Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is such a nice and helpful young company. The search giant is now letting us peek into years of collected search history to see whether trends in search terms can help us predict the economy.

Google Finance just gained a set of unique indices, ranging from "jobs" and "unemployment" to "luxury goods" and "computers & electronics." Unlike your run-of-the-mill index, such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average or S&P 500, these trackers have nothing to do with stock performance. Instead, they track how many searches Google received over time, organized into little compartments.

The Automotive index, for example, tracks search terms like "cars," Ford (NYSE:F), and Toyota (NYSE:TM). The tracker for Computers & Electronics includes company names like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), as well as several products by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) such as "iPhone" and "Mac" -- but Google itself is not part of that index.

Watching the popularity of these searches rise and fall collectively sure is interesting, but it's harder to draw any investable conclusions from the data. The Durable Goods index tracks a similar path every year, come hell or high water. The Unemployment indicator started climbing a couple months ahead of last year's general panic, and has stayed elevated ever since -- but that rise wasn't sharp enough to become an indicator of future events until after the global economy collapsed..

That chart stands as a monument to disasters past and ongoing, but I'll be a monkey's uncle if I could have looked at those squiggles before the crash and reached any usable conclusions from them. Google's own examples of how to crunch the numbers to make economic indicators takes far more work and intricate math than I'd expect the average investor to perform.

Even if this new feature looks interesting but useless, its release does remind me of a couple of important items:

  • Google is open to new ideas, and unafraid to try them on for size. If this doesn't work out -- eh, the indices might be gone next month, or left to linger in obscurity forever and a day. Since it's all just simple data mining that rests on other tools Google already had handy, it doesn't cost the company much to give it a shot.
  • This finance site is still relatively small, lagging far behind the venerable Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) Finance every time I see fresh statistics. But it's a living, breathing thing thanks to that open attitude we talked about, while Yahoo! Finance today looks a whole lot like it did five years ago. There is something to be said for constancy and consistency, but is Yahoo! Finance really keeping up with the times?

I already use Google's charts whenever possible, though I still prefer Yahoo!'s news feeds and our own Foolish stock screener. How about you? Share your financial tool kit in the comments below and make fun of the stuff everyone else is using.

Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Dell and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.