(cross posting from Mike Riversdale: Enterprise 2.0 New Zealand style blog)

Google Apps … on-line word processing … a slightly interesting “battle” between Google and Microsoft … !? … who, apart from those with shares or have their status/job entangled to one or the other, gives a stuff really ?

If this was about who can make pretty words on a computer then I wouldn’t even bother you with it. The writing of words into something that can then be printed or even, heavens above, retrieved later to be changed and then printed again isn’t the point.

I use a gazzillion ‘editors’ for doing just that – a list of those I can remember in 30 seconds:

  • GMail (home) / Outlook (clients) email editor for creating my emails
  • Google Calendar (home) / Outlook (clients) editor for editing the description of my events
  • Blogger editor for creating my blog posts just like this
  • Text Editor on my Ubuntu machine for editing little text files I need
  • Notepad on any Windows machine for editing little text files I need
  • Profile editors around the web to update the my “about Mike”
  • Microsoft Word when I have to write a document
  • Google Docs when I have to write a document
  • OpenOffice when I have to write a document
  • … there’s bound to be many MANY others

And they all, basically, do the job.
They let me type in words, I can format those words, I can place the words in different parts of the page/screen and I can add niceties to those words (pictures, headers/footers … blah blah blah)

And they all will let me do it … really, the creation of “nice words” is easy to do with any of them.

So what!
What is the big deal about Google Docs?

The big deal is that Google Docs isn’t about “me”.
Fundamentally and by the very nature of being on the web it is about “me” + “you”.

All of the above examples of editing talk about me doing it – I edit using, I format and I place on the screen. At some point (not always) there is the need to include at least on another person in the words being created.

How many times have you written something that is for your eyes only?
In those cases I am willing to bet it makes no difference how flash the editor is, you just want to jot something down – I’m thinking of the on-line equivalent of the serviette, the back of the fag packet or the corner of a newspaper page. Anything will do – in my case that usually what I use Ubuntu Text Editor for – something quick, easy and does the job of writing the words.

Mostly however the reason the words are written down is so that the words can be shared with someone else, maybe even just one other. Even if that one other person is merely going to receive the words, read them and never return to the document again there is the need to get the words to them.

It is no longer about “me” but about “us”.

Documents (PC-based I’m thinking) are fundamentally about “one person”.
The document you edit looks lovingly into your eyes proclaiming ever lasting love just for you. If someone else tries to muscle in on this close(d) relationship they will get told to go away, I am with someone else – usually with a message like this:

Of course the words inside the document want to be loved by all and to love all. They force the document to dump one person and love another in a serial monogamy type of way. The document that was only for you will quite easily tell you to go away as they are now in a one-on-one relationship with someone else.

This issue – words love all / documents love one at a time – is a fundamental issue that many have tried to solve using any number of clever means. We’ve had software attempting to mediate the differences – every electronic document management (EDMS) system you’ve battled against lives this category. We’ve had consultants claiming to solve it via changes in work practices – ‘workflow” and the bottlenecks they employ.

The most common way employed by everyone ever is … copy the document.
The words love this – they can love more and more people. More words can join them as they spread around the network – you can put in your words, I can add my words, Stevens from Accounts can remove the words he doesn’t want – the words are out there, they love to be free and are loving all.

But once set free they’re bloody near impossible to reign back in, for a start where the frig are they – out there in the wilds of the electronic world running free is all well and good until some poor sod has to try and reign them in.

Many an organisation I have worked with has had the need of a dedicated “poor sod” to chase down the words of many, the coral them into one area and stick them all back into one document again. Normally this is done only to then send it all back out again and start the loop once more.

Google Docs?

Google Docs doesn’t live in the ‘document’ world. Oh it has similar naming conventions, it uses all the jargon that we’re used to and it pretends to be a document … but it’s not because it comes from the ‘words’ world view. It knows that the words you’re gonna edit are, 99.9% of the time, going to want to be loved by many more that you. And being on the Web they know that the world of connected people at your fingertips is massive. Not only is there the list of attractive people in your contacts list but there is everyone with an internet connection!

Google Docs lives to share the words:

  • knows that words want to be shared and that’s why you’ve typed them.
  • its world view knows/understands its connected environment
  • its capabilities are built to use this environment

Whilst I don’t think Google Docs lets the words share the love quite easily enough. For instance what if I want to share only one paragraph with the world or want to allow a bunch of people edit one page but not the rest etc etc. But Google Docs has taken the biggest step, from here on in it’s refining.

A quick word about wikis.
Wikis live by understanding the the connectivity of their environment and the innate desire of words to love all and be loved by all. In the future will there be no difference between a Google Doc and a wiki page … in fact, it may be so close already it’s just a matter of semantics and opinion.

Is only Google Docs that get this. No, it’s not just Google Docs that are taking these fundamental steps, replace “Google Docs” with “Zoho Writer and I’m equally as happy with this post. Again, you could also replace everything with “wiki” and get an even finer example of my point.

And so, if you still think that using an editor (whatever type it is … but I bet it’s Microsoft Word) is all about “you” and no-one else then take a moment to ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. Who do I want to see those words I just saved and can they, right now?
  2. Who will change those words I’ve typed (even if it’s verbally/by email and you do the donkey work of re-editing)?
  3. What do I do to share my words and is it as easy as I want?

Enjoyed this, three other articles you might like to read:

Mike Riversdale

I (Mike Riversdale, aka Miramar Mike) have worked all my professional life alongside users of information with my work with software vendors (Business Objects, Sydney), New Zealand government agencies (Department of Corrections, Ministry of Health, Christchurch City Council), charitable organisations (skylight) and private/public companies (Fronde, Etam). My focus is always on the real users and their information demands - I have been called the "people's poet"! Working for Fronde and as an independent consultant my role is to introduce the concepts, educate around the challenges and ultimately help deliver available, findable and useful information to those that need it. I am experienced in the full gamut of Enterprise 2.0 tools and, despite a leaning towards open source, I am totally vendor independent - whatever works for the client!

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