|Google's Finance Site Fumble|
By Vishesh Kumar
TheStreet.com Senior Writer
12/1/2006 10:46 AM EST
While the media have been rife with praise for Yahoo! (YHOO) for a rare trumping of Google (GOOG) -- Google folded its Answers service on Wednesday as Yahoo!'s rendition flourishes -- another area where Yahoo! has a commanding lead gets less attention.
It's been eight months since Google launched its Google Finance Web site to much fanfare. With the search juggernaut's enormous resources and winning streak, many thought it would only be a matter of time before Google's service would usurp the position of Yahoo! Finance -- the most visited financial site on the Web.
But Google Finance has failed to make a dent so far. Yahoo! Finance had 13.7 million users in October, about 24 times more than Google's 579,000, according to the research firm Nielsen Net Ratings. And users also tend to spend 28 minutes on Yahoo! Finance -- nearly twice as much time as users of Google Finance.
While Google continues to extend its lead in its main search business, its setbacks are worth noting because they shed light on the company's limitations. And sometimes the technological prowess that enables the company to dominate the hugely computational search-result sector can be an impediment when it comes to other types of user experiences.
"Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, 'In the Spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,'" the company wrote in announcing the launch of Google Finance in March. "In the spring at Google, a geek's fancy turns to thoughts of ... charts and data."
And while Google's efforts -- initially spearheaded by a team of engineers -- did produce an impressive chart for the time, it was pretty much to the neglect of everything else.
Google Finance is difficult to navigate, with chunks of haphazardly arranged data often crowding pages.
Google's efforts to integrate news events with the company's chart often mean that when you look up an individual stock, you find a cluttered, heavy graph crowded with many trivial events that have little impact on shares. Google's efforts to include blogs wholesale, meanwhile, often litter the page with musings of little relevance. Google Finance needs to draw on several other sites for its information -- including Yahoo! Finance -- and the integration is often sloppy.
All in all, Google Finance seems to be a tribute to how much financial data can be put on one page. How investors might use the site and data seems to be an afterthought.
Google's forays into arenas beyond search are especially important to examine at a time when earnings growth in its only line of business show signs of slowing. Much like its famously hyper product strategy, Google has not been shy about experimenting when it comes to new ways to generate revenue. On Tuesday, the company announced a deal with Verizon (VZ) to provide content from YouTube, the video Web site Google bought in October.
Google also recently announced it would work with some major newspapers to sell ads and is expected to make a bigger push into radio ads as well.
But while Google understands ad sales -- and can snap up top talent across fields, thanks to swelling coffers and a rising stock price -- its track record in content areas like Answers and Finance remains unproven.
That isn't to say that Yahoo Finance! should rest on its laurels. The competition will be especially intense from Time Warner's (TWX) AOL Finance site which, with 10.3 million monthly users, is currently the Web's third largest. AOL also is posting impressive growth rates, adding 26% more unique investors year over year, comparable to Yahoo!'s 28%.
But AOL, which recently abandoned its subscription model to pursue only ad revenue, will be gunning for growth. And as a subsidiary of media giant Time Warner, AOL is much more content savvy than Google.
Microsoft's (MSFT) MSN Money -- the second-largest finance Web site, with 11.7 million unique visitors as of October -- also will likely push harder as the software giant gets increasingly serious about ad revenue.
Google, on the other hand, would do well to take a hard look at how it goes about developing its content ventures. The approach that served it well in engineering other products would appear to be the best route.