What if you could quickly identify the customers, suppliers and partners of any company? That way, as new products suddenly become successful, you could buy the stocks of the publicly-traded suppliers that benefit.
What if you could easily find companies that had disclosed exposure to sub-prime debt or auction-rate securities? That way, you could eliminate stocks from your portfolio before the risks blow up.
And what if you could rapidly identify the stocks that benefit from a particular investment theme, such as solar energy?
We’ve discovered how to do these things, using Google’s off-the-shelf search. Let me explain.
In mid-2005, Seeking Alpha decided to start publishing free transcripts of public companies’ quarterly conference calls with analysts and investors. Initially, we published a couple of hundred transcripts a quarter. Our readers loved them, because quarterly conference calls are full of valuable information about companies, products and markets, and transcripts are easier to skim and digest than listening to webcasts. Until then, conference call transcripts had only been available from expensive subscription services offered by Thomson (TOC) and FactSet (NYSE:FDS).
As more readers discovered the free transcripts, their popularity grew. This quarter, we expanded the number of companies whose calls we transcribe to about 3,000, massively increasing our investment in the project. The transcripts are accessible via our partners, E*Trade (NASDAQ:ETFC) and Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO).
We predicted that resourceful investors would find innovative ways to take advantage of such valuable information, free for the first time on the open Internet. Soon, the first application popped up: visualization. But it wasn’t a killer app.
Then we upgraded the search on Seeking Alpha by paying an annual fee of $850 to Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) for its Custom Search Engine for our site. Now, when you search on Seeking Alpha by typing a term into the search box at the top right of every page, you can filter the results by transcripts.
The result is spectacular. Some searches that we’ve seen:
- A search for "787" shows all the companies that have discussed Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner. The customers are obvious; but now you can find suppliers and other companies leveraged to the 787’s success.
- A search for "Apple iPod" allows you to bring up comments about the iPod from Nvidia, XM Satellite Radio, Audible, SRS Labs, SanDisk, Creative, Electronic Arts, and even Turbo Chef.
- A search for "Lowering Guidance" pulls up all the companies that lowered their guidance on recent calls, signifying that the outlook is worse than they previously expected. Similar: search for "below consensus".
Investors aren’t the only ones using the transcript search. Dominic Jones, who writes the excellent IR Web Report, says that investor relations professionals will use Seeking Alpha's transcript search to do background research on particular analysts, such as what types of questions they've been asking on recent calls. And he thinks IR departments will use transcript search to monitor what their peers are saying on their calls about particular topics.
Meanwhile, we're seeing that journalists and bloggers have started to use the transcript search to research articles and find quotes from company executives. (Try searching transcripts for Iraq.) And management consultants are using the transcript search for project research: for the first time, they can find what any of 3,000 publicly-traded companies are saying about a topic of interest.
To further increase the power of Google search applied to transcripts, we've added another neat feature. Once you're viewing a transcript, you can now search for a phrase inside the transcript itself -- the "Find in Transcript" box flips you to the one-page view of the transcript and highlights every occurance of the phrase in yellow.
The take-away for me is obvious. The "killer apps" of Web 1.0, such as email and search, can still surprise us. And Google's core search business has much, much more upside.