Among all the joint tech and accounting initiatives out there XBRL seems to be the one gaining a steady amount of steam towards  making real news and producing real returns for a wide audience. What remains to be seen is who’s actually able to realize real returns out of the technology.

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox has been a vocal proponent of the technology and yesterday, the agency announced that the contents of the financial statements filed electronically are now searchable via a full-text search tool on the SEC’s Web site. In an age where Google is routinely used as a verb, the announcement is a big deal, if for no other reason than that it’s a triumph of the federal bureaucracy in moving towards change. Each year 15 to 18 million pages of filings are submitted to the SEC by more than 15,000 public companies and other filers. Sifting through that paperwork The newly searchable information includes registration statements, annual and quarterly reports, and other filings by companies and mutual funds filed during the past four years on the SEC’s Edgar database. Cox has been enthusiastically hammering home his talking points about the technology simultaneously liberating investors, researchers, and analysts from the more time-consuming and less reliable chore of accessing information in public filings one by one.

The visionary-speak was backed up by the SEC’s announcement last month that it will spend some $50 million over the next three years in order to transform the financial statements in its Edgar database into interactive information. In a series of contract awards, the SEC announced that a variety of companies will now be making it their mission to find meaningful ways of utilizing the new capabilities.

Included in that strategy was some $5.5 million earmarked for XBRL US Inc. -- the former volunteer committee of the American Institute of CPAs which now operates independently -- to complete the writing of XBRL taxonomies, so that every item in a company's financial statement, such as net income or gross sales, can be assigned a unique, computer-readable label.

The full-text search tool is available on the SEC website at http://searchwww.sec.gov/EDGARFSClient/jsp/EDGAR_MainAccess.jsp, but the panel is now at a point where it needs user feedback to get to the next step. Its part of Internet lore that great ideas on the net have been able to be turned into very real companies with very real profits. For all of Cox’s talk, there seems to have so far been less than a groundswell of chatter among the solely-flying independent minds that so often produce real and meaningful innovation . My bet is that we’re just one user tool away from the general investor really caring about XBRL and what the heck it stands for, and whoever’s the first to find a way to turn tech dreams into a tangible tool will be able to actually harness wealth from, well, a pile of wealth data that finally available in a data-driven form.


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