After months of speculation, Google rolled out a beta version of Google Finance on March 21, its own site bringing together pertinent information from across the Web about companies and mutual funds.

Flashy would be the wrong adjective for the site (located at www.finance.google.com and accessed by searching for a stock ticker symbol), but that's not to say there's no bells and whistles to be found. Nearly every news story and blog entry about the site oohed and aahed over a few features in particular that jump off company pages. And that's rightly so.

Interactive maps show a stock price's rise and falls, but offer especially easy navigation for selecting different time periods and zooming in and out for more detailed information. The "aah" factor comes from the news stories running along the chart's right edge that automatically correspond to a selected time period.

The page itself is very clean, with neatly stacked boxes and several cool intuitive features, such as the pop-up boxes that offer more information when a user scrolls over a member of management's name.

Google opted to partner with some of the big names in financial data suppliers, as opposed to creating its own content, following its familiar modus operandi as a content aggregator, not a content creator. Reuters will provide public company facts, financials and management information, while the Hoovers database will supply the same for private companies. Insider trading pages are culled from EDGAR Online.

And for now at least, Google said it's own finance site will remain just one of several options after a Google ticker symbol search. Competitors, including Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, MarketWatch, CNN Money and Reuters, will still be prominently displayed.

Blog searches and discussion groups, which will be moderated by new Google hires, are the major new offerings on Google Finance. What remains to be seen is how valuable actual investors feel those offerings are.

The financial information field is a crowded on online, even for a company with the cache of Google to jump into. In addition to the competitors mentioned above, there's also the strong presence of financial service companies like Fidelity Investments and Charles Schwab, never mind the actual sites for all the partners whose info Google is actually aggregating.

Knocking Yahoo! Finance down even a notch would be a major victory. The major player on the arena, the site drew 11.9 million visitors in February according to Nielsen/NetRatings, up 10 percent from a year ago. In addition to doing a solid job aggregating information, Yahoo! Finance already develops its own original content and has continued to have a loyal user base in the increasingly crowded field. Word is that the company has been waiting for Google Finance to launch before it begins seriously working on its own next upgrade

Funnily enough, late in the day of Google Finance's launch, a search off of Google's own search engine, for "Google" and, "finance," actually displayed Yahoo's finance page (though Google Finance was the sole sponsored link).

So far, Google's new site doesn't feature any revenue-raising advertisements, though developers admit that's only a matter of time. In addition, the site's quotes are delayed between 15 and 20 minutes depending on the stock exchange, while real-time quotes are available for fees, or sometimes free, from other sites.

Born out of a customer survey which showed Google users were looking for new ways to get maps and financial information, it will be interesting to see what kind of a foothold Google Finance can grab. Launched in 2002, Google News still hasn't cracked the Top 10 Internet news sites, while it's Google Maps, launched in 2005, is already the No. 3 mapping site.

It's likely only a matter of time before Google Finance's competitors roll out their own takes on the layout. As the innovation continues, the key will be to see how the field adapts to the demands of actual users. Google Finance is a good start, and brings something new. For the next round, I don't want to see copycats needlessly throwing on features that are more flash and less function.

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