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We Ship Again! Bloomberg Lens and the Internet

For desktop, a shiny new Chrome extension; for mobile, a whole new share sheet experience.

We, Postlight, made something new with Bloomberg Media! A nice fellow named Michael Shane, who is the Global Head of Digital Innovation for Bloomberg Media and appears–not coincidentally–on our podcast this week, came over to Postlight Labs and said: Look, we got data. We’re Bloomberg. What have you got?

Very important note: We’re celebrating the release of this powerful tool tomorrow, Thursday, April 20 at 6:30PM. Please join us for drinks and a free-wheeling discussion of how media and technology can work together to make humans smarter.

What we built

And after we threw out around 35 separate ideas (maybe a few less), we decided, sensibly, that what we wanted to do together was add some intelligence to every possible web page using Bloomberg’s vast data trove. So we built a smooth little plugin that does exactly that. It works two ways: First, it works on iOS, as part of the Bloomberg App. It adds a function to your share sheets so that anywhere you are reading — Safari, Apple News, and so forth — you can turn on a “Bloomberg” view of the article. It also works as a Chrome plugin. So if you’re on Chrome, and you’re reading a web page, a little Bloomberg icon will light up. And if you click on that it will show you the companies, people, and related news inside that page.

Behold, access to Bloomberg’s sweet, sweet data.

I love this thing (sorry, I mean, “I love this innovative digital experiment between Bloomberg Media and Postlight Labs”) for a specific reason. When you’re reading the news there’s a ton of context that’s taken for granted. People just know, it’s assumed, what Apple is, who Joe Biden is, or that Microsoft is a giant company. But the reality is that people aren’t always as tuned in as the media expects. None of us are. One of the great things about the Web — Wikipedia especially — is that you can come to it with very little knowledge and find your way. And this tool we’ve built together does a little of that, too. It gives you a Bloomberg-specific view of what you’re reading — a layer of additional meaning and links, and updates to the story via related news. It’s…a tool. For smart people. Who don’t know everything. Who are my favorite people in the world.

It’s a polite app

There are a few other things worth noting: This thing isn’t chasing you around. We don’t track you (on Chrome you don’t even log in). So you should download it and play with it and let us know what you think. We always listen. It’s out today from the app store (both iOS and Chrome). And we’ve had an excellent experience working with Michael. We kept asking him for more and more things. “Can you get us this data? This API? This approval?” And he’d nod slowly, and get back on the train, and go get it for us.

Big companies don’t always move fast, but…this one did. We thought this tool up, worked it out, designed it, built it, got it approved, and shipped it as part of the core Bloomberg app and to the Chrome web store in just a few months. (That’s fast for software, very fast for a partnership, and incredibly fast for a partnership between a very small product studio and one of the largest media companies in the world.) It’s cool to see big organizations move fast.

Our secret grand scheme

Okay so: Now what I do want to tell you about is what’s going on under the hood, and what we’re trying to do at Postlight.

For a long time–1991–2006–the web was very much about pages–meaning documents. Publishing them, bookmarking them, emailing them around, wondering how to make money from them. Then, around ten years after the web entered the popular imagination with Netscape, in the mid-1990s, Web 2.0 showed up, and suddenly the web was about apps: Dynamic software experiences that let you do things, like answer email, tweet, manage your bank account, and so forth. It’s an app world today.

Now, I love both. I love that at the heart of its hearts the web is about wrapping a few words in tags and putting them on a server somewhere and voila, you’re a publisher. And I love that you can deliver software at a bananacakes-level of complexity via the web, like, say, Google Maps.

And yet the web at its heart, its true, strange, heart is still a document delivery platform. We take that for granted after 25 years, that you can have an idea and share that idea with thousands of people, for very little money, in very little time. But it’s still pretty radical. In fact, I think that we haven’t fully figured out what it means, culturally. Otherwise we’d stop building CMSes. I love that immediate, nearly-free global distribution is increasingly a birthright of people who live in open societies. That’s something worth defending.

An API for the web…page

So what’s all this high-minded stuff have to do with our plugin?

Well, Postlight has this thing called Mercury. You’ve maybe heard us talk about it, because we definitely talk about it a lot. Mercury is one of those services like Instapaper or Pocket. It makes web pages more readable and provides a “reading” view. About 1.5 million people have installed it on Chrome, which feels good.

Mercury isn’t just a plugin, though. It’s a platform, an API. You can use it to convert pages to Google AMP, and many of our users do. You can use it to extract the content of a page, look for keywords, and identify the concepts on a page — which is how it’s being used in this collaboration with Bloomberg.

Mercury, at its essence, gets you back to the web of documents, and then makes it really easy to plug in external APIs — like Bloomberg’s news services, or Wikipedia data — to build new products. But the key thing is that it’s doing this on top of web pages.

Am I saying that Mercury is…an API for the humble web page? That Mercury is a tool for making the web smarter, for augment human intelligence and all of that stuff?

I mean, I am. A little. This is all a work in progress. It’s a little too early for bold pronouncements. We’re not kidding ourselves that we’re going to turn everyone into fans of long-form augmented mega-journalism or anything. Nonetheless, in amongst all the APIs, social networks, and JSON and complexity, and “lean back” experiences where you basically sit there until it’s time to wipe the drool off your iPad screen, there’s still a web for readers and thinkers who don’t just passively read but want to do things with what they read, who seek to draw new conclusions, and who hustle. At Postlight we want, with all of our hearts, to build a platform that adds as much automated intelligence to any web page as is possible. And then we want to build products using that platform.

And…that’s what we’re doing. Bit by bit. Sometimes on the side of our client work, and sometimes for our clients, and sometimes in partnership with one of the biggest and smartest media companies in the world, i.e. Bloomberg, with great support from Michael Shane and Scott Havens, who is Global Head of Digital at Bloomberg — we’ve collaboratively created a product that showcases both our platforms. We feel good about it. We also see how it can grow. And we keep seeing ways that the web could be smarter and more useful for more people, and the power that the media industry can bring to the situation. So this experiment is complete, but there’s lots left to do. We all know words have power, but we believe they should have more. Onward.

Roll credits!

Bloomberg has their own write-up. On the Postlight side, credit is due to lots of people who jumped in to help. Thanks to:


Story published on Apr 19, 2017.