Features - Securities Mosaic: Somebody Thought This One Through

Kathy Biehl is a member of the State Bar of Texas and co-author of the Lawyer's Guide to Internet Research. Formerly in private practice, she is an author, researcher and consultant in the New York City area.

T. R. Halvorson is Deputy County Attorney in Sidney, MT, President of Synoptic Text Information Services, Inc., webmaster of LexNotes, and author of Law of the Super Searchers: the Online Secrets of Top Legal Researchers.


Ashamed of Myself

Sometimes we don't recognize character and beauty without a second look.  I (T.R.) was guilty of this with Securities Mosaic.  After a first look, I actually wrote this to one of our editors:  "I took a brief look around the site, but it seemed light to me, too trivial for a review."  Boy, was I wrong.  At the prompting of our editors, I took a second look.  Then I was ashamed of myself.

I was ashamed not only because of the incompetence of my first impression, but because of the hypocrisy of it.  For several years1 I have been saying that searchers ought to evaluate online services using the criteria of standardized rating scales, such as the SCOUG Rating Scale,2 and that online services should take those quality factors to heart in the design of their services. Then when a service did it -- particularly when they hit on consistency, accessibility/ease of use, and integration -- I failed to recognize it.

The integration, the consistency, the accessibility and ease of use of Securities Mosaic combined to make the service so plain, so simple that its content and power vanished from my eye.  Sans glittering costume jewelry and caky cosmetics, there she stands, with honest character and plain, durable good looks.  She is what her name says, a mosaic of securities information -- a mosaic in drawing diverse information from various sources and a mosaic in integrating that diversity into a thematic, visual, and functional unity.  When I asked Kathy to look at the service (because she is the legislative and regulatory information guru), she told me, "Somebody thought this one through."

In this article Kathy will give you the guided tour of the system in use, and I will take you behind the screen for a briefing on the service provider and its intended market, data sources, production methods, data timeliness, and accuracy. We will provide you with our evaluation of the overall value-to-cost ratio of this modestly priced service.

Content and Intended Market

Securities Mosaic is an information portal for professionals who work closely with federal securities regulations and disclosure documents.  These professionals include attorneys, law librarians, paralegals, investment bankers and analysts, portfolio managers, accountants and auditors, compliance professionals, and educators.

The service offers comprehensive federal statutes, regulations, SEC news and releases, and public filings.  The user interface presents the content neatly organized as follows:

Current Laws and Regulations
   Securities Laws
   Securities Regulations

Securities Knowledgebase
   Full-Text Search
   SEC Forms
   SEC Releases
   SEC News Digest
   Regulatory Update Calendar
   Regulatory Glossary

SEC EDGAR Filings

The resources within each of Securities Mosaic's major headings are laudably comprehensive.

Beginning the Tour

Securities Mosaic contains powerful research and information capabilities within a bare-bones but straightforward structure. The service offers its content with a variety of retrieval methods and exceptional navigational ease.

One of the virtues of Securities Mosaic is a penchant for concise and largely self-evident terminology. This begins on the public welcoming page, which spells out the site's core features in a center column, flanked by headlines of SEC official and press releases. After log in, the center column changes to a hyperlinked index of the site's resources, which are divided into three sections: laws and regulations, the Securities Knowledgebase (forms, releases, news, regulatory updates, and a glossary), and SEC EDGAR filings.

As you navigate into all resources except EDGAR, the site design shifts the index to an unchanging left frame. The result is that any resource heading in the Securities Mosaic is one click away from any other one. This is in keeping with the site design's conscious embracing of the concept of "three-click access," which strives to link resources so that they are at most three clicks apart. Many are closer, particularly within the statutes and regulations.

Laws and Regulations

The federal statutes consist of browseable versions of the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and the Trust Indenture Act of 1939. Click on a title and a hyperlinked table of contents appears; click on the section number to view the text. Carrying out the three-click access philosophy, each page offers jumps to the previous and next sections, as well as to the index.

The Regulations link contains a hyperlinked index of the most current regulations in numeric order. (Securities Mosaic boasts that its publication of new regulations sometimes precedes their appearance in the Federal Register.) Clicking on a chapter number retrieves an index of all section numbers and titles within it. (The exceptions include 200, 201, 203 and 204, which contain only an index of their subparts). The title and CFR citation appears at the top of each index and section.

To search SEC laws or regulations, take the link to the full-text search engine, which appears among the Knowledgebase resources in the left frame. This engine allows more flexibility than is initially apparent. The pull-down menu next to the query box allows the user to specify whether the search should find all words, any words, or the exact phrase. The engine also recognizes a number of Boolean operators, such as AND, OR and NOT (though uncovering this fact requires surfing to the Help page). It uses quote marks for exact phrases, + to show required words and - to exclude words. Additionally, it permits nesting key words and operators within parentheses, such as "(broker OR dealer) AND NOT registration." There is, however, no wild card symbol for searching expansions of a word root. It's advisable, therefore, to enter plurals and derivatives of a term manually.

Results are displayed in a numeric list. Each entry has the statutory or regulation section number, hyperlinked to the text, and a listing of excerpts from the section showing appearances of the query term(s) in context. It is then possible to refine the query and search within the results, by marking the checkbox alongside the query box.


Regulatory Glossary

In addition to the full-text search engine, the Knowledgebase contains five other specialty areas, each with its own search tools. The one that receives lowest billing deserves priority attention, at least on first visit, because it offers a unique tool that could prove useful in the other areas. This is the Regulatory Glossary, which provides three routes to pinpointing the definition of terms in specific sections. To retrieve and compare all the variations in its regulatory definitions, enter a term in the query box or look for it in the glossary's alphabetical listing. Many words have only one definition, but some do have several; "person," for example, has five. The bottom of the glossary page displays the number of pages and buttons for going to the next or last page; you can also jump into the listings by selecting a hyperlinked letter of the alphabet. Each definition discloses the CFR section number in which it appears, and contains a link back to the glossary.

SEC Forms

The SEC Forms page offers query boxes for retrieving forms by name, citation, or description. This page also contains a form index that gives their name, type, citation; identifies the agency division with interpretative responsibility; and describes each form and when to use it (in some cases, in great depth). Look below the index for the total number of releases in the index and arrow buttons that load the next or final page of the index. A hyperlink is available to each form by citation and, in most instances, by form name. Within a form, links permit navigating to the previous or next form or returning to the index.

SEC Releases

The SEC Releases sector of the Knowledgebase encompasses proposed and final rules, staff bulletins, statements by the commissioner, testimony, interpretations, and other public actions. Subscribers receive e-mail alerts of new releases and rule amendments. In this section of the site, a pull-down menu allows selecting the type of action (all types is the default), while two query boxes accept searches by keywords or phrases in the release summary, or by release number (which may be partial). The release page also contains an index of hyperlinked titles, CFR part, release number and date, and action type. Below the index, the number of releases appears, along with buttons for navigating to the next or final page of the index.

SEC News

For the SEC's daily news digest, Securities Mosaic offers full-text keyword searching, which may be limited to a news category (such as enforcement proceedings, announcements, or releases under a specific statute). Scroll down the page to view the most recent digest items. The digest page displays the digest items by category, date and title, followed by a statement of the associated news. At the bottom of the page is the total of the digest items (204, when I last visited) and buttons linked to the next or final page of the digest.

Regulatory Updates

To browse or search recent regulatory changes, use the Regulatory Update Calendar. This label is the one departure from self-evident labeling. The section is not a calendar in the usual sense, but a chart of forms, releases, and rules revisions listed in reverse date order.

The search tool at this page requires a CFR part number, which may be limited to a code title selected from a pull-down menu. It's also possible to browse changes, which are indexed by date. For each entry, the index gives the affected title, CFR part, and Federal Register page, as well as the date and a description of the change. The bottom of the page offers the same aids that appear on the other index pages: the total number of results pages and buttons for navigating further into the index.

SEC Filings

The SEC filings database, which covers any EDGAR filing since 1994, comes from a real-time, licensed feed from EDGAR Online. Entry into this section of the site requires setting up a user name and password with EDGAR Online, which is nothing more than typing in the choices and hitting Enter.

The search and analysis options here are different and more numerous than what is available at the SEC site.  Clickable icons give access to the latest filings by type, such as balance sheet, cash flow statement, or income statement. The engine offers a staggering number of options for searching, including ticker symbol, Central Index Key, and major industry group or sector. It's possible to limit an industry group or sector to a state, then specify a city within that state. Form, date, and date range are among the display options.

The site permits downloading financial data in spreadsheets and saving documents in RTF or HTML. Unlike with some EDGAR Online subscription plans, Securities Mosaic users may download an unlimited number of filings at no extra charge. The absence of per-minute or per-document charges distinguishes the service as well from LivEDGAR, Westlaw, or Lexis.

The feed also offers e-mail alerts of new SEC filings by specified companies. The alerts are easy to set up, by typing in either the company name (the partial name suffices) or ticker symbol. When the screen refreshes, a jaunty yellow NEW! Icon appears if the added name had a new filing within the previous 24 hours.

Securities Mosaic has a few minor quirks, one of which is a security precaution. If as little as five minutes transpires without activity within the site, the next navigational command will meet with a log-in screen. Slight lapses in use will also require logging back on to go from My Edgar Online section to the Knowledgebase. If you are already within the Knowledgebase when prompted to log in again, a slight display problem results. Instead of reloading and filling the full screen, the home page will reload entirely nested within the right frame. The display quirk disappears when you surf deeper into the site.

Who Produces This?

Securities Mosaic was released on May 30, 2001 by Knowledge Mosaic LLC.3  Peter Schwartz is the founder and President of Knowledge Mosaic. Schwartz has nearly 20 years of research, editorial, and technology experience.  He served as the Political Science Editor for Microsoft Encarta; as the Editorial Director at Partes Corporation, creators of the FreeEDGAR website; and as the Vice-President of Content Management at Nimble Technology, Inc., a provider of XML-based data integration solutions that tie information together across the enterprise. His academic preparation includes a Ph.D. in political science and teaching political philosophy at two universities.

Knowledge Mosaic is a technology-driven online publishing company based in Seattle, Washington. The company integrates original content and source data within specialized, highly regulated information realms where professionals must work extensively with unstructured data. The company's publishing model relies heavily on partnerships, application service providers, and specialized technologies.  Its aim is to offer high-quality, innovative data services at a very low cost.

Knowledge Mosaic beta tested Securities Mosaic for three months. The company also used surveys and interviews from members of its target audience, particularly securities attorneys, to get feedback on the website.  That research was the origin of a number of features and design standards, including recursive searching, email alerts, searching by release number, and a general focus on simplicity.

Sources of Data

Securities Mosaic obtains all of its data electronically. The service:

  • harvests securities laws and regulations from the US GPO website.
  • harvests SEC forms and releases from the SEC website.
  • updates its regulations from SEC releases, which generally gives it the ability to publish changes and alert subscribers prior to the publication of these releases in the Federal Register.
  • obtains data for its regulatory update calendar from the US GPO website.
  • mines data for its regulatory glossary from the regulations.
  • obtains its SEC EDGAR data from a feed licensed from EDGAR Online. EDGAR Online uses a Level One data feed from the SEC as the source for their data.

Timeliness

Securities Mosaic manually downloads and hand-processes most of its data, using various formatting and text-processing tools to convert from ASCII to HTML. This process allows the service to load and publish regulatory data very quickly, typically within 24 hours of its release by the SEC or the GPO.

Accuracy

In response to our inquiries on data accuracy and rate of error, Schwartz said:

Because we do a lot of hand processing, our error rates are extremely low. In fact, we often correct spelling and formatting errors in the original documents. The EDGAR feed we license from EDGAR Online is more subject to error because of the volume of documents processed and the variability in the format and structure of those documents. EDGAR Online handles those issues as well as any EDGAR provider and the error rates are relatively low.

Output

Securities Mosaic reformats the legal and regulatory data making it appreciably easier to read and navigate than if it were left in the acquired format.  The service makes an effort to capture the structure of each regulatory section making it easier to follow the flow and understand the relationships of the document. The service makes it easy to page through a regulation, return to the index, jump to cross-referenced links, and archive, email, or print the laws and regulations.

Value-To-Cost Ratio

Securities Mosaic is an integrated research environment for securities professionals, offering a single point of access to current regulatory and disclosure data and a query-intensive platform for legal research and analysis. We know of no other website that delivers this mix of features, and certainly not at the low cost Securities Mosaic offers its subscribers.  For the extent of its features, Securities Mosaic is surprisingly inexpensive. Its individual annual subscription rate is $300, which is discounted significantly for multi-user licenses (33% for 6-10; 50% for up to 25; nearly 90% for unlimited).  The service offers a free, two-week trial that can be obtained by simple online registration.

Securities Mosaic is more than sleek, simple, efficient, and intuitive. It's the rare service that lives up to its own hype. "Nowhere will you find a more unified, integrated, comprehensive, and inexpensive research tool for securities practitioners," Securities Mosaic says on its About page. It's all true.

Footnotes

1 T. R. Halvorson, "Searcher Responsibility for Quality in the Web World," Searcher, vol. 6 no. 9, October 1998, pp. 12-20.   <back to text>

2 The earliest full-orbed view of quality and value of information in the electronic age I can find is the work of the 1990 annual retreat of the Southern California Online Users Group (SCOUG). The retreat produced the SCOUG Rating Scale, a framework for judging performance in ten broad categories: consistency, coverage and scope, timeliness, accuracy/error rate, accessibility/ease of use, integration, output, documentation, customer support and training, and value-to-cost ratio.  Reva Basch, "Measuring the Quality of the Data: Report on the Fourth Annual SCOUG Retreat," Database Searcher, vol. 6, no. 8, October 1990, pp. 18-24.   <back to text>

3 Press Release, Securities Mosaic Releases Securities Information Portal, May 30, 2001.   <back to text>