BIG web companies like Google and Yahoo! are providing free web content that may be useful to anyone with a finance-related website, including corporate investor relations departments, shareholder activists and finance bloggers.
Variously known as gadgets, widgets or badges, these mini applications are generally free and can be easily customized and integrated into an existing website by copying and pasting code into a web page or template.
The content modules enable small website owners, finance bloggers and activists to present content and features on their sites that were once reserved for companies with big budgets and technical expertise.
They are a small part of a much broader wave of new web-based services that are putting advanced web tools and features in the hands of anyone with an inclination to publish online.
Their arrival puts pressure on companies and investor relations departments to improve the user experience of their websites or risk losing attention to disruptive new sources of information and commentary.
In this review, I take a look at Google’s recently released web Gadgets program and Yahoo! Finance’s badges. My focus is on assessing the potential for these new tools to be deployed on a corporate investor relations website, but I also assess the viability of these tools for shareholder activists and finance commentators and the impact their deployments could have on investor relations departments.
Google’s Finance Gadgets
Among the 1,200 tools it currently has available, Google Gadgets offers a variety of modules with a financial flavor. After a short visit to the gadget directory, I found three modules that could work well in investor relations and related scenarios.
Most useful is a simple thumbnail stock chart that could be used in a right side-bar or on a single web page. You can customize the border, size and ticker you want displayed.
Another handy gadget lets you display a variety of exchange rates for a local currency. In the gadget below, I selected US Dollars as the local currency. This could be a useful way for companies to acknowledge their investors who are scattered around the world.
The third useful gadget I stumbled upon while looking for something else. It is an SEC filings module from SECfilings.com. You can enter your company’s ticker and it will display the five most recent filings for your company. The border and size are customizable.
Reliability is an issue. In Google’s case, most of the gadgets are provided by third-parties and not by Google directly. The Google Gadgets disclaimer states that Google is ”not responsible for the content or performance of the gadgets.”
Rather ominously the disclaimer adds: “Gadgets may cease to be available at the discretion of the gadgets’ developers.”
In the case of the stock chart gadget shown on this page, the developer is listed as “Jesse Shieh - Mountain View, CA.” No other information is provided, other than a Gmail address. A search using Google for the name and location didn’t yield any obvious further clues as to Jesse’s identity.
This is an important issue because the developer may have access to information on visits to the sites that use the gadget. This will allow the developer to see basic user information, including IP addresses of the people viewing the pages containing the gadget.
Probably most important, though, it’s unclear if the gadgets can be used on an investor relations website.
Google’s gadgets are governed by the company’s terms of service, which state that all Google’s services are for personal use only.
Personal Use Only
The Google Services are made available for your personal, non-commercial use only. You may not use the Google Services to sell a product or service, or to increase traffic to your Web site for commercial reasons, such as advertising sales. You may not take the results from a Google search and reformat and display them, or mirror the Google home page or results pages on your Web site. You may not “meta-search” Google. If you want to make commercial use of the Google Services, you must enter into an agreement with Google to do so in advance.
I cannot recommend to public companies that they use the Google gadgets in a corporate website setting because of the unclear permissions and lack of certainty about performance and privacy.
Still, for someone with a small budget who wants to dress up a website with some finance bling, a free stock chart or quote list from Google could be handy. Widgets and gadgets fit well with a short-term campaign websites, blogs and even proxy solicitation sites.
If nothing else, the availability of free finance widgets ups the ante for corporate investor relations departments. They have to make sure that their own websites offer a suitably superior user experience to those of their challengers. This will become more difficult if more powerful and effective widgets are introduced.
Yahoo! Finance’s Badges
“http://finance.yahoo.com/badges/”>Yahoo! Finance Badges program allows website (including IR website), blog and intranet owners to place a free Yahoo! Finance-branded module on their sites that includes stock tickers, charts, and news headlines. Currently, only NYSE, Nasdaq, Amex and Standard & Poor’s indexes are supported, but Yahoo! says they are “working on” adding other exchanges and indexes, particularly international ones.
|Yahoo! Finance badges come in three basic forms.|
There are three basic modules to choose from. The most elaborate allows you to show one of two chart types, quotes for up to 10 ticker symbols and up to 10 news headlines. Finally, you have a choice of a black or white background.
I particularly like the chart option that lets you plot the share performance of up to three ticker symbols. This means you can show your company’s stock performance compared to two of its peers. Doing so is both useful and demonstrates management’s credibility. In the screenshot below I show Verizon’s stock performance compared to AT&T and Qwest.
|This chart is set to show 12-month performance for Verizon, AT&T and Qwest.|
The Yahoo! Finance badges include links to Yahoo!’s privacy and copyright policies and there is a caution that quote information is delayed at least 15 minutes. This is better than the Google gadgets which typically don’t have these.
The terms of service is fairly standard, although there is one clause that may worry companies whose sites attract a lot of traffic. Yahoo! says it may terminate your use of its badges if your site “exceeds reasonable request volume.” Unfortunately, there’s no indication of what Yahoo! deems reasonable.
While I seriously doubt that any IR website has enough traffic to cause problems for Yahoo!, it would be a good idea to check with Yahoo before placing a module on your website.
The Yahoo! Finance badges are a viable option for the many smaller companies that currently do not include stock quotes and charts on their sites.
It’s quite common for these companies to link to Yahoo! Finance or one of the exchanges for their stock quotes and charts. The Yahoo! Finance badges improve upon these basic links and allow these website owners to offer something better than they are currently providing.
They also are useful for proxy solicitation sites and both internal and external blogs. Of course, the best thing about them is that they’re free.
Overall, the Yahoo! Finance badges are superior to anything similar at Google Gadgets. However, Google does offer a wider variety of modules to choose from, including some international quotes.
Free finance web content is most useful for non-corporate websites and blogs, but smaller companies that currently don’t have elaborate websites may find them useful as well. It’s important, however, to check the user agreements and privacy policies and ensure that you are comfortable with the reliability of the people and support behind each widget.
Finance widgets are just one set of free tools available to website owners. There are many other tools that make it easier for website owners — including shareholder activists — to provide credible and compelling presences on the Web at little or no cost.
This, in turn, puts pressure on companies and investor relations departments to continually improve their own websites to ensure that they are providing superior user experiences and a credible online presence for their organizations.