Of Embargoes and Selective Scarcity

My first career was as a spot FX (foreign exchange) trader on a corporate treasury desk. Esoteric theories I had learnt at business schools around currency pricing very quickly went out of the window (for a strange reason, our dealing room did not have windows, but that’s not really the point). The ubiquitous volatility of the trading day however seemed to take a breather around 5:30pm India time (around when my boss would go down for a smoke) – a mere pause before the madness resumed in doubled frenzy just after 6:00pm. Precisely at 6:00pm, which was 8:30am EST, the US markets released macroeconomic/monetary data that traders instantaneously interpreted and positioned themselves to trade accordingly. I later learnt that journalists were all herded into a room ahead of the news release, given copies of the about-to-be-released data to digest but they could only wire out the information (and analysis if any) at 8:30am IST. This was the information embargo

Institutions mostly apply embargoes on news and research for different reasons. Non scoop: Ensuring one news agency cannot “scoop” the news ahead of others. This is particularly important if the news has potential to cause a major disruption of status quo. Client protection: Applied in case of research, premium client engagement conditions might dictate that the wider distribution happens after a period that allows premium clients to digest the content.

Embargo, looked differently, also allows the creator of the embargo control the subsequent distribution (news is just a special case – my intent here is to generalize). For example, Department of Labor releasing US non-farm payroll data embargo at 8:30am EST ensures that all wires – all of them – write about it precisely at that hour, creating a critical mass, rather than fragmented reporting. Same goes with film reviews coming out on a Friday morning after special screenings on Thursday nights

Technology – both software and hardware – has started with embargoes (in a different way, though). Premium agencies – like All things D, Techcrunch, Wired etc – get advanced versions of gadgets they write on.  What if commonly downloaded software had embargoes? Several people could download it and use teaser versions before all of them got authorized at a precise time. It will allow creation of a crescendo that culminates in the same news-styled time-synchronized buzz. The software creator could actually control the period and pitch of the crescendo by creative releases of used features. I wonder if this approach has ever been tested with software

On the other hand, creating a non-synchronized embargo (kind of a carefully-careless embargo design) is interesting. This is where a software releases selective features to users depending on their usage. So it will be likely that two users will see, during the embargo period, different features of the software attuned to their usage. Imagine the social media going crazy with “hey, my version of <insert software name> allows me this, how come yours cannot” and “oh, hell, why on earth can I not do what you seem to be doing with your <insert software name>”. Yes, it will be crazy, but it will be fun. And it will start a conversation going