Michael Bloomberg is not equated with doing anything for free.

In fact, he is believed to have spent more than $100 million of his own money to nearly lose his bid for re-election as mayor in New York.

That, though, is chicken feed to Bloomberg, who made his billions on selling instant detailed information on bonds, stocks and other financial instruments to professional traders.

Subscriptions to the Bloomberg Professional service came through the Bloomberg terminal, which acted (and acts) as the proprietary gateway to the data. Each rents for $1,500 a month. No volume discounts.

Now, rather quietly, Bloomberg LLP is giving away the keys to navigating, retrieving and using information from its data services for free.

Earlier this month, it launched a Web site that goes by the stiff name of BSYM (bsym.bloomberg.com). As in Bloomberg Symbology.

The site allows, free of charge, any individual to look up the multicharacter codes used in the Bloomberg Professional and other Bloomberg data products to identify almost any security.

You can't yet download a complete set of Bloomberg identifiers. But you can download batches for stocks in one sector of the economy or for a particular "subclass" of asset.

These identifiers are needed for front office functions such as data analysis, pricing and risk evaluation as well as back office functions such as clearing, settlement and transaction reporting.

To date, any substantive provider of market data develops its own symbology-its own sequence of numbers and characters-to identify stocks, options, bonds, puts, calls, etc. The better to tie you to its array of services for delivering detailed information about each instrument.

If you didn't want to be tied to those unique identifiers, then you developed ... your own symbology. If you are big enough, on your own.

But now Bloomberg identifiers can be adopted by the world at large.

In a fashion, Bloomberg is stepping up to possibly become the online financial world's equivalent of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. That's the outfit that maintains and updates unique identifying codes that allow any computer to find another computer.

In this case, Bloomberg pledges to constantly update codes that will allow any computer to find data on any financial instrument, from any other computer.

"Bloomberg will continue to update, build, and administer its identifiers to ensure they continue to serve as effective symbols for the broad uses required in today's financial markets,'' the site says.

It's interesting this launch of the BSYM site comes in the wake of a declaration by the European Commission that it was initiating a probe of Bloomberg data rival Thomson Reuters.

The EC's point? That Reuters Instrument Codes might unfairly restrict competition. If your trading or asset management firm has built analytical tools and operations around those codes, re-mapping to some other set of codes and moving your business to some other supplier of data can be prohibitive.

And it's doubly interesting to note that the move may only be the start of a new "open" Bloomberg platform. You can, it says here, expect to see more free-dom-so to speak-from Bloomberg.

Expect to see Bloomberg release into the market, openly, a variety of communications protocols and conversion tables that allow investors and traders to combine information from multiple sources into their most complicated spreadsheets and analytical programs.

Don't be surprised if Bloomberg encourages and assists in the release of a wide array of programs or spreadsheets that can be used on desktop computers, portable computers and, yes, smart phones to retrieve prices and information on securities, pull in market data and make action recommendations. Someone's symbols are going to be needed, to do this. And, yes, even if you didn't start out with a profit-making motive, it would be nice to start hearing the Wall Streeter standing next to you in the subway say: there's a BAP (Bloomberg application) for that.

If the brand you command is Bloomberg, you've already dominated the proprietary marketplace for financial data.

The challenge now is to dominate an open world of financial data. Where you can leverage the quality, speed and reliability of the information you supply, by giving away key symbols, communications protocols and analytic tools that have been developed up until now in a closed world.

And bring the rest of the world to your products.

This article can also be found at SecuritiesIndustry.com.

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