Google Finance Means Business

Another slew of features raise the heat on Yahoo!'s dominance.
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Is it OK to like

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

Finance now?

The question seems reasonable enough given the pooh-poohing the search giant's financial information site received when it was unveiled in its nascent form nearly a year ago.

Then last week, as tends to happen with adolescence, a few pimply but just-maybe alluring features began to pop up. And a subtle, irreverent and seductive thought rippled through the collective conscious of online investors: Maybe, just maybe, Google Finance will give

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

Finance a run for its money.

That, of course, is completely crazy. Since it emerged from its shell a decade ago, Yahoo! Finance has been the all-in-one stock site. There's nothing new in Google Finance that suggests Yahoo! Finance won't remain the leader in this area for some time.

However, Google is providing more and more reasons for investors to spend more time on its domain than on Yahoo!'s. And that's no small feat, considering the stranglehold that site has held on stock market information for nearly a decade.

But thousands of daytraders sat upright in their chairs last week when they saw they could chart after-market prices in historical charts. After the

NYSE

or

Nasdaq

closed for the day, the peripatetic paths of stocks and overseas exchange-traded funds could finally be tracked by the investor, whether hopeful or terrified.

This, as they say, is huge.

Remember that scare when China threatened to rein in spurious loans? And the stumble in U.S. markets a half-day later? Everyone was wondering that evening whether Chinese stocks would slide further. And for many, this meant after-market prices on Asian ETFs.

Or remember that tech stock you loved that surprised with its earnings, positive or negative, and you kept reloading a site that showed after-market data, moment by moment. It was only then that you started to make sense of that quote that popped up in high school: History is fate.

It says a lot about Google's plans for the future that it understands history so well. It says just as much about Yahoo! that after several years of providing after-market data on the side, it hasn't yet figured out a way to make this feature more obviously useful.

Then there are those five online videos on the Google Finance home page, one of which is displayed prominently at any given time. This is hardly a major innovation, and a feature that Yahoo! Finance has had for a while. But it offers a peek at how Google plans to monetize online video feeds.

Right now, those videos tend to be from undervalued resources, such as Reuters video. Should content providers pay Google a premium to reach a larger audience, it could help build a critical mass of advertisers to the online-video entity that Google wants to turn into a profit center. (

TheStreet.com's

videos appear on both sites.)

It's a long shot; for it to work, Google Finance needs to become a more valuable piece of online real estate -- but the promise is enticing.

Yahoo! will reign in the finance-data world for some time, but it's interesting to see Google nibble away at its domain. For some time, when I've sought out historical income statements or operating and margin data, Google has proved more useful than Yahoo! because its data can be cut and pasted into Excel, a longtime frustration with Yahoo!'s finance site.

If Google continues these slow-but-sure inroads into Yahoo!'s territory -- even with its tiny staff -- it will force Yahoo!, and eventually itself, into even more innovation. Just look at the Ajax stock charts that first appeared on Google but that Yahoo! rapidly improved on.

This is why it sounds strange to hear that Yahoo!'s lead is so entrenched that no one -- not even Google -- will beat it. Google Finance has made such significant strides in key areas over Yahoo! that one is tempted to rate it as a promising underdog that could in the long run take the crown jewels away from Yahoo!'s Web site.

And given what has been going on with Yahoo! over the past year, that is the last thing that it needs.