Technology

BusinessWeek


Yahoo! Finance (YHOO)—one of the most popular online destinations for investors—released test versions of four new tools this week. I took them for a test drive as part of a series of reviews on financial Web sites.

My short take: Three of the four tools—including a publishing tool and interactive charts—are a definite improvement, but enhancements to message boards are being panned by some users.

The best of the new tools is the Yahoo! Finance Badge, which lets Web publishers create and insert a graphic with Yahoo's stock charts, quotes, and news headlines. It's a simple, fast, and—best of all—free method for bloggers and other sites to include Yahoo Finance information in their own content, while also generating traffic for Yahoo.

HOW IT WORKS. To use the system, you sign in to Yahoo Finance, and a three-step process will provide the HTML coding needed for the "badge," or graphic. First, pick one of three modules for quotes, charts, and news. Then, choose from one symbol per chart (for up to 10 stocks) or multiple symbols (up to three) in one chart.

You can customize the module by size, time period for the chart, number of news headlines, and "color theme" that makes the backdrop white or black. To the right, a preview of the graphic you're creating is displayed. Select the box to agree with the terms of service and click "Get Code," and your HTML code will appear. Just copy and paste the code into a Web or blog publishing tool, and you've got a nifty nugget of information for investors.

Yahoo's new interactive charts look great and are improved from the basic ones, but aren't much different from what's on other premier financial sites. The chart page is not cluttered—that's a plus. On the left, you can compare one stock with three competitors and a number of indexes. That area also has a list of "Recent" tickers entered. I'd prefer a way to create lists of tickers here instead, which can be done at the new site InstantBull (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/14/06, "InstantBull.com: Speed Demon").

HANDSOME UPGRADES. Yahoo's upgrades will also appeal to investors who follow technical indicators, which attempt to predict a stock's direction based on past performance. The new charts feature 13 technical indicators, with brief explanations of how they work. Google Finance and Bloomberg.com don't include technical indicators, while SmartMoney and MarketWatch (which owns BigCharts) do.

Other plusses are the ability to print (a color printer helps) and e-mail Yahoo's new charts. And detailed information about splits and dividends appear in a small box when you scroll over the icons in the chart. All sites should do this.

Another pleasing upgrade: aggregated business news clips from ABC.com, CNN.com, Forbes.com, and SmartMoney. The video display is large and clean, and it's easy to switch from one station to the next. A very short ad (from AmeriTrade) appears before a chosen video begins. Yahoo plans to add videos from more outlets, which should help broaden the choices. Forbes.com's "Spicy Summer Cocktails," to name just one, made me thirsty but surely won't have a long shelf life.

LITTLE ANNOYANCES. Now for some gripes. Missing from Yahoo's charts page are news headlines. Google Finance's charts have nifty news buttons inside the graphs and accompanying headlines next to them. To get news headlines from Yahoo's new charts, you'll need to click "More Quote Info" at the top right of the chart to bring you to the main quotes page. Perhaps I want too much, but it would be nice if one of these portals could feature technical indicators, dividends and splits, as well as news on one easy-to-view page.

Also, if you don't know the ticker of the company, you have to use the Symbol Lookup button. Google Finance and InstantBull have a time-saving lookup function that instantly displays a list of matches when you enter the first letter of a company name in the lookup box.

Yahoo also enhanced its message boards, which it says span more than 6,000 stocks. It now lets message board posters rate the quality of each message and sort them. "Ratings help other users find the highest quality messages," the site says. "Set your Minimum rating so you only see messages that meet the level of quality you want." You can also search the boards to find a specific discussion.

MESSAGE BOARD MOANING. Not everyone is pleased with the message board makeover. One problem is displaying messages as "threaded conversations" by topic rather than in chronological order. One user complained that this is "too tedious and much less efficient than just scrolling the full header list for posts of interest."

Another poster called the new format a "black hole," while "ibdtrader" contended: "I know many people who may move over to MSN's or Excite's boards, because Yahoo!'s new boards are just much too cumbersome to navigate." There were also a couple of bad reviews on Google's discussion page for Yahoo, with "agent86" saying: "Yahoo Finance may lose to Google Finance because of the Yahoo message board debacle."

Some of the criticisms may be a little harsh. The new layout may just need some getting used to. Still, Yahoo doesn't want to rankle too many of the people whose comments are the lifeblood of message boards.


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