Annotating Financial Context Automatically with Bloomberg Lens

calculator with financial forms
Despite the fact that the web is a powerful tool for annotation, many news stories and blog posts lack relevant context that would be useful for readers. Especially as a site ages, it can be hard to know how information has changed over time.

Most of us at ProfHacker like as an annotate-everywhere tool. But there are other visions of annotation, and this week, Bloomberg and Postlight jointly announced Bloomberg Lens, an iOS app and Chrome extension that aims to provide on-the-fly financial and news context for websites. Ben Mullin explains the basic idea: “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.” The idea is to fill in the “implied context” of news stories with . . . actual data.

In Chrome, it works just like any other extension: You go to the Chrome store and install it. On iOS, you download the Bloomberg app, and then, in any app that has a “Share” icon, you can invoke Lens to scan the current page.

The results range from useful to . . . eh . . . to worse than useless. For example, the Chronicle currently has a story about the risks colleges and universities assume when they rent out space to groups who invite provocateurs to campus. The story prominently mentions several schools with substantial endowments and other reasons to be mentioned in the news. Here’s what Lens returns:

screenshot of Bloomberg Lens

No mention of any of the institutions, and, worse, by a considerable margin the wrong Richard Spencer. So, that’s not great.

Now let’s look at Ben Thompson’s Stratechery post about Facebook:

Lens screenshot

That’s not bad! Link to (clickable-for-more-detail) financial information, some relevant Bloomberg stories, and some info about Zuckerberg and Peter Thiel.

You’d have to think Lens will get smarter over time, but it is already a potentially interesting technology for finding out more about the financial flows that shape contemporary culture and the economy. Do you have a favorite automatic annotation service? Please share in comments!

Photo “Numbers and Finance” by Flickr user Ken Teegardin / Courtesy | Creative Commons licensed BY-SA-2.0

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