There once was an incumbent leader
That sat on its hands -- not a speeder!
Up came a rival,
While the ruler sat idle
And showed us a screen that looked sweeter.
Google Finance was launched about two years ago, but despite the service's prominent placement in search results for stock tickers, Yahoo! Finance remains the player to beat in the online stock information space. In fact, the Googly alternative has hardly made any impact.
But that might be about to change. It seems like the big G is starting to "get" how to attract the financial crowd. The company has quietly launched a stock screener tool that puts alternatives from Yahoo!, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) MSN, and many others to shame by sheer force of elegance.
The tool comes up with a few popular screening points to get you started, such as market cap, P/E ratio, and dividend yield. You limit the search range by dragging around limit sliders, not unlike the ones we use at the Fool for searching the CAPS database. Adding more data points is quick and easy, and results update in real time with every click and drop.
So far, so blah. But here's the kicker: Rather than fumbling around in a deep, dark search space without any guiding lights, which is the way we're used to, Google presents handy little histogram charts for each screener criterion. This very user-friendly touch makes it easy to look for common or rare conditions, and even if you're not actually interested in running a screen, it's kind of cool to see the distribution curve on profit margins (bell), market caps (bottom-heavy), or institutional ownership (surprisingly even-handed).
OK, so this discreet addition to the financial toolkit won't drive in tons of ex-Y!F users, and it's uncertain whether any converts will hang around the unfamiliar Google interface to dig deeper into the screen results. It is, after all, trivial to simply paste the ticker list into Yahoo! Finance and get on with life from there. Google could also stand to toot its own horn a little bit and put some marketing muscle behind the screener. I think it deserves some attention, if only to push Yahoo! into updating its tool sets.