CNN-Money has a very fascinating story on the rise and rise of Bloomberg LP, founded by Michael Bloomberg in the early 1980s. Here's something offered by the company's product:
Yes, you can search on Google for people. But a Bloomberg can give you a quick-and-dirty rundown that, at its best, will provide address and phone, year of birth, education, employment history, news stories about your subject, compensation when that's public, maybe some family details. If you'd next like to e-mail that person, and maybe send him a raunchy joke that would get you in trouble on your corporate system, you can send it on the Bloomberg e-mail system. "Just Bloomberg me" is a common Wall Street instruction.
Sounds somewhat like Facebook, right? Of course, this is just a side-dish to the main course which is the huge volume of financial data packaged together with tools for analyzing them:
... From its start in bonds, Bloomberg gradually poured in data and analytics on commodities, equities, foreign securities of all kinds, energy, mortgage-backed securities, derivatives, mutual funds, real estate, hedge funds, foreign exchange. Its oceans of information today include earnings estimates, SEC filings, merger and acquisition facts, legal documents and data on 1.3 million people.
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Thanks to David Warsh's Economic Principals for the pointer.