Tweeting Libor

May 21, 2009 in Finance,Internet

I've just been handed an urgent and horrifying news story. I need all of you to stop what you're doing and listen:

The British Bankers’ Association announced today it is now publishing its key benchmark figure (three-month sterling LIBOR) on Twitter every afternoon, shortly after it is announced to the financial markets.

Words fail.

Libor, a relatively obscure measure in the public mind, has been thrust into the spotlight by the global financial crisis due to the number of loans whose interest payments depend on its value. But Twitter? I continue to be at once awed and confused by the service's far-reaching ambitions - and the perceived need for everyone and every brand to jump on board.

How big can the audience for this service really be? Yes, I know the cost to the BBA is zero, but still, the WSJ, even the BBA themselves make this number easily available on their respective websites. Here's a thought experiment - start with everyone in the world. Now take out everyone who has no need for Libor (that's most of them). Of the remainder, take out people occupationally  engaged in finance, who have more advanced and structured data available to them without the Twitter feed's BBA-imposed delay (again, most of them). Now, of these "casual Libor fans" take out people who don't need the number every day (guess what - most of them! Mortgages don't reset every day.). Finally, exclude everyone not using Twitter (an admittedly decreasing number, but still... the bulk of the remainder).

Who's left? Not many.

So, BBA on Twitter: clever outreach or shameless attempt to hitch the BBA brand to the Twitter rocket? Given the grandiose slug on the press release - "The benchmark for an estimated $350 trillion worth of financial contracts worldwide is now using the online messaging service Twitter to provide daily updates to borrowers." - I'm going to go with the latter.

But levity aside, I have a darker concern - the rise of the abbreviated format as an established publishing mechanism is leading to the dissemination of unstructured, uncitable data. In essence, the opposite of the Wolfram Alpha world. I do not think this is a sustainable trend; we need to work toward ways of publishing data in a structured manner rather than throwing strings into the stream.

If you're still curious, the "world's most important number" is now available every morning at twitter.com/bbalibor.

(My opening line, obviously.)

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