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March 21, 2006

Google Finance: Nice charts, but users won’t switch quickly

By Charlene Li

GoogfinGoogle Finance launched tonight – I had a sneak peak from Google last week and got a chance to play with it a bit after it went live tonight. I also had a chance to speak with a Yahoo! spokesperson after the Google site launched and was able to get their reaction. Here’s my quick take on the new service and what it means:

There are three new features in Google Finance that stood out for me:

-         Search. No need to know the ticker symbol of a company. I could type in company names like Home Depot and Target, and get the full information page in a wink. On Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, and Marketwatch.com, I have to know the ticker symbol. And even when I use the lookup, especially for Target, I get a long list of companies with the name “target” in them. Finally, I don’t feel like a dummy when trying to look up companies!

-         Charts. Google took a page from its Maps product and makes the charts interactive – you can drag them back and forth over time to see how prices have changed, without having to wait for the page to refresh. Another nice feature – key new s stories are mapped out on the chart (see the screenshot above).

-         Community advocates on message boards. Google will have as part of every publicly traded company, a message board that is a part of Google Groups. Taking a page from the popular Yahoo! Finance message boards, Google has created a discussion area for every publicly traded company (or so it appears). Inappropriate and spam postings have always been the bane of the Yahoo! boards, so Google’s put in place a few things, most notably the use of employees (yes, employees!) who will police the boards. What strikes me as ironic is that rather than employ technology to solve the problem, Google is using people to monitor the boards, in much the same way they review the content for search ads. Amazingly, there is no ability for users to flag posts for review – if quality is important, why doesn’t Google leverage its users to be the front lines in the fight for quality?

So overall, Google has done a very, very nice job pulling together a financial portal. Oops, did I just say “portal”? Sure looks like Google is pursuing that strategy now, doesn’t it! And rightly so – just take a look at the discussion board about Google and you’ll see person after person saying that they are defecting from their current finance site (mostly Yahoo!) to use Google.

But I frankly think that we won’t be seeing a mass migration of people from other finance sites to Google anytime soon. The most obvious defectors will be Google enthusiasts – they won’t be able to wait to add Google Finance to their personalized home page. But I believe that most mainstream financial site users will stick with their current sources for now, primarily because it’s simply a pain to have to re-enter your detailed portfolio information again! Are nice charts and company look-ups enough to shift people over to Google Finance? And don’t forget that Yahoo! and MSN have invested heavily in producing their own content, and I fully expect that they will improve their search, charts, and boards quickly as well.

But these features are all window dressing. In the end, Google Finance is a definite improvement on existing services, but it didn’t blow me away. It felt like it was incremental improvements rather than something that fundamentally changed the financial site game.

I believe that Yahoo! actually has the opportunity to change the game, but only if it taps into its nascent social computing strategy. For example, it may give users the technology to rank posts on quality or flag inappropriate posts. But also think about the power of tags on posts, or the ability to see rich profiles that enable users to connect with each other based on their similar investment goals. Think of a social network where I could find working moms who have to balance saving for college, retirement -- and are in the midst of building a house.

So kudos to Google for launching a nice new site that ups the ante, but don’t rest on your laurels for long – your competitors will quickly match you feature for feature, and raise you with their larger installed user bases.

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Comments

Christopher Carfi

>"But also think about the power of tags on posts, or the ability to see rich profiles that enable users to connect with each other based on their similar investment goals. Think of a social network where I could find working moms who have to balance saving for college, retirement..."

Charlene, this kind of ability to set up targeted social networks that allow search-and-find around traits is exactly where we're going with Haystack ( http://haystack.cerado.com ), with which we're seeing a lot of interest. The big surprise for us so far is that folks are looking at doing this not only between peers, and not only from customer-to-organization, but also as a way to create better cohesion *within an organization itself*. There seems to be an expanding set of use cases for this, and the list is growing daily.

Dave

At StockTickr (http://www.stocktickr.com), we're building that social network now. You can tag stocks in a very easy to use portfolio and then access reports like "performance by tag". You can also look over the shoulders of other traders, too - every watchlist is in plain view.

StockTickr is free, but StockTickr Pro subscribers get to filter the site by "TradeRank", an algorithm that ranks users based on the performance of the stocks they add.

Mihai Parparita

I see two ways you can rate or flag posts:

- Each post has a star rating (given by users) associated with it
- Clicking "Show options" next to a post reveals a "Report abuse" link

The star rating was recently introduced to all Google Groups (which the Finance discussion groups are based on).

Easton Ellsworth

Charlene, thanks for spelling out some of the key benefits and features of Google Finance. What I worry about (and what I've blogged about this morning) is that the search results serve up the "news" at the top right and the "blog posts" at the bottom, way below the fold. I just hope that changes, or at least that Google gives its users the option to merge or rearrange those two categories. Sometimes blogs are just as good, if not better, than "mainstream" sources at finding scoops and offering insights on a company.

Also, I wish Google would start up (or show me where it is, if they have started it!) an official corporate blog just for Google Finance, as they have already done with Google Earth, AdSense, and a slew of other Google services.

PardonMyFrench

Charlene,

Google Finance is really just a baby step. For the average investor, it lacks research and analytics that are needed to make good investment decisions. However, I love the way it integrates all available news and blogs making it superior to finance sites that only display news from sites that have feed deals in place. See more of my review at www.ericfrenchman.com

Robb Hecht

Thanks for spelling out some of the key benefits and features of Google Finance, Charlene. Another investor relations tool for companies to monitor, but more importanly to participate with.

Random Walk

I beg to differ.

Google can *potentially* offer sets of tools that are hard to match:
a. Google currently searches more pages than any of the other search engines
b. Google has the more compute power than their competitors
c. Extending their finance search to include blogs and discussion forums, plus a natural language recognition engine, would allow Google to search and publish rumours & relevant 'chats' which *could* top finance.yahoo.com's discussion forums.
d. Google has the clout and potential to add smart financial aggregator tools (e.g. "map of the market) that are not only based on quantitative measures but also qualitative measure (e.g. 'most talked/blogged/discussed about') as potentially 'leading indicators' of interest or lack of interest for a stock. This could especially be interesting for non S&P 500 stocks.

Chris Dowell

I can't wait to use this. It sounds awesome! It seems like Google does things first class.

TIm Morrow

HI Charlene - love your writing but - small detail - in your bio, is COOKING your second or eighth favorite thing to do?
Or both?

triathlons, *COOKING*, shopping on eBay, reality TV (especially "The Amazing Race" and "Survivor"), Star Trek (sniff, not as much any more with no new episodes), crossstitch, logic puzzles, *COOKING*, sailing, and skiing.

Britney

I agree it will be awhile before people switch but the next generation should give alot more flexibilty and tools for the investor!

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