Bloomberg Gets Real Jason 02 Jun 2006

27 comments Latest by Thomas

From page 52 of Bloomberg by Bloomberg:

“We made mistakes, of course. Most of them were omissions we didn’t think of when we initially wrote the software. We fixed them by doing it over and over, again and again. We do the same today. While our competitors are still sucking their thumbs trying to make the design perfect, we’re already on prototype version No. 5. By the time our rivals are ready with wires and screws, we are on version No. 10. It gets back to planning versus acting. We act from day one; others plan how to plan - for months.”

Thanks to Matt K. for sending this quote over.

27 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Marko 02 Jun 06

Looks like Bloomberg discovered iterative software development! It’s not Science, it’s Real.
(Almost sold out his book too…)

Brian 02 Jun 06

I just headed over here to send you that same Bloomberg quote, and Matt beat me to it. Sounds like the 37Signal is getting through to us all, loud and clear.

Steve T 03 Jun 06

Getting Real-ly bored… please begin discussing practical usability, web standards and other lovely things again. Now that everyone runs a Web 2.0 business, rather than truelly keeping it real, I think it’s all getting a bit too serious and evangelical. I’m saying this because I think other blogs/designers are similarly getting too odd and evangelical, taking your lead. Whilst your “real” book may be popular, I certainly check your blog for your software and tech bits and bobs, and I guess a lot of other readers are this way inclined too. I almost always ignore the real/biz bits. Sorry to be negative.

Cristian 03 Jun 06

Way to go, Steve!

I’m also getting eXtremely bored of all these happy-business evangelitical posts. I’m sorry too for being so negative.

It seems to me that Jason and the guys commenting here should actually “Get Real” and dirty with some tough web development issues.

JF 03 Jun 06

If you don’t like what we’re saying you should check out another site. SvN isn’t everything to everybody. We aren’t interested in discussing standards. We’re interested in discussing what we’re discussing. The significant growth of our traffic and our RSS feed demonstrates there are plenty of people interested in what we’re interested in.

Give me a break.. 03 Jun 06

I really really hope to god you’re not claiming that Bloomberg “got real”. Michael Bloomberg was an amazing leader and businessman long before you marketers posing as programmers invented “getting real”.

Hype 2.0

megh 03 Jun 06

the thing is that bloomberg has plenty of complicated financial software and services that would make you sick with all the features they have, jason.

there are some situations where the only people who would possibly pay you money for a given kind of product want tons of stuff and they actually make use of a substantial fraction of them — they’re power users. speaking of investment management software in general, e.g., i bet you’d hate TradeStation, but day traders love it.

so actually a lot of financial software, including software that’s very successful, violates your core philosophy in many ways. therefore, as i’ve commented on before, some of your preaching wears a little thin, mr. fried, when it’s clear there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

JF 04 Jun 06

when it�s clear there�s more than one way to skin a cat.

We agree and we’ve always agreed. If you’ve paid any attention to us we’ve always said there are many many ways to do something — our way is just one way.

J 04 Jun 06

megh, JF was quoting Bloomberg himself. He said that so he believes that.

uff 04 Jun 06

Let’s try ‘got real’. That book was published in 97+2001 ( He’s talking about business 5 years ago, when many people were still dot-comming it, which we’ll call the ‘poor man’s getting real’.

Megh, agree w/ you on TradeStation + other financial software. They could all be prettier/easier to use, but at the end of the day, a trader buys that software in order to make money; if you can solve the function before form of the fin industry, w/o killing yourself with years of ‘get real’ retrofits, add-ons, and triple-dropdown-context-menus (ref: TradeStation), you have a more successful product.

SU 04 Jun 06

Has anyone here used a Bloomberg?

I haven’t done much more than see screenshots and demo movies of particular features. In the hands of an able user, you’d think you were watching Linus Torvalds show the command prompt who’s boss, but it couldn’t be more confusing to novices.

That said, ramping up to “power user” status probably goes quickly when your firm is pressuring you to make money, and fast ;)

StartLaunch 05 Jun 06

It’s good to see that large corporations are getting a clue. It sure makes my freelance work a lot easier.

Jack Shedd 05 Jun 06

It’s kinda funny when 37signals stumbles upon old quotes that follow similar lines of think as “Getting Real”. Umm .. yeah … a lot of the stuff in the PDF are things folks have been saying for decades.

Quick, someone scan the Bible. See if Jesus ever got real.

Elliott 05 Jun 06

Just wondering: hows the job board turning out? it seems to have taken a real dive after the first month….down to only 56 jobs now.

Hows it working out? could you give us some incite? or alternatively just scream at me for posting this in totally the wrong place…..sorry :s

JF 05 Jun 06

Just wondering: hows the job board turning out? it seems to have taken a real dive after the first month�.down to only 56 jobs now.

Jobs stay up for 30 days. The initial batch are expiring now all at once because everyone put their job up in the first few days after launch.

Overall it’s doing quite well.

blame 05 Jun 06

It’s kinda funny when 37signals stumbles upon old quotes that follow similar lines of think as “Getting Real”. Umm .. yeah … a lot of the stuff in the PDF are things folks have been saying for decades.

Quick, someone scan the Bible. See if Jesus ever got real.

Ha! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

JF 05 Jun 06

It�s kinda funny when 37signals stumbles upon old quotes that follow similar lines of think as �Getting Real�. Umm .. yeah � a lot of the stuff in the PDF are things folks have been saying for decades.

From page 9 of our book:

�You didn�t invent that idea.�
We�re not claiming to have invented these techniques.
Many of these concepts have been around in one form or
another for a long time. Don�t get huffy if you read some
of our advice and it reminds you of something you read
about already on so and so�s weblog or in some book pub-
lished 20 years ago. It�s definitely possible. These tech-
niques are not at all exclusive to 37signals. We�re just telling
you how we work and what�s been successful for us.

FredS 05 Jun 06

The haters are getting really old. Jesus, go outside or something.

robbe morris 05 Jun 06

i’m a facist dickhead

GetRizzle 05 Jun 06

The evangalizing is a little rediculous. Other companies (including Bloomberg) have shown that a speced out, feature bloated product can do just as well as a simple stripped down one. Marketing is the answer to all sucess.

Jack Shedd 05 Jun 06

Jason - disclaimer or no disclaimer, there’s humor in it.

Anonymous Coward 05 Jun 06

This Bloomberg quote reminds me of something my grandpa always used to say. “Let the mule pull you, don’t pull the mule.” If you really think about it, that holds true even in the tech industry. You don’t want to step in the mule’s “output” but you also don’t want to have to carry three dozen carrots.

Kirk Wylie 09 Jun 06

Unlike apparently everybody else on here, I use the Bloomberg Terminal software on a regular basis, and I can’t actually imagine that anything that Mike Bloomberg has to say about software design or construction is being taken seriously. The software is the very definition of NOT keeping it real. Let’s go through some of the common factors of the software:

  • It’s so complex to use, you have to have specialized training just to be able to figure out how to do a simple thing.

  • It’s virtually impossible to figure out what the system is actually capable of, so you don’t actually make full use of it.

  • The user interface is such that you can’t actually see what you can do easily, meaning that there may be a feature there to do exactly what you want, but if you don’t know about it, you’ll never find it on your own.

  • It almost completely lacks the concept of a “back” button. Imagine that you’re looking at an index (like S&P 500) and you navigate to one of the constituent stocks. You want to go back to the S&P 500 page. You can’t. Not without typing in SPX Index and starting from scratch. Which is fine. But imagine that there’s an intermediate step and you don’t know the code to type in to get to the page. Now you’re stuck.

  • At the time that the book was written, it wasn’t even normal desktop software, it required a custom workstation to function.

  • When it starts, you get 4 windows. Not 3, not 5, 4. You can customize it to get 2 if you really want. But that’s it. No more, no less.

  • It’s essentially cobol running on a mainframe ferchrissakes!

Now, some of this is understandable given its origins, but it’s been 5 years since the book was written. Every single thing I’ve listed above was true then, and is still true.

Fundamentally, what you’re looking at in the Bloomberg Terminal is a case where there’s enough power in the system, that power users can do what they need to do quickly, and as such, they force their juniors to use it and learn it, and make it a virtuous/vicious cycle. And in that, their idea of rapid prototyping did work. At this point Bloomberg Terminal is the standard, and while Reuters has arguably a better live data distribution system and is superior in some market areas, it’s relegated to an Also Ran. Which isn’t really because Bloomberg was faster at prototyping, but because Reuters spent so long trying to integrate Bridge into their app that they didn’t put anything new out for like 2 years (not because they were being too slow in designing up front).

So bottom line, the whole quotation is crap. It’s terribly designed software, it’s virtually impossible to use (and it IS impossible to “casually” use), and he’s putting a clever spin on a much more complex period in the competition between major trading terminal systems that doesn’t necessarily match the actual competition in the market place.

I’m a big fan of the SvN storyline and philosophy, and just didn’t want anybody to be holding up what has got to be the worst software I’ve ever used as anything good. Because it isn’t. It’s an unholy beast.

Danno 10 Jun 06

All the guys in my office say that Bloomberg’s data feeds sucks balls.

Maybe they should spend a *bit* more time planning.

It’s the difference between giving someone a pile of horsecrap in the hopes of taking their money faster and cutting all the bullshit that nobody needs so you can give them what they really want.

BBG User 11 Jun 06

I’ll second Kirk Wylie’s thoughts. The Bloomberg Terminal software seems so profoundly bad that you would expect for it to be crushed by competition. Yet, it remains the standard in it’s industry. Anyone have an idea for why this is?

Kirk Wylie 12 Jun 06

Yeah, I do raw C API programming, and their API is so bizarre that it boggles the mind. I mean, they ship you a C header, with typedefs for some structures that are so obsolete (they ship like 10 versions of the struct for header data) it’s crazy, along with comments from developers to each other on how some things in it hardly work. Seriously, getting your code to work using their API is a lesson in masochism. And don’t even get me started on trying to get through to a tech support person who can actually understand that you understand their software better than they do!

But I digress.

Regardless, I think that the reason why it’s standard at this point is the following:

  • Reuters fucked up. When they bought Bridge (which was arguably the best platform out there), they had a lot of internal political battles between the Reuters guys and the Bridge guys (this from a friend who works at Reuters in their development group, so I’m pretty sure it’s accurate). That stalled any forward development on their platform for essentially years, and meant that there was no forward progress being made.

  • Single System. If you’re a financial professional, you spend a LOT of time in your primary trading platform, and you spend just as much time making sure you understand it. That is simply not justified for anything but one “primary” application, because then you’ll have your separate custom systems to have your Secret Sauce to put in the mix. Learning an extra system doesn’t really make any sense.

The Single System one is really a network effects thing: let’s say you’re on a team of 4 people, two of who use Bloomberg. You better be using Bloomberg as well, because otherwise you can’t compare anything accurately. That means that as long as you have completely different systems, with a large learning curve, and people who switch jobs, whoever’s got the most market share will get increasing market share going forward. Since that became Bloomberg (partially during the Reuters/Bridge saga), they will continue to get free market share going forward.

The only way that I can see that really switching is if alternate data providers come in and give DECENT platforms for extensibility and usability (for example, give us an API which works and works well for us, not based on what your developers felt like doing 30 years ago). Then you might see a switch. But I don’t think it’s likely, because many of the real problems have to do with getting the data in the first place and the rights to distribute it, NOT in developing the application.

For example, if you’re trading fixed income, something like a US swap rate isn’t an exchange-traded commodity. You have to get a “consensus” view from the market. Getting enough counterparties (I-banks) to give you THEIR current deal flow to provide a composite, and getting their approval to make it available to your clients, is a LOT of work.

Thomas 08 Jul 06

So I borrowed “Bloomberg By Bloomberg” from the Copenhagen Municipal Library and someone has already marked every single paragraph in the book mentioning something along the lines of Getting Real. Did you do it?