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February 08, 2007

How I use Google Docs & Spreadsheets

It struck me today that I'm a frequent user of Google Docs & Spreadsheets and I've encountered enough skepticism about the products that I thought I'd post on how this product has impacted my work and personal life.

If you're like me, you often find yourself emailing around Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. Yes, we have Sharepoint in the office which is supposed to keep us from doing this, but what about those circumstances when you have to share documents outside of the organization? So here are a few examples of how I've used Google Docs & Spreadsheets (note that for privacy and confidentiality reason, I'm not at liberty to share most of them):

- Summer camp planning. As any parent of school-aged kids can attest, coordinating summer camps with the parents of all of my kids' friends drives me into the ground every spring. I've always kept a spreadsheet to track all of the options, links, registrations, etc., but this year I went even more geek -- I published it on Google spreadsheets and sent the link around to all of the parents. While no other parents have done the same yet, several have accessed my sheet and asked about past camp experiences, and coordinated specific weeks of camp. It's definitely reduced the number of emails I have had to send around.

- Tracking spreadsheets for my manager. I'm frequently asked by my manager to provide an update on how much client work I've done each quarter. I used to keep this on a spreadsheet on my hard drive and then email her a copy whenever she needed it. No more -- I now update it online and she can access it whenever she needs to. The key advantage to me: I don't have to be logged into the corporate network to access the file, something that's a huge convenience to me when I'm on the road or working from home.

- Jam playlist. Forrester recently had an all-company offsite and one of the highlights is an after-hours music jam lead by one of our analysts, Merv Adrian (I play keyboards and miscellaneous percussion instruments).  This year we decided to be more organized and create a playlist so that fellow musicians could suggest songs, learn lyrics, and practice beforehand. What started out as a flurry of emails with song suggestions dwindled to reminders to add suggestions/vote for song online.

- Prop list. My daughter participates in children's theater and I act as the prop mistress for the shows. I have to coordinate with a co-prop mistress, director, assistant director, set designer, costume designer, and producer. The worst is figuring out if anyone's found that pitchford for Scene 1. To keep track of what props are needed and who's gotten what, I've posted the prop list online. (So if anyone has an old lute that they can lend, let me know!)

- Bank of Mom. My husband and I encourage our kids to save by giving them a 10% interest rate -- monthly. Believe me, it's a huge incentive! I kept track of their savings in a spreadsheet, but was always getting asked how much money they had in their accounts at the most inconvenient times -- like at the store. Since it's a pretty straight forward spreadsheet, I can easily access it on my Blackberry.

These are just a few of the ways I've used Google Docs & Spreadsheets. And this is where the real opportunity is -- I created these originally online with the intention of sharing or accessing them online from the start. 

So the big question is, how much of a threat is this to Microsoft and the new Office 2007 franchise? There are sharing features built into Office 2007, but they are still very much enterprise focused. And Google's products lack power -- I hate making tables in Google Docs and sorting in Google spreadsheets is poor. And don't even attempt to try making pivot tables! So Docs & Spreadsheets today is aimed at the consumer market with very basic document and spreadsheet needs.

But what about the long term? Google has historically made its mark by entering at the low end of the market and moving up -- and this will be no different. Enterprises won't throw out Office anytime soon, nor can I ever imagine giving up my Office tools either. But as I use Google Docs & Spreadsheets for more and more of my daily computing needs, I see it stealing away computing share from Microsoft.

And therein lies Google's strategy -- they don't want to replace Office today, they just want to be an alternative. And once they establish a beachhead, it will be a matter of time -- granted, years -- before they will have a product that can truly hold a candle to Office 2007. But that time will come and Microsoft had better get it's cross-collaborative game for Office in gear.


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Can you recommend some summer camps for a 7 year old?


Josh Bernoff

Not to mention the seamless experience Charlene and I had last night using Google docs to collaborate on principles for our book!

Dom Pannell

a 10% interest monthly rate...

I wonder, is it too late to put myself up for adoption?

Juergen Beckmerhagen

Greetings from Germany! My wife and I use Google Docs and Spreadsheet. Doerte, my wife, write children tales and I produce them as podcasts. Doerte write her tales in Google Docs, shares them with me and I can correct them traveling around the globe. Even better - Doerte uses her iBook, I use my Linux Laptop, my iMac or the company PC. No software installation required (except for a browser) - no more backups ...


We use them to write the specs for our clients. So we can all participate in updating the specs and have access to the latest version.

Lars Plougmann

There are three questions to ask oneself before deciding whether to work collaboratively online (e.g. using Google Docs & Spreadsheets):
- Is the information too confidential to sit on somebody else's server?
- Am I certain that I will be working alone on this?
- Will I need advanced features?
If the answer to those questions is No, then there is a strong reason to use an online collaborative tool for the task.

The second question is the one that tests the value of collaboration, and often the only one that matters. Confidentiality is a moot point anyway if you end up sharing the document via email, and if you find you need advanced features you can always continue work in a local copy.


I use Google Docs to collaborate with my son on his projects for school. For example, he did his book report last week, and as he types the report, I can see hat he is doing and make constructive comments to help him. It works a lot better than having him write it, I mark it up, he fixes it, I mark it up, etc. We get a lot more done in a lot less time.


I manage a store in New York.. we have three people working on different days, and an ownerin Europe. We keep a day log that everyone acesses. The owner and I leave notes to the sales people, and they leave notes to us. Much less need for phone calls and much less mis communication. It's a DREAM!


I use it to share manuscripts with my editor (my cousin) as I write a biography of our great-grandparents.



I used Google docs to write a collaborative school work that included tables and graphics. But I accidentaly hit the edit html button and tried to modify some of the tables. When I switched back, the document was gone. So another point is that you should still keep a backup copy somewhere on your hard disk. Otherwise you will be left cold if something goes wrong. It is still a beta.


Charlene - it was good meeting you last week. The conversation sparked lots of interest.

Of course, I started reading your blog, and this one is one that I may use with my wife! We also have two kids, and coordinating schedules on things is a challenge.


I use google spreadsheets too. It's great for sharing, but when the spreadsheet gets big, it's really slow to navigate up and down the page. So I end up going back to Office.


I'm looking at encouraging the use of them within education - what a great tool for getting group projects done! Anyone else with any experiences of this, i'd be interested to hear from. Thanks for the blog!


I used it as a collaborative tool (docs and spreadsheet) on a website project involving 6 people (5 in Brussels + me) while I travelled to South Africa and Chile.

Must say it helped a lot, we published around 200+ docs in a couple of weeks (for page contents) used several spreadsheets to annotate the changes and such... (only pita: when sharing with different users you must copy paste all names, no group assignment) Tags are very usefull when working like that.

This leads me to think that on top of being an easy alternative to office (who needs/knows/uses all the features???) it can also be (if google wants to) a powerfull PM or doc management tool in future, not even talking about integrating it with a button into sites, blogs, mobiles. Because really, who needs to spend (lose) time changing an word/ppt/excel doc to html for web publishing? (try to clean the nice tags word docs create when you copy paste it for the web, eeeer...) And as web (wether it is xml or other) will be the ultimate thing for cross platform sharing, the no evil buddies are ahead of the pack with there dozens and dozens of nice tools to integrate.

And hey, combine geeks and normal users and you got it baking. Users will point the geeks in the right direction and geeks will provide users with nice tools (API). Top that with some experts and gurus and you got the perfect marketing buz mix.

Better integration of calendar, attachment of files, whatever, google has all the tools there (and elsewere, they just need to integrate them) to bundle the ultimate easy and ready to use collab tool (you need about a couple of hours to get it all figured and 5 minutes to use it). When you see that every program needs days or weeks or months to get it really rolling, the no-evil guys got it all right again. Mucho bueno, imho.


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Hey Charlene....thanks for posting this mini-review of Google Docs/Spreadsheet. You may have convinced me to take the plunge. I only need the basic features, and I like the idea of being able to access my files from anywhere.

For my needs, this should do.

It's kind of an exciting time in computing -- with Google releasing so much great stuff, and Apple getting more and more popular. It makes you wonder if this is why MS has gotten so much bad press in the blogosphere lately. (Example -- see "Cracked Windows" on Media 3.0:


- Maria

Chris Yeh


Are you working off "The First National Bank of Dad?"

My kids are still too young, but I intend to adopt the methods as well. Maybe we should go in together on a Rentacoder project to build a Web based "Bank of Dad" service.

George Mandis

These are really clever ways of working web apps into your daily life - thanks for sharing!


Google now has Pivot-tables. try it!



I've been using it very successfully to track my gas consumption - http://perendinate.com/2008/12/18/how-to-use-google-docs-to-track-your-gas-mileage/

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