The Beauty of Google Documents

Hello gang, with Milestone III coming up I thought it appropriate to use my blog post as an opportunity to pay homage to Google Docs. Google Docs is a free Java-based web application that allows you to create documents and upload them to the cloud for storage online. The service is initially free up to a memory cap of 10 GB, after which monthly payments are necessary. This in and of itself is uninteresting – there are many services that provide this kind of data storage, such as Dropbox.

Google Docs is unique for being a web 2.0 technology for its ability for the document creator to share his/her work and collaborate in real time with others. This means multiple people can be working on the same document in real time and have their additions appear as they write them. This feature is a boon for students, as anyone with even a basic computer can access the internet and write text. I have had many a study session with other students by uploading our professor’s study guide, and having everyone fill in the information they know best. It also works wonderfully for projects (such as our upcoming Milestone).

But how did Google Docs come to be? Its origins are in fact two different products, Google Spreadsheets and Writely. Google spreadsheets was a simplified version of the current Google Docs, limited to creating data spreadsheets. However, Google’s purchase of Upstartle in March of 2006, the startup that created Writely, was the major jump into creating the present product. Writely carried the feature that defines Google Docs today – collaborative text editing. Four years later, in March of 2010, Google purchased DocVerse, allowing full compatibility with Microsoft office. Last year, offline viewing was made possible by a web app that automatically uploads your content once connected. The present day Google Docs is a clean, multi-functional product that is fully compatible with almost all common file types.

What have your experiences been with this product, or similar collaborative text editors? What do you think could be done to further improve it? Personally, I think adding speech to text would make it the perfect product. What are your thoughts?

10 responses to “The Beauty of Google Documents

  1. I’ve used google spreadsheets a ton for group collaboration. It really seems to elevate the level and speed at which ideas can be generated. It’s also easy to set up to collect information from large numbers of people (with forms) without having to hose your own website and know javascript or CSS.
    One downside, of course, is the use of a web browser, which makes it difficult to quickly share large files. Applications like Dropbox, where you can simply drop files into a shared folder, solve this problem, but Dropbox has no version control. This means that two users cannot edit the same file simultaneously without creating conflicting versions. I’ve always wanted a free application that combines Google’s collaborative editing with Dropbox’s easy file sharing.

  2. So, this is the first time I’ve ever used this technology or anything similar and the more i’ve played with while working on milestone the more impressed i’ve been. It makes communication so much easier, everyone can input their ideas or make changes, and i think its going to make a great outline later for our presentations and papers. I think the best part is the fact that it automatically saves to the drive, it makes it so much more worry free in case my browser crashes or whatever. The one thing i would like to improve is when you access the doc it should highlight any revisions that were made by the others working on the doc. There is a way to see the revisions in the tool bar, but it would be faster to just see the revisions that were made when you log on and be able to continue working on the project.

  3. I personally love Google Docs. Just like everyone has mentioned, it serves many functions and can be utilized for just about anything related to school or elsewhere. For instance, just about a week ago my aunt called me to invite me to her Christmas cookie exchange. When I asked what everyone else was bringing and how she was going to make sure that people didn’t duplicate, she told me that she was planning on sending an email every time someone notified her of the type of cookie they were going to make. We both agreed that that would result in a ton of emails and that it would be a lot of work to try to collaborate with everyone. When I asked her if she had ever heard of Google Docs she didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Long story short, I explained what it was and how she could create a doc so that people could go on and type their name and what cookie they were going to bring, which would allow everyone else to see as well. As a result, utilizing Google Docs saved much time and effort. This is just one example of how it can be used outside of school, but in terms of school itself I have used it for collaborating on essays, making schedules, and much more. I honestly can’t think of anything that can help to improve it. I think it is a simple, well-formed technology that has been designed very well. I have never had any problems with it and will definitely continue to utilize it.

  4. I’m also a fan of Google Docs. Whenever I need to find out availability for club events and meetings, I use it to keep everyone’s information updated and in one place. Google Docs and Dropbox are two of few applications that have really amazed me. My club also uses Dropbox to store its larger files that we all need to view and update, and I’m always amazed to see updates loading instantly at the top of my screen, and to see my edits appearing on a Google Docs simultaneously with someone else’s. As Ethan noted above, it would be nice to see an application that combines Dropbox’s large file storing capabilities with Google Docs’s version control. As it is, however, Google Docs is a pretty wonderful thing.

  5. I love love love Google Docs. I have multiple computers with different operating systems, so for 1.) I need the file sharing so I can seamlessly work on school documents and 2.) I need something cross-platform so I don’t have incompatibility issues. I know I could use Dropbox with LibreOffice for it to work on my Linux and Windows machine, but I don’t really like LibreOffice. Google Docs allows me to do that perfectly.

    Also, I think it’s great for study guides. Just have everyone contribute and you have your own version of Wikipedia for a single class.

    Ethan brings up a good point about the forms. It’s so easy to create polls that I don’t need to go on SurveyMonkey for; it also keeps everything under one account so I don’t need an account for Google for email and SurveyMonkey for surveys (I run a website so the surveys are pretty important).

    Also Meagan, Google Docs stores its files on Google Drive, which comes with 5GB of space versus Dropbox’s 2GB.

  6. I only really started using Google docs this year but it’s been immensely helpful for almost all of my classes. I’ve used it not only for storage and as an easy way to retrieve documents that I have to print on campus but as a collaborative tool as well. I’ve used it a ton for lab write ups and for group projects in this class, as well as an area for storing common knowledge between a few people. All of it’s features are wonderful but the thing that really makes it for me is that it’s FREE. I know that a subscription is necessary at a point but for someone who’s mostly using it for text based documents, I won’t hit that cap any time soon. It’s one of my most used applications around campus and I think it’s truly revolutionary.

      • It’s only paid if 1.) you need more storage space (since Google Docs is integrated with Google Drive) and 2.) when a business wants to use it. For casual users like us it’s free and will always be (for the foreseeable future at least)

  7. I’ve used Google docs in the past for spreadsheet type of things (like post your sandwich preference after your name, post the date you’ll bring food etc.), However, milestone 3 was the first time I used Google docs to collaborate on a paper and I hated it! I think that Google docs would be much better if it more closely resembled a word document. I think that Google docs should look exactly like a word document, but also have the features that make Google docs unique.So I imagine an online word document that keeps the chat feature of Google docs, and the editing features of Google docs. That would make the perfect website for collaborating on a paper!

  8. I’ve only used Google docs when teachers have forced me to. I don’t ever think of it as something I should integrate into my work. I feel like Google docs is a watered down version of Microsoft Office and I don’t like that about it. I’d much prefer Dropbox, where I can make my edits and just save the file and share it to practically whomever I want.

    I think people think the advantage to Google docs is that you can update files simultaneously, whereas in Dropbox you can’t, but it used to drive me crazy when two people would be working on the same thing with different ideas about it and the cursors would be fighting each other. It’s like if me and the other user weren’t in the same room where we could verbally tell the other what to (or not to) do, then we would waste time working in circles. So sure, maybe a voice feature would do Google docs some good…

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