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Google Launches Google Finance

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At long last, Google has launched its own Google Finance service. For years, those seeking specialty financial information via Google have been sent to competitors such as Yahoo and MSN. Now Google's providing financial information directly to its own users.

I'm doing an abbreviated rundown on the launch for two reasons. First, it wasn't actually live when I talked with Google about it yesterday, so it's difficult to review what you can't actually poke at. Second, my house move this week has left me without broadband at the moment, so doing much online is difficult.

Suffice to say, either Chris Sherman and I will come back to the service to do a nice compare and contrast to what's out there already, especially given that there's plenty of stiff competition. But here are some highlights on what sounds especially different:

  • Stock Charts With News Events: Pull up a stock chart, and Google says it will plot major news events on the chart. So did the stock suddenly jump skyward or plunge down? Seeing the related news events right on the chart may give you a better idea why.
  • Interactive Stock Chart Timetables: Decide you want to see one month view, then change your mind and want to see data over two years? A slider will allow you to change Google's stock charts on the fly, without having to reload the page. Interactive charts require Flash. Flash-challenged? Don't worry. More traditional static chart options are offered.

Aside from charts, Google will be offering news and blog search results related to companies listed in the finance area. Offering news results isn't unique, of course. Yahoo Finance among other services have long allowed you to get back news related to particular companies. However, if you prefer that news to come from Google News, now you've got it. Plus, Google will tap into its Google Blog Search results to give you opinions and coverage from outside the mainstream media.

It's not just public companies that will be covered. Google says that it has assembled profiles and information about private companies as well, through a combination of working with partners and its own crawling of the web.

Google Finance will initially cover only companies in North America, but Google said it plans to expand "very quickly" to other countries and regions of the world in the future, though there's no exact rollout schedule.

"Google is definitely an international company, and we want to make sure we are addressing the needs of all our users," said Katie Jacobs Stanton, a senior product manager at Google who is overseeing the Google Finance project.

Google is also releasing targeted discussion groups for various companies, based on its Google Groups service. Financial discussion areas are notorious for those who try to pump stocks up or down with over-the-top posts, depending on their particular stake. To combat this, Google has hired moderators to help ensure community guidelines are complied with. Eventually, the company hopes volunteers will take over this task.

"It's a real pain point out there [noise on stock forums”. It's unfortunate. There's a lot of great opportunity for users to connect to each other. Whatever we can do to eliminate the noise is good," Stanton said.

In addition to the above features, much of what you'd expect from a financial search service is also to be offered, from links to US Securities and Exchange Commissions filings to senior executive biographies.

How do people access Google Finance? Obviously, you can visit the area directly at http://finance.google.com. However, many will also encounter the new service via the way Google has already shown stock and financial-related information for years, in a OneBox display at the top of search results.

Many are familiar with how a search for a company ticker symbol on Google has long brought back a stock chart above the regular web search results. In addition, clicking on that chart took you to either Yahoo Finance, Fool.com, MSN MoneyCentral or ClearStation in a frame. Tabs above the frame let you switch between services.

The OneBox display of financial info will remain, but now the information will come from Google itself, by default. Don't like that default choice? Then you'll still have other options, namely Yahoo Finance, MSN Finance, CNN Finance, Reuters and MarketWatch. Google said the alternative choices were selected based on popularity data from Nielsen NetRatings and from the aggregated visitation data of Google Toolbar users.

"Even though they are competitors, we really wanted to do the right thing by the users and give them other choices," Stanton said.

Will the new Google offering "win" against the more established players by pulling away visitors? That remains to be seen. But it's a win just for Google to have its own offering, even if the service doesn't nab searchers away from far more mature services such as Yahoo Finance.

Finance areas are a staple of portals, one of the first features they all introduced to help attract and keep searchers. After all, if you've established a portfolio with a service, you're less likely to depart to someone new.

Google is allowing people to save a portfolio, a further extension of the stock tracking it already introduced for its personal home page service back in May. So this move definitely gives Google another portal feature to notch on its belt buckle -- and a feature that may help keep searchers sticking with it (though at the moment, there's no import portfolio feature to better ensure this).

But Google Finance is not just a sticky portal feature. Many searches are financial in nature. Offering a finance area is actually firmly within Google's core mission of organizing the world's information. In fact, not having offered some type of financial search was something I wrote in article for SEW members as being a big gap back in 2004:

Now as Google's competitors are fighting to win users in the current search wars, Google Groups 2, like Gmail and Blogger before it, seems a way for Google to strike back at the portal features that some (see Forrester and Moreover) mistakenly assumed it would be weak on or missed buying.

What's next? I'm betting some type of financial type of service similar to Yahoo Finance. Letting people set up stock portfolios and linking these to information was one of the earliest sticky portal features around. It's a big gap at Google, in the way that the service once had a big gap in term news search.

Google has since filled that news gap, with its 2002 enhancements making it a more compelling place for newshounds to start their day -- and perhaps pulling some of those people away from Yahoo News.

Similarly, a financial service makes competitive sense. It also fits in with Google's mission. In addition, once the company goes public, it might want to offer this if only to avoid the embarrassment of employees seeking financial updates elsewhere such as at Yahoo or MSN. Currently, both are key providers of data that Google's largely unknown stock quote service uses.

In short, those coming to Google and looking for financial information should expect to find it provided by Google itself. That's finally arrived and will help make Google a stronger service for it. Even if some continue to go to competiting services, Google still wins in that it will no longer lose everyone to those competitors. Some will find Google Finance, like it and keep coming back for more.

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