How Google is changing the way we communicate and collaborate

Last week my wife proof read a letter I urgently needed to send.  This week we are working on a spreadsheet with all the Christmas cards and gifts.  In neither case were we doing this in the same place, not even in the same city.  E-mail? Not really… Instant messaging? Only a bit.  In fact, we were both editing and viewing the files online.  Corporate intranet?  Try again…

The answer to this riddle is Google Docs, a product used for uploading, editing, creating, and sharing files (documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and forms).  For each of these file types, there is a relatively well equipped online editor.  Although the online editors may not have every single feature their offline counterparts have, there are considerable advantages for using these tools:

  • They are free and online (no installations needed).
  • No need to worry about upgrades, service packs, or sending error reports.
  • The files are online (not on your hard drive, pen drive, CD, or any other portable/vulnerable storage device).
  • All you need is a PC with Internet access and a web browser (all three of these are increasing availability and performance at an accelerating pace).
  • This is fully operating-system-independent (e.g. my wife uses Apple, while I am using Windows)
  • If needed, the files can be exported to many equivalent formats.
  • Files can be easily shared with one person, a group of people, or the entire Internet (no need to be Google account-holders).  View vs. edit permissions and log-in requests are also available options.
  • Files can be organized into smart folders (files are labeled, not moved), i.e. a file can be “inside” more than one folder at a time. And this is done as by dragging and dropping the files into their respective folders/labels.
  • Preset one-click views filter the files according to type, shared with, folder/label, and others.
  • And of course, Google’s powerful search engine is also available for searching within one’s files, and these search criteria can be saved for future use.

Here’s another riddle: what’s free, easy to use, WYSIWYG, does not need you to have an HTML editor, does not need FTP uploading software, has many [configurable] preset templates, has four structures (page, dashboard, announcement, file cabinet, list), and can be totally private, shared among chosen few, or totally public?

In case you haven’t guessed already, the answer is Google Sites.  From what I have used this product so far, I must say that its strongest feature is not its graphic design, instead I feel it is the functionality it offers.  Simply put, this Google product uses the same set of tools for a private site (perhaps an “online pen drive”?), an online intranet (affinity group, or perhaps a small organization), or a relatively simple and dead-easy to update website (as is the case of michaelflight.com).  In the case of an online intranet, the concept is similar to the ever-popular Yahoo groups, though Google Sites has taken things a couple of steps further.

Are you afraid of these tools being used for identity theft, or doomsday stories of Google taking-over the world’s information?  Well, I somehow respect those fears.  Needless to say this is all password protected.  But what keeps me from insomnia are the following facts:

a)      I would never use these tools for storing Social Security Numbers (or related sensitive information), bank/card information, etc.  I don’t even have this on my hard drive!  And this information is being stolen since before Google ever existed.

b)      I am very careful of what/who’s PC I use to access my online information.

My belief is in that the quantum leap is based on the facts that these tools are free (as compared to very expensive corporate intranet investments), and that their users are not confined to one organization (any person or group can create their own site and/or documents and decide who has access to them).

These tools are not just online gadgets; they will make a shift in how we use the Internet and how people communicate and collaborate.


Click on the following links for more information:
docs.google.com
sites.google.com

(C) Google Inc.

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