Any time you have people using a new language there are bound to be snags. The same holds true with XBRL. With the many different XBRL vocabularies available, how do you untangle the web?
Accounting has its own domain-specific language, developed over time in response to national and international legal requirements. This language facilitates a common understanding across the accounting community. These contracts, known as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), are very complex in their semantics and have a highly stylized terminology.
XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) is the digital global standard for exchanging business information. It allows the expression of semantic meaning that is required in business reporting. In order to promote standardization and automation, GAAPs have been implemented in XBRL in formalized machine-interpretable semantic vocabularies.
However, some experts say that there are over 50 different XBRL vocabularies available today. Because reporting agencies like the SEC only require specific semantic characteristics such as calculation formulas, presentation layout and hierarchy of concepts, these vocabularies do not come with full-featured semantics and cannot easily be reused in other use-cases.
Ireland’s Tobias Wunner, Paul Buitelaar, and Sean O’Riain have developed a three-point methodology to enrich the structure of the XBRL vocabulary including:
- Semantic (taxonomic, meronymic synonymic, etc.)
- Terminological term inclusion, sub-term structure, etc.)
- Linguistic (syntax, morphology, etc.)
Their enriched vocabulary can then be used for Ontology-based Information Extraction (OBIE), which requires a more complete and fine-grained semantic, terminological and linguistic analysis of the vocabulary.
A March 1, 2013 article in Digital Financial Reporting, Achieving Meaningful Exchange of Information attempts to simplify XBRL Ontology. This is an in-depth discussion of XBRL Ontology with clear and informative diagrams.
“Ontology allows you to define your controlled vocabulary”, states the article, “a very rich set of properties for the things within that controlled vocabulary, and your own types of relationships between the things in the vocabulary.”
Clearly, there is a lot of work being done to simplify and untangle the web of XBRL. Many resources are available and listed below are some excellent places to start clarifying the language of XBRL for yourself.
For a more complete explanation of Wunner, Buitelaar, and O’Riain’s work, go to: http://ceur-ws.org/Vol-673/paper3.pdf
To read the complete article in Digital Financial Reporting, go to: http://xbrl.squarespace.com/journal/2013/3/1/achieving-meaningful-exchange-of-information.html