Google Drive/Docs – Cloud Collaboration

While it may seem to many that Google Docs (Now a part of Google Drive) might be an obvious choice for group collaboration, I’m surprised by how many people I talk to that are not aware of how effective this cloud based app is, or have written it off as a cheap Microsoft Word imitation. I thought I’d just run through a couple of use cases of how I incorporate it into my daily workflow.

A couple caveat’s.

  1. Google Docs is not Microsoft Word  – The faster you can come to accept this, the easier you’ll be able to realize its full potential.
  2. The Google Docs interface can be frustrating and confusing – There are definitely some UI changes that I would make to docs if I were king of Google, but I feel the same way about Word or when it comes down to it, any application.
  3. Changing habits takes time and a certain level of commitment – Like an exercise regimen, it’s easy to quickly adopt and abandon new tools and workflows (I recently told my partner that she should put “Look a Shiny Thing” on my tombstone). If you choose to adopt Docs, stick with it for awhile.

Why?

OK. Now that we’ve let go of our software inhibitions, on to the reasons why Google Docs is worth a look…

You’ve got your browser open anyway, why open another application and slow down your machine?

I’m not sure about you, but I’m constantly juggling resources on my machine, and having one less application open is always a plus. Combine this with the fact that my browser (Chrome) is always open, Docs is just a tab away!

Did I click save before my computer crashed? No need to anymore!

Docs is constantly saving automatically, so there’s no worry about losing work. In addition, Docs saves a history of previous versions as it goes. While I know that version history is available on platforms like Sharepoint, what I like about Docs is that it requires no effort from me as a user.

My files, everywhere

This goes a little bit to my previous post around persistent file storage, but I feel that we’re evolving as a technology culture to the point that while we enjoy our machines, our personal content (our music, our pictures, our documents) and their constant availability to us is no longer a convenience, it’s an expectation. Anything that I put in my Google Drive is available to me no matter where I am. As long as I have a browser, I have access and can continue to work. I’ve even got my kids using Docs for their homework so there’s never an issue of lost homework (until there are virtual dogs to wreak havoc).

Sharing – Painless

Sharing is dead simple with Google Docs. In the upper right corner of any document you’re working on is a bright blue Share button. Click it, add the e-mail addresses of the people you’d like to collaborate with, specify what privelges you want to give them (Read Only, Read/Write, Ownership) and you’re set. Your collaborators will get an e-mail and a link that will take them right to the document. Not only can you share single documents you can share entire folders.
 Docs Share Button

Live collaboration

While I’d argue that the reasons above are the most practical to adopt Google Docs, live collaboration was the feature that the geek in me was most excited about. What do I mean by live collaboration? The basic idea is that multiple people can work on the same Doc/Spreadsheet/Presentation at the same time and you can watch changes happen live. As everyone types, you’ll see a customized color cursor updating the document while they type. For group and remote team work this is a fantastic time saver. At work, my group has adopted docs as our default note taking application. When a meeting starts, someone creates and shares out a doc. As the meeting progresses, we are all adding to the shared document and time is saved when nobody has to merge or e-mail the doc after the fact. In addition to the collaborative editing, Docs also has embedded chat (just like Instant Messaging, but just with collaborators that are working on the doc with you) and commenting with e-mail notifications.

Add images directly from Google Images

While editing a Google Doc, just click on Insert>Image>Search, and get thousands of possibilities to enhance your document!

Google Image Search in Google Docs

File Storage

Drive gives you at least 5GB of storage (more if your school or business has Google Apps), which is plenty of space for documents, but the best part is, your Google Docs/Spreadsheets/Presentations don’t count against that quota! If you have existing documents/files that are in formats other you can store them in your Google Drive. Which leads to the last reason….

Search

This one’s kind of a gimme, given that Google is a search company (or advertising company 🙂 ). Keyword search is capable across all documents (both google docs and most other document formats, including .doc, .docx, .xlsx, .pptx, and .pdf). While I haven’t tried it, word is it’s keyword search works for images too!

Conclusion

I’m a big fan of Google Docs/Drive as you can probably tell, but there are several competitors out there, including Microsoft’s Sky Drive that offer similar capabilities. What are you using for cloud document storage and work? Leave a comment. 

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How I manage my course materials

When I started classes this semester, I resolved to use my iPad to manage all of my cases and course materials. Over the past 4 months I’ve been experimenting with a variety of applications and technologies and I’ve settled on a collection of tools and a workflow that are working for me. Inquiries from classmates and a recent conversation with Chet Clem and a read through of his post detailing the tools that he uses on a regular basis inspired me to jot down my approach.

Step 1. Setup sync

I want access to my course materials as well as the annotations and marginalia I’ve created not only on my iPad, but on any device or machine. How do I manage the pain and trouble of synchronizing files? Cloud storage!

 SugarSync  &  DropBox

SugarSync and DropBox are both fine choices in the evolving world of persistent cloud storage. At their core, both of these applications do the same thing, save files on one machine (a word doc, a pdf, an image, etc.) and have them magically available on your phone, your tablet, your work computer, or even a browser. Share folders with friends and much more. Even though DropBox is the brand leader in this space, I’m partial to SugarSync. Where DropBox gives you 2GB of free space to start, SugarSync gives you 5GB. SugarSync also gives you the ability to limit what others can do with the files you share with them (read only vs. read/write), something DropBox lacks. It also helps that Gizmodo ranked it best this past September.

Close contender: Google Docs (to be discussed in an upcoming post) and the rumored Google Drive.

Step 2. Download and organize

I’d recommend doing this step on a desktop or laptop. While theoretically possible with the iPad, it would be painful

Now that you’ve signed up for a SugarSync or DropBox account, it’s time to grab those course materials and get them synchronized. Course materials come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s the digital course pack sold through the bookstore (downloadable as a pdf), web articles, etc.

At the beginning of the semester I create a folder for each course that I’m enrolled in inside my SugarSync folder. At the root of this folder I place the course syllabus, course pack and a series of subfolders; one for each class session. I then download each sessions materials into the appropriate folder. The process is a little labor intensive but worth the effort.

Step 3. Read and Annotate

Readdledocs

This semester I’ve made the iPad my preferred reading device. As a result I’ve had to sift through an ever expanding field of great PDF/Document annotation apps. These apps allow you to connect to cloud storage and then highlight, underline, add notes, bookmark, etc your course materials. I’m constantly chasing the latest and greatest, whether it’s been Notability (on sale for .99 at the time of this writing) with its handwriting and audio annotation capabilities, GoodReader (with comprehensive cloud sync options) or my most recent obsession, Readdledocs. Why Readdledocs? Simplicity. In addition to most the options that I had in GoodReader, Readdledocs has an integrated web browser with save capabilities. As faculty and peers share links each week, or if I forget to download a web based article, Readdledocs allows me to open those links and save them as pdf documents in my course SugarSync folder.

Whatever app you end up choosing, make sure it integrates well with your preferred cloud storage solution (Readdledocs and GoodReader both integrate with SugarSync, DropBox and Google Docs, Notability only integrates with DropBox).

Bonus! – Printing to PDF on your iPad

If you choose to go the route of Notability or GoodReader and want to print to pdf on your iPad, I’d recommend JoliPrint. JoliPrint will show up as a bookmarklet for your iPad/iPhone (a bookmark that executes a little bit of Javascript code) that creates a PDF of any web page that can be opened/saved in the cloud storage or annotation app of your choice. And the best thing about JoliPrint is it’s price, Free!

How do you manage your documents? Share in the comments.

BetaMatt

I finally decided to pursue an MBA this spring and I’m thoroughly enjoying immersing myself in the student perspective. For the past 20 years, I’ve researched, taught, advised on, and built technology solutions for education, but now, on the advice of a friend, I walk into that classroom and do my best to leave those perspectives at the door and do some agile development on myself. So welcome to BetaMatt, an attempt to disruptively innovate me.