Anticipating new products by possible URLs (competitive intelligence)

A common scenario in competitive intelligence is that you know a product launch is imminent, and you would like to alert senior executives or your PR department just before the actual launch, ideally with details about the product. The chances of knowing before everyone else does are remote - sandwiched between well-connected bloggers, tweeting employees, and companies that crack down on leaks.

One technique, particularly for technology companies, is to speculate what the URL of the new product might be, and visit that URL regularly in the hope that it will be published before the product is announced. This is what Bloomberg does, to give its subscribers an edge. Take, for example, Wells Fargo's choice of URLs for publishing SEC filings:

  • https://www.wellsfargo.com/downloads/pdf/invest_relations/3Q10_10Q.pdf
  • https://www.wellsfargo.com/downloads/pdf/invest_relations/2Q10_10Q.pdf
  • https://www.wellsfargo.com/downloads/pdf/invest_relations/1Q10_10Q.pdf

The obvious conclusion would be to start monitoring "https://www.wellsfargo.com/downloads/pdf/invest_relations/4Q10_10Q.pdf" just ahead of the expected release date, hoping that the relevant content appears there perhaps hours, even minutes, before it becomes public knowledge.

A similar line of thought applies to product URLs. For example, these URLs from Apple:

  • http://www.apple.com/ipod/
  • http://www.apple.com/iphone/
  • http://www.apple.com/ipad/

The iPad's name was known before the product was launched (even if it had not been, there were only two or three possibilities). So it would have made sense to monitor the possible iPad url. Apple is a bad example because the ultra-secretive company is unlikely to make such a basic slip, but the principle remains the same.

For this technique to be effective, the potential URL will need to be monitored very regularly, for example every minute during the estimated launch window. A basic approach is to use RefreshThing, but there are disadvantages to this largely manual method. An automated approach is preferable, that analyzes the target page to check if it remains blank or has had content added - these are not difficult to write. The benefits include being able to prepare a response to the product before journalists start calling, and being able to communicate with customers about this new product before they start being influenced by the opinions of others.