Google Docs: now officially impressed

A while ago, I asked for suggestions about how a research group could collaboratively edit documents. More than one person suggested that I try Google Docs and Spreadsheets. I signed up, uploaded a file or two, played around with the editor and didn’t take it much further.

I went back to it this week and now I get it. On your own, it serves as little more than a backup or a way to publish on the web. It’s the collaborative features that make it shine. Your documents can be private, open by invitation or public. Invitees (up to 200 of them) can be “view only” or collaborators (editors). Several people can work on a document simultaneously (up to 50 for docs, 10 for spreadsheets). There’s a very nice revisions feature where you can view differences between versions, colour-coded by author. You can upload and download in all the common formats that people are likely to use and convert to PDF. This means that I can work on my documents in LaTeX, run them through latex2rtf, upload the RTF and let other people work on them in a format with which they’re comfortable.

As usual, now all I have to do is convince my colleagues to stop bouncing documents around by email and use this far-superior tool instead.

9 thoughts on “Google Docs: now officially impressed

  1. Roland

    And it’s Google, so people can be convinced to use it. We just submitted a ms constructed over three departments and two timezones using GoogleDocs. The only real drawback was the lack of reference management but plain-old Harvard-style citations in parentheses, which were replaced only in the last version (in Word, ahem) did the trick.
    Definitely recommended if you can’t convince your colleagues to use TeX and Subversion.

  2. nsaunders Post author

    I used to imagine fondly that I’d convert everyone around me to TeX and Subversion. Ah, foolish, wide-eyed naive child that I was.

    My current group are relatively clued-in; there’s a lab wiki and a couple of lab Google Groups, so I have hope.

  3. Deepak

    Documents by email? People still do that. I jest. It’s the bane of anyone who works in a company. Luckily all those little web projects and collaborations help maintain sanity

  4. nsaunders Post author

    Haven’t tried out Zoho, but I’ve heard good things about it. In fact it seems to be ahead of the Google online apps in some ways. Similarly, Netvibes are rather ahead of iGoogle.

    So far as possible, I like to be in one integrated place online, rather than have to visit multiple sites with multiple logins. For that reason alone I tend to go with Google when I can.

  5. Keith

    I actually just had the chance to use Google Docs with some classmates earlier today. About nine of us all worked together simultaneously to dig up information on different bioinformatics graduate programs and related resources. It was really neat, but with that many people working on the document at the same time, and no pre-planning, it was a little hectic at first with people moving things before someone else had a chance to finish what they were typing. Once people started to focus more on their specific parts of the document, it got much easier. (incidentally, this is what we ended up with)

    Overall it was really useful though. With a little more organization and an agreed upon style, it has a lot of potential! There is another tool I just tried out (after the Google Docs experiment I got kind of excited to see what else is out there) for collaborative drawing. It was impressive at first, but I quickly found it’s limitations. It looks like something that GE did to show off, but completely stopped developing afterwards. With some more features, and a better interface however that could be really useful as well!

  6. nsaunders Post author

    The only real drawback was the lack of reference management

    This is where a merge feature would be useful. Download from Google Docs, work locally so as you can use your citation system (Endnote most likely…), upload and merge. Let’s hope for something like this in a later version.

  7. ganeshv

    Has anyone tried MonkeyTex for online collaboration and sharing of latex files? On first use, it feels simple to use, and as good as lyx+svn. The only thing that hit me was some inconsistency with different browsers. But, I generally use Firefox on Solaris and it seemed rock solid on it.

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