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By Juan Carlos Perez, Miami | Thursday, 23 March, 2006

Google has launched a financial news and information website called Google Finance that will be in direct competition with well-established ones such as Yahoo’s Yahoo Finance and Microsoft’s MSN Money.

Development of such a web site has been one of the top requests from Google users, says Katie Jacobs Stanton, a Google senior product manager.

Google hopes to differentiate its site with better search functionality and a higher level of interactivity in its financial charts, she says. The site can be found here.

In February, the most visited US site by unique visitors for business and finance information was MSN Money, followed by Yahoo Finance in second place and Dow Jones sites in third place, according to comScore Networks.

Unlike other sites, Google Finance lets users search for stock information using the names of companies and executives, without requiring them to enter ticker symbols. Meanwhile, users can manipulate graphs by dragging them with their mouse and zooming in and out of them.

Still, the site’s launch can’t be characterised as a huge event for users, says Asaf Buchner, a Jupiter Research analyst. He says Yahoo Finance has a much broader and comprehensive scope of financial information.

The launch of this site is also bound to revive the controversy of whether Google is morphing into a web portal, a label Google has resisted even as it offers content and services that put it competition with and

Yahoo’s Chief Executive Officer Terry Semel has openly mocked Google’s ambitions to be a reluctant provider of web portal content and services, saying that in that broader space, it lacks the clout and dominance it clearly enjoys in the search engine market.

Semel will probably notice one effect from Google Finance: Fewer referrals to his company’s financial site. Until now, when a user enters a stock ticker symbol, Google has chosen Yahoo Finance as its default primary link in the stock summary box Google delivers at the top of search results, Jacobs Stanton says. As of Tuesday, Google Finance will be the default, she says. However, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money and other prominent sites of this nature will continue to be featured in Google search results, she says.

While giving preference to its own site is a good business decision, it’s questionable whether it’s congruent with Google’s principle of delivering unadulterated, objective search results, writes John Battelle, an expert on the search engine market, on his blog. For analyst Buchner, this obvious attempt to retain users it previously sent off is another step in the “portalisation” of Google.

Google Finance will include information from public sources, as well as data that Google has licensed from content providers like Reuters and Morningstar. It will include links to news articles, graphs, company profiles, financial tables, blog postings, discussion groups and links to other web sites. Graphs charting historical stock price fluctuations will include links to relevant events affecting the stock’s value.

Google has no current plans to display ads on Google Finance, she says. All information on the site will be free of charge, a Google spokeswoman says.