(Google vs. Yahoo)

We broke the news last August that Google Finance was coming. Well here it is:

Here are excerpts from our story tomorrow. The site provides stock charts, news and chat rooms. It makes several improvements on the most popular finance site on the Web, Yahoo Finance.

“It is definitely an improvement,” said Charlene Li, an analyst at Forrester Research. However, the improvements over Yahoo aren’t radical enough to confuse people who are already familiar with the way Yahoo Finance works, she said. “”It’s not a mind-blowing improvement,” she said, “”which is actually an advantage. You already know how to use it.”

Indeed, the trick for Google is being just good enough to force users people to try it out.

While Google has begun to pull away from Yahoo as the dominant force in Web search, Google Finance is the latest product to compete with Yahoo’s personalized offerings. For example, Yahoo has long provided a way for people to customize Yahoo Finance, so they can organize stock listings in a private portfolio and subscribe to financial news alerts.

Millions of people already are comfortable using Yahoo Finance and other services such as Reuters, and many of them are unlikely to move no matter how stellar Google makes its service, analysts say.

But the battle in finance is similar to others the two companies have waged in the past. They both offer an e-mail platform, an instant messaging service and personalized local news. Yahoo has been pushing a social networking strategy, providing people ways to share photos with Flickr, or to “”tag” favorite pages with Delicious, for example.

Google Finance appears to mimmick Yahoo’s social networking strategy even closer … by providing a way for people to communicate with each other in chat forums about individual stocks.

Google has even has hired employees to moderate the chat discussions, said Katie Jacobs Stanton, senior product manager at Google. Until now, Google has taken pride in automating most its services.

Furthermore, after providing people blogs through its blogger service, Google recently unveiled another service for people to create their own Web sites. And Google Base, another service, gives people a way to upload goods and services they want to sell. A calendar product is due out shortly.

However, for undecided users, it is one more flashy tool that will help Google win market-share, she said. “Slowly but surely they will get a hook. People will say, ‘I’m going to switch over'”

Google’s improvements come in several areas. It gives you a way to news corresponding with specific time periods of the stock’s movement. For example, if you are wondering why Cisco System’s stock took a dip late last year, there will be an icon on a stock chart that you can press on, marking the date of the dip and which takes you to news stories on that date.

“Some of those features are really nice,” said Greg Sterling, analyst with the Kelsey Group.

Google lets you zoom you selected date periods manually with your mouse (update: apparently it uses Macromedia Flash for this, which we didn’t realize from looking at the static PDF presentation we saw this pm) a so-called “AJAX” feature, or technology that Google has used with great effect in Google Maps. It does so by inserting more information in a users browser, which lets portions of a page can be manipulated dynamically.

Additionally, you can access personalized stock information from a home page that Google lets you customize. Google simplifies searching in other ways ways, for example letting you type a company’s name into Google’s search bar. Yahoo forces users to find out a company’s ticker symbol before allowing a user to search for company information.

Google pulls company news from 4,500 sources that it collects by crawling the Web. Google also struck partnerships with various vendors of company information, such as Hoovers and Revere Data, a San Francisco company.

The company will not put ads on the site in the short-term, Stanton said.

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