on the company’s plummeting stock:

A new tool built for Bloomberg by the New York-based mobile and web development agency Postlight cuts the fact-finding process for those interested in the financial context around companies and people that appear in the news to a single step. Called Bloomberg Lens, the tool will find companies’ and people’s names in any news article — not just Bloomberg’s — and overlay key facts such as stock prices or a person’s previous company affiliations. In a time when the President of the United States is himself a longtime businessman with a family’s worth of business entanglements, getting an easily accessible snapshot of financial context around any news article, even when you don’t think you need it, could actually prove useful. (Of course, you won’t get the fancy Bloomberg Terminal stuff like real-time positions of oil tankers around the world — that, you’ll still have to pay a hefty price for.)

Lens is available as a Chrome extension, and to anyone on iOS, and is coming soon to Android devices. The feature will also be added for Bloomberg app users (two to 2.5 million monthly active users, according to a spokesperson).

“We built it with the guiding principles that it has to be respectful to its users, and be respectful of the news stories it parses,” Michael Shane, global head of digital innovation at Bloomberg, said. “The way it loads, the way it doesn’t screw with anyone else’s monetization efforts. You tap close and you don’t leave the original article — all of that we designed to only be as intrusive as a user wants it to be.”

Bloomberg, which paid a small “honorarium” to Postlight for the development work, is looking — though not very intensely — for an advertiser to sponsor Lens. “We’ll secure a sponsor for this when the time is right,” Shane said. “We’ll have ad integration but when it happens, it will be slick, polite, peaceful, and unobtrusive.”

“[Lens] has to be purely additive,” said Paul Ford, Postlight cofounder (and author of the famously/infamously hefty Bloomberg Businessweek piece What is Code). “In the back of my head, what I think about is, am I augmenting human intelligence? Am I doing something that makes people smarter? A lot of the things we make these days take away people’s time and attention, and I see this as a way to reward it.”

The project took about two to three months to develop, building off the Postlight toolkit Mercury (which, among other things, includes a tool that helps websites convert stories into the Google AMP format): “The tech heart of the whole thing is really a set of APIs from Bloomberg and Postlight, talking to each other,” Shane said.

The partnership has been mutually beneficial: “Bloomberg has — it has many things — but it has liquid tons of all the data. We wanted access to that sweet, sweet data, so we could become infinitely powerful robot people,” Ford joked.

“The most obvious use case of this is obviously on a business story, but there are so many stories now about Apple or Tim Cook or Donald Trump or really any other famous people — we think almost any story is a business story,” Shane said. “I’ve had some delightful moments pressure-testing stories that are not about business. You’d be surprised how many times companies and public figures are mentioned.”

POSTED     April 19, 2017, 9 a.m.
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