Monday, January 29, 2007

Collaboration with Google Docs

Following a recent heuristic evaluation, Yandle and myself put Google Docs collaboration capabilities to the test to write the report.

Photo of Danny in front of his computer while editing a Google Docs documment

Photo of Ben in front of his computer while editing a Google Docs documment

Above: Collaborating with silly faces.

We were working in the same room on separate workstations so we could easily communicate and in the beginning we were being really careful about making sure that we weren't working on the same part of the document at the same time in case one of us accidentally wiped out something that the other was working on.

However we quickly found that we didn't need to worry about this at all because the document was being autosaved so frequently. Every time it was saved the changes made by the other writer would be merged in seamlessly with our own changes. So in fact it was very rare for there to be any conflicts in what we were doing which gave us more time to shut up and get on with the task itself.

Even when there was a rare conflict and the most recent changes were lost, the amount of changes that had been made between autosaves were so few that it was very easy to recover from.

Additionally, if there had been a more serious loss of work, it would also probably have been easy to recover from as Google keeps multiple revisions of a document allowing you to go back and compare documents over time.

Possibly the most difficult part of working with Google Docs was learning to trust the system and remembering not to press Control-S to save the document every ten seconds in case the application crashed.

When one of the computers did crash there was no panic and we felt safe in the knowledge that, being an online application, the document wouldn't be lost even if the computer was dead forever.

I'd definitely recommend using Google Docs as a collaboration tool and even as a plain old non-collaborative word processor (although I'd like to test it out with a few more simultaneous collaborators in different rooms to see whether it would deserve such a glowing report under those conditions).

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