Thursday, August 2, 2007

Corporate Real-Time: Sun Microsystems Uses its own Web Feed to Break Fair Disclosure News

Newstex CEO Larry Schwartz points out on his weblog the announcement by Sun Microystems that they will be putting Fair Disclosure reports of material corporate events required by the Securities and Exchange Commission on their investor relations Web site at the same time as they file these reports with the SEC. Traditionally corporations file these 8-K reports with the SEC at the same time that they file press releases through major media channels, but Sun has taken the step of releasing reports to media channels ten minutes after they have released them to the public via their own RSS feed-enabled Web site. The SEC has been mulling over allowing corporate Web sites enabled with standard feed protocols such as RSS and Atom to be distribution points for public dissemination of Reg FD materials, with help from Sun as a leading advocate for such distribution. This experiment by Sun seems to be a way for the SEC to gauge the effectiveness of open Web distribution as a methodology to serve the public.

While traditional press release distributors are barking hard at the notion of being bypassed as a primary source of Reg FD information it's likely that their arguments will begin to fall on deaf ears as the ease and effectiveness of direct and aggregated Web distribution of feed-enabled corporate announcements becomes evident. Since the RSS and Atom feed formats are "pull" protocols that are polled for new content by their recipients they're not strictly real-time "push" feeds, but weblogging packages enable push-out notifications of new posts to central services such as Verisign's weblogs.com that can notify services to pick up new content. So although Web feeds may not have the high-tech underpinnings of many established press feeds the ability of a corporation to post in one place and notify the world once that content is available in effect creates its own real-time publishing event. Services such as Newstex can then be used to pick up fees of these corporate announcements for those who would like them in an enhanced bulk form rather than having to deal with individual corporate feeds.

While traditional press release services are still a "go-to" source for many kinds of marketing-oriented corporate announcements they are starting to lose their luster as services that can respond to corporate needs as effectively as the Web itself for communications with the public. These services can turn around and aggregate corporate feeds for a fee charged to both sources and recipients but with the direct distribution available via the Web it's likely that corporations will be able to negotiate lower fees for such a service eventually. If the Sun experiment succeeds - and I believe that it will - the playing field for the distribution of critical business information will become more level yet again, enabling a wider array of value-add services to enhance corporate press release distribution well beyond the "king's ransom for a wire" services that have been long on profits but short on innovation for some time. Press release companies will still be able to bend ears in Washington for a while on this issue but expect that within two to three years most U.S. corporations will have their own Web feeds at minimum in parallel with established press channels for their Reg FD announcements.
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