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Timeline Update: January 17, 1994--Carl Malamud Launches Free Online Access to SEC EDGAR Records

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, August 17 2012

Soon after launching the Politics and the Internet timeline, we saw a tweet from long-time tech publisher and visionary Tim O'Reilly, retweeting a plug from Rep. Darrell Issa, but adding "Alas, omits @carlmalamud's work RT @DarrellIssa: An interactive history of the Internet & politics..." I immediately responded that it was an unintentional oversight, as Malamud is truly the modern open data movement's founding father. Here's the update to the timeline, which was just added:

January 17, 1994: Carl Malamud Launches Free Online Access to SEC EDGAR Records

Until this day, the only way to access the Securities and Exchange Commission's Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval (EDGAR) database of filings from public corporations and financial entities was to go to a special reading room in Washington, DC, or to pay private information services.

At first, the data he made available was two days old, a result of the time it took for the SEC to overnight the data disks to him and for them to then be uploaded. But usage rapidly soared to 50,000 a day. As Malamud later recounted, "What we found when we placed these so-called products on the Internet--for free--was that these reports were not just fodder for a few well-heeled financial professionals...but instead that these public reports of public corporations were of tremendous interest to journalists, students, senior citizen investment clubs, employees of the companies reporting and employees of their competitors, in short a raft of new uses that had been impossible before." Two years later, as the grant was set to run out, Malamud launched a public campaign to get the SEC to take over and maintain the free service, alerting users that his funding was about to run out and giving them the SEC chairman's contact information. He also offered to give his software to the SEC and train its staff. Soon the agency capitulated. It was the dawn of the modern open government movement in the United States.

One fun side note that grew out of this interchange: Darrell Issa tweeted "Plugging in first Whitehouse modem is one, right?" Malamud replied, "before they were allowed to plug in a modem, we ran infrared down to the lawn." That happened in 1993, when he was running an internet radio broadcasting service, and the White House asked his help in setting up an online connection. That story is told here, in a great profile of Malamud written by Clint Hendler in the Columbia Journalism Review.