The search giant's beta site offers a slate of simple features—too simple, in some cases, and not sharp enough in others
The first full day of spring brings a fresh addition to Google's (GOOG) stable of sites: Google Finance. As you would expect from the master of powerful searching and minimal clutter, the front page of the beta version of the site, launched Mar. 21, is simple: a market table showing performance figures for a few indexes and a list of headlines.
Investors can find stocks by entering company names or ticker symbols in the same Search box we've all come to know so well. Once you've looked up a stock or two, the page expands with a table of recent quotes and news related to those companies.
TOO SIMPLE? The first thing that catches your eye on the company pages is interactive charts. Users can scroll over the line graph to get stock prices and trading volume. To get a graph of different time periods, click the intervals listed at the top of the chart, or drag the calendar above it.
Related news headlines, labeled by letter, sit to the right of the chart, rather than a pop-up of the headline within the chart. The functionality for this basic information is nice, but advanced technical charting is missing for those investors who like to trade.
The good news is Google partnered with some of the premier financial data providers. The public company facts, financials, and management information come from Reuters, with insider trading pages from Yahoo! Finance (sourced from EDGAR Online). Private-company data is from Hoovers.
At the bottom of each company page is a list of resources linking to useful sites like MarketWatch for data on options and MSN Money for info on major institutional holders. Mutual fund pages feature the vital stats and star ratings from Morningstar (MORN).
SECOND-RATE FEATURES. The company pages also feature a way to search blog postings. In the community building "Groups" area, which is also in a new beta testing version, Google's evolution of free-for-all message boards is called Google Finance Discussion Group.
When you create an account and a profile, Google says, "you can enjoy thoughtful conversations about the companies or mutual funds you care about." The posts are reviewed by a Google team and must follow rules that prohibit spam, pornography, and hate speech.
Google's portfolio tracker is more of a bare bones basic watch list -- it's certainly "fast and easy" but not "powerful" as the company claims. All you can do is add and subtract holdings and get a total value and dollar change (no percent change) for your portfolio. Many investors have probably already established portfolios on their online brokerage account or other financial sites that offer more information and services, such as valuations and technical analysis for the holdings, and e-mail alerts.
UNFORTUNATE FLAWS. There are a few bugs that need to be fixed in this beta version. The FAQ page explains that you can find multiple symbols on the same page by typing in the company names in the Search box. When I entered Dell (DELL) and Apple (AAPL), a page showed up for Semtech (SMTC). Huh?
What's more, the news filter has flaws. For example, on the company page for The McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP), the owner of BusinessWeek and this Web site, two headlines appear about married country crooners Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. So some kinks need to be worked out in the news-search algorithms.
All in all, investors can get more robust information and personal finance tools for free on Yahoo! Finance, which is the best aggregator of financial news and is developing original content and columns. The offerings that may set Google Finance apart are the blog search and discussion group features, but these may not be enough to make it a must-use site for the finance crowd.