The long bad Friday for ESI

'It looks like they're living in the stone age, and that's bad for innovative UK companies'

IT SHOULD have been a day of triumph. After 18 months' development, Cambridge-based Electronic Share Information was launching the first real-time share price service on the Internet.

Instead Friday was an unmitigated disaster for ESI's chairman, Hermann Hauser, and his team. The London Stock Exchange had already told ESI it could not offer live prices after all; now the company was informed that it had broken its confidentiality clause by talking to the press. The exchange withdrew all co-operation - removing ESI's raison d'etre and threatening the pounds 2m invested in the company. Then Mr Hauser got toothache, and had to rush out of the launch party for an emergency filling.

ESI was set up in early 1994 by a team led by Mr Hauser, founder of Acorn Computers, and the electronics entrepreneur Jack Lang. They believed the Internet was an ideal conduit for share price information, if not for actual trading, and joined up with David Jones, founder of the discount stockbroker Sharelink. The idea was that Internet users could watch prices in real time on their computer screens, then ring Sharelink to buy and sell.

ESI and Sharelink signed agreements with the exchange in March and June this year to allow them to carry real-time price information as part of a pilot scheme. Before this, the exchange had insisted prices could be carried only at midnight after trading: these prices were, and are, available via on-line services such as CompuServe.

On 31 August the two companies received a letter from the exchange saying it had changed its mind and that the real-time service, scheduled to start on Friday, would be withdrawn on 30 October. But they believed that they could still go ahead using CRS-Lynx, an alternative stock exchange subscription service.

Then on Wednesday another letter arrived, making it clear the exchange would not allow real- time pricing in any form. ESI/Sharelink had two launch parties scheduled - in Tower Bridge on Thursday night and at the London Internet cafe Cyberia on Friday morning. At least they could demonstrate the service, even if it would last only two months. "They must be like Canute trying to hold the tide back," Mr Lang was quoted as saying on the news wires. "It's a clear exploitation of their monopolistic position." The exchange clearly took exception, sending off a recorded letter to say everything was off because ESI had talked to the press.

The Cyberia launch did go ahead, because the plug had not yet been pulled. But the companies assume it will be tomorrow and, they say: "We are currently seeking legal advice as we believe such a unilateral alteration is an unfair contract alteration, and a restriction of trade in breach of UK and European law."

The exchange will not comment, which is consistent given its accusation that the companies have broken the terms of their contract by talking to the press. But it said in its original letter that it had "reviewed its strategic position'' and had decided stock prices should still be available only after midnight.

It is only possible to guess at the exchange's reasoning. It is conceivable it became concerned at the security implications of putting real-time share prices on the Internet. Although the prices are protected by a sophisticated encryption system, they could theoretically be tampered with by a hacker. But the same is true of the electronic price distribution systems used in the City.

The electronic community sees darker reasoning. It feels the exchange is protecting a monopolistic position that will be undermined eventually. Nasdaq is already established in the US as an all-electronic stock exchange, while an electronic Bulletin Board is also used to post bids and offers for shares of tiny companies. "It looks as though they're living in the stone age, and that's not good for innovative British companies looking to use technology to the full," says Danny Bowers, editor of Internet "magazine" MoneyWorld UK.

o The ESI/Sharelink page is on the Worldwide Web at http://www.esi.co.uk.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Orgtel are seeking Graduate Trainee Re...

HR Business Partner - Banking Finance - Brentwood - £45K

£45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: ** HR Business Partner - Senior H...

PA / Team Secretary - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: PA / Team Secretary - Mat...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz