If Yahoo! ( YHOO) rolls out a new look and nobody notices, does it make a difference? Ever since Google ( GOOG) debuted its finance site to great fanfare last March, Internet investors have been waiting for the other shoe to fall. Google Finance has since been seen as a disappointment -- as TheStreet.com's Jonathan Berr
pointed out , it made up less than a percent of Google's total traffic -- but it introduced features such as interactive graphs that Yahoo! would, in time, surely try to surpass. On Monday, the other shoe finally dropped. But it made a very soft -- barely audible, in fact -- thud. And it didn't come without more than its share of glitches. The new Yahoo! Finance has evolved in three ways: It now offers interactive stock charts that can be more easily customized, finance-related video feeds from the likes of CNN.com and ABC.com, and a revised interface for its highly trafficked message boards. The problem is that these changes were greeted with either resounding silence or, in the case of the message boards, anguished mewling among users who didn't appreciate the changing a format they were already happy with. Let's start with the message boards. Yahoo!'s stock boards have long been the most active online community of investors, long and short. You either love it or hate it, depending on what you're looking for. If you have a thick skin and favor anonymity, sarcasm, the caps-lock key and long, off-topic discussions designed to antagonize, then this is the place for you. If you want information and want it quickly, you're in the wrong place. Yahoo!'s new design seems geared toward less time-wasting and more information. Messages can be rated according to how useful they are, and the less useful comments can be easily filtered out. They are also sorted by thread, not simply chronological posting. You can make users disappear from your online world simply by clicking a link below their names. This was clearly intended to make the boards more useful, but on Monday it had the opposite effect. Instead of calm and order, the boards -- especially the one for Yahoo!'s own stock ticker -- were a great Kabuki-fest of revolt, outrage and hyperbole.
The censors at TheStreet.com would rather not reprint the complaints here, but let's just say that the most common was that the new Yahoo! message boards are guilty of an act that, in public at least, is most commonly performed on a plastic straw. Again, this may be entertaining to some, but is it informative? Given the anonymity of the message boards, it's impossible to tell if the sense of betrayal reflects a majority view or a handful of people posting over and over under different usernames. Although there were threats to boycott Yahoo! and move to Google or RagingBull.com, the only message posted in the last month under Yahoo!'s stock on Google Finance was titled, "Hello Hello? Anyone out there?" The rest of the rollout of Yahoo!'s new finance site was quieter -- maybe too quiet. This is too bad, since they bring needed improvements to what is already the best and busiest finance site. Like Google Finance, the new stock charts use Flash technology but go beyond what Google offers by incorporating Yahoo!'s rich troves of financial data: adding stock splits, dividends and stock prices of rival companies with one simple click. Other graph features include a dragable stock chart that can stretch much further back in time than the five-year limit on Google Finance; the ability to customize the chart according to typed-in dates and technical indicators; and easier printing and emailing of charts. Yahoo! also introduced a beta "badge" that allows blogs and other sites to easily post charts and news from individual stocks using Yahoo! feeds. All of these moves will help cement Yahoo!'s site as the most comprehensive finance site and keep it several long strides ahead of Google. According to Hitwise, Google Finance was ranked 37th in visitors at business-information sites, down from 28th after its March launch. Visitors spend a little more than 6 minutes a day on Google Finance, down from nearly 9 minutes in March, Hitwise said. (Yahoo! Finance visitors spent 11 minutes a day.) So why did Google Finance receive so much coverage while the new Yahoo! Finance has been largely overlooked?
It may be that reporters and bloggers have since grown fatigued from chronicling the game of one-upmanship between the two companies. Of course, some of the muted reaction might be Yahoo!'s own doing. The company announced the new charts at 11:30 a.m. EDT Monday, but two hours after the stock market closed, they still hadn't gone live. The Yahoo! Finance site appeared to be down for most of the hour after the market closed -- a time when many investors are hungry for prices and news -- and the Yahoo! PR official in charge had apparently turned his phone off from incoming calls. The changes to Yahoo! Finance will almost certainly help the company in the long run, and force Google Finance to think fast if it doesn't want to fall even further behind. But the ham-fisted way the launch was handled underscored a short-term risk: Two years ago, people used to marvel when Yahoo! rolled out some new innovation. Now, they shrug, or even complain.