Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Thing 10: Using Google Documents and Spreadsheets

What are they?

Every so often you'll come across an article that says something like, "90% of users only make use of 10% of the functionality of [insert name of application, eg MS Word]."You can argue with the percentages, but it's probably true that many of us produce most of our documents using a limited set of features.

The Google applications provide the essential functionality for producing documents, spreadsheets, presentations and drawings, and the feature set is increasing all the time, but their real strengths lie in that they:
  • are accessible and editable online using any common browser on multiple devices (unlike MS Office)
  • can be shared with others without creating multiple copies (unlike emailing attached documents)
  • are supported by group/individual permissions for viewing and editing (unlike shared drives)
  • support real-time collaborative editing (unlike MS Office)
  • support real-time chat and commenting (unlike MS Office)
Would you want to use the Google word processor for all your documents? No.
Do they have a place in your workflow? Yes, most definitely, especially if you work as part of a team.
Drive, Documents and Sharing
Google documents are saved in Google Drive, allowing you to organise them into folders. Both folders and documents can be shared with Google Groups, or individuals. If you create and share a folder, all documents created within it will automatically be shared with the same people.

Why should I use them?

When working collaboratively, emailing attached documents is still incredibly common, yet it can be very inefficient; each individual invariably saves their own version. Even with shared work drives, you end up with multiple copies and versions with names like Plan_with_Mikes_comments.docx, absolutely_latest_version2.xlsx or donteditthisone!.docx.

Scenario 1: You need to work with others to produce an article/proposal/outline plan/costing/presentation etc... Create the content in a Google document, share, edit together, comment, chat, argue, discuss, agree. Then, if you need a 'formal' version, task one person to work on the presentation (this is good practice: thinking about presentation separately from content). This could mean downloading and editing in a desktop application if you need to use additional features.

Scenario 2: When you've finished working on a document (spreadsheet etc...) you know you will need to get comments from several people on its contents. Create it as a Google document initially, share it with them, and invite comments. After commenting, download and tidy up with MS Word if you need the additional features.
Knitting and photo by Clancy Ratliff
Source: Wikimedia COmmons

Scenario 3: You've been asked to plan a session on knitting for the Directorate Staff Festival, and you want to find out which aspects of the craft would be most popular. Create a Google form and make it available to the potential audience. When people fill in the form, their responses will be collected in a Google spreadsheet, allowing you to count, average, total etc.

When should I avoid them?

If I'm honest, and I do try to be, the functionality of Google docs has a long way to go to match the standard desktop applications. However, where the advantages of 'cloud' storage and editing make work more productive, I'll put up with these deficiencies while I'm working on content. When it's essential I also control presentation precisely, I'll switch to a desktop application to utilise the extended features.


There's a version of the first part of this post saved as a Google Document, and it's shared with you if you are a member of the 23 Things Group (see Thing 9). If you didn't join the group, refer back to Thing 9 and do the Join and Use a Group activity. Once you're a member open the shared document (this is a link to the document to save you having to search for it and it should open in a new window or tab). You will also need a friend.
  1. You have edit permissions for this document so should be able to change it. Find a 23 Things friend (I know most of us have friends - if you have difficulty I'll be your friend temporarily - or even longer term if you're nice to me). Make sure your friend is also in the 23 Things Group, and try the following:
  2. After both of you have opened the Thing 10 shared document, notice the indicators for multiple editors, top right. You may also have access to Google+ profiles here.
  3. Both of you simultaneously add paragraphs at the bottom (below How I might use Google docs) describing how you might... (you get the idea). Notice how Google shows the editing taking place, and repeatedly saves the document automatically.
  4. Use the 'Other Editors' indicator to 'chat' about the document with your friend.
  5. Read through the document and add comments (highlight a word/phrase, right-click and choose Comment). You can also add other general comments about the document by selecting the Comment button top right.
  6. The document has changed while you've been editing it. View the history by selecting File > See revision history. You can select any earlier version to see how it looked, then select the latest again.
  7. While you still have a friend available, each of you create a new document (back in Drive, choose Create), add some brief content and share the document with your friend (Share top right, add them and choose to email a notification). Note that you sometimes cannot find a shared document in Shared with me (Drive) unless you have first opened it from the notification email.
  8. Check your settings in the new Google document. Unless you have already changed it, the default size is US Letter paper, so choose File > Page setup..., change it to A4, edit the margins if you like and then choose Set as default so new documents will be A4.

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