Monday, April 6, 2009

A Wonderful Free Tool for Collaboration

Suppose you are working on a draft of a document with someone else. The typical approach is to write in Word and send the document back and forth via email, making changes as you go. That's OK, but there's a tool I like better: Google Docs.

With Google Docs, you create a document, or a spreadsheet, online in your web browser, then you share it with one or more collaborators. Each of you can edit the document and view it online. You can even edit the same document at the same time, for example while talking on the phone or chatting via IM, and both see each other's changes at the same time!

This week I was working on a proposal for a new job and I plan to work with a subcontractor. I created the document in Google Docs, and when she had time she was able to read it and add changes and comments. Google Docs can export your document into several formats - I exported it into Word and emailed it to the client. I also prepared a budget and expense worksheet that I shared with my sub.

And of course, like most things Google, Google Docs is free - all you need is a Google account.

If you are working on a long, complicated document or a highly sophisticated spreadsheet, you may run up against the limitations of Google Docs, but for 95% of what it do it works great. And like other online tools, your work is available to you anywhere you have an Internet connection - you can even edit a Google Doc on your iPhone. (And you can edit offline, too, if you install an add-on called Google Gears.)

Let me know what collaboration tools you use in your work!


  1. Hi Mike,

    Yes, Google Docs is indeed a very useful web program in general. Unfortunately, it is not
    very useful in its current state for scientific documents -- no symbol font! The workarounds are very clumsy. No greek letters makes it a no go for our work. Too bad. Hopefully Google will rectify the situation soon.


  2. I wonder if Google Docs is even better in some cases than a Wiki? Some people still have trouble getting around the wiki interface and us web designers have found them to be generally poorly used after we've been asked to set them up.

    Thanks again for another great post! The main thing I collaborate w/someone on is a blog; we both contribute (using Google's Blogger).

    An idea for a future post: I'm thinking of getting a better phone. What do you think of iPhone vs. Blackberry vs. anything else similar?