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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