Talking Tech Friday: Google Docs, Spreadsheets, & Presentations

I’ve decided to call this column Talking Tech Friday – what do you think?


This week, I thought it would be nice to review Google Docs, which covers Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations.

What is it?

Basically, Google Docs is a platform to create common office documents that are hosted online. As the name implies, you can use them for documents, spreadsheets and presentations, using an interface that is familiar to people who have used the Microsoft Office suite, as well as other office products.

How does it work?
Like most Google services, you just need to create a Google account. Once you have signed in, you can just select Docs, and it’ll take you to the Docs Homepage.

Creating a document is easy, you just click on “New” and choose if you want to create a document, spreadsheet or presentation. Again, all documents are hosted online, so they’re equally accessible from any location – I often use it if I’m working on something that I may use at home or at work, such as a resume. Every file is tied to your personal log in unless you choose to share it with someone, or to publish it. You can share it with whomever you like just by clicking on the Share tab and entering their email address. You can also choose whether to add them as collaborators or as viewers – collaborators can edit the document, but viewers have no editing capabilities. Publishing an item means that it’s available to anyone online and creates a static URL for the document. You can still edit a document once it’s been published, but no one else would be able to, unless they were a collaborator.

Another benefit to Google Docs is that it automatically saves your work every few minutes, so you don’t have to remember to. The Revisions tab will also keep track of your previous iterations – you can always go back and see what your document looked like yesterday, before you rewrote that introduction.

Additionally, you can download a file created in Google Docs to your computer as a Word, Excel, Open Office, Rich Text, PDF, or HTML document. And, alternatively, upload already existing files from your computer, which makes it exceedingly easy to share documents, or even just to avoid packing a flash drive or floppy disk around.

Documents is very much like Word – even the toolbar icons are similar. If you have used Word, you’ll be very comfortable with Docs. Docs doesn’t quite have the formatting capacity that Word does, but seems to be completely adequate for most purposes. You can insert images and tables, use bullets and numbering, different text colors, fonts, and backgrounds, just like word.

The collaborative functionality is a particular strength – it is very easy to add comments and highlight text for commenting. Multiple people can view and edit a document simultaneously, and the document will refresh every few minutes so you can see others’ changes in almost real time. I personally have used this to co-author a paper with another librarian on a separate campus – we could both work on the paper, make changes, comment on our work, ask questions, and highlight sections that need more work, etc.

Spreadsheets: Again, you’ll find much of the same functionality here as you would in other spreadsheet applications. I’ve only used Excel, myself, and I actually find Google Spreadsheets to be a little easier and more intuitive. You can have multiple sheets, named and organized however you like, compute formulas, sort by different fields, create charts and tables, everything you’d want a spreadsheet to do. I’d be interested to see a review by a power spreadsheet user, which I am definitely not.

Another useful feature in spreadsheets is the discuss tab – if you’ve shared the spreadsheet with someone else, you can text chat about the document in a little window, like using an instant messenger service.

Presentations: Like the name says, it’s another way to create slides for presentations, much like Powerpoint. I used it for the first time to create my slides for the AZLA conference, and it was very simple. They offer about 18 themes, and several different slide templates, as well as slides that are entirely customizable. A very useful tool is that you can host a web presentation by sharing your slides with virtual attendees. You can see a list of who is viewing it (presumably those you’ve invited), you control the movement of the slides, and there is a text chat window that allows the attendees and presenter to discuss the presentation. Again, I haven’t really used Powerpoint all that much, so would be interested in hearing other opinions, but again, I felt that Google Presentations was very easy and intuitive to use.

Library Uses

Pretty much anywhere you use Word, Excel, or Powerpoint would be a good use for Google Docs. We’ve often talked about using Wikis to keep track of policies and manuals that need to be edited and viewed by multiple people. I think that Google Docs would also be a great alternative for this purpose – it’s very simple to use, and very easy for librarians to grasp the concept. People who might balk at a wiki may have an easier time with Google Docs because it IS so similar to the Office products we all know and love. There’s no need to worry about wiki-text or designing a layout, you can just create folders online for organization and share your documents with your colleagues. Of course, being Google, you can search your Google Docs, so that helps with organization and findability as well. Additionally, since it’s accessible any where you have web access, you don’t have to worry about packing around a floppy or flash drive as long as you know you’ll have internet access.

I know of one library that uses Google Spreadsheets as an ILS supplement to track their library acquisitions and collections budget lines and share that information with their faculty, allowing multiple staff to edit simultaneously and their faculty selectors to view their budget lines from any location.

Other information:

Lifehacker articles

CNET Review

PC Magazine Review

Search Engine Watch Review


~ by Anali on November 30, 2007.

6 Responses to “Talking Tech Friday: Google Docs, Spreadsheets, & Presentations”

  1. Great analysis. I think using Google Docs works great as an alternative to an intranet. If you want to share information, it is much easier to upload a document and then email the link to everyone. I keep everyone updated on the progress of our new branch library by using Google Docs.

  2. […] that I recommended for Google Docs & Spreadsheets is equally applicable for Zoho, with the addition of the other features of the Zoho Suite that […]

  3. […] creation tool – pretty much an online version of Powerpoint.  We’ve talked about Google Presentations before (briefly), which I have used frequently in the past year, and indeed we used it for our […]

  4. Google docs is new to me so I have a “dumb” question! How do your collaborators know when there is something for them to look at? Do I have to add as a collaborator to each new document? And then do I have to send them an invite each time to look at it? Thanks!

  5. These are very logical questions, so don’t feel like they’re dumb! You do have to invite collaborators to each new document, though there is a new feature to invite people to share a particular folder, so I *think* that they have the specified permissions for any document in that folder. That may be a way to get around having to invite them to each new document.

    As far as notifying them when there is new content, I don’t think there’s an automated way. They can see when a document has been changed once they log in to Google Docs. And hopefully, if you’re working on a document together, they will be checking it regularly, or contributing, etc. However, there is a function (under Share) to send an email to the people who share the document with you, so that might be an easy way to notify them of changes. You don’t have to invite them each time.

    Hope that helps!

  6. Thanks so much for your reply Anali – very reassuring and helpful!

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