Google reinvented Docs to fight a two-front war


Let’s talk about some of the big changes announced on a platform where many of us get a lot of work done: Google Workspace, home to cloud-based tools that include Docs.

The relative stagnation of Docs in the rapidly evolving world of productivity tools has been constantly fascinating to me. When writing for myself, I use stylish, modern tools like Notion, Bear, and (more recently) Substack. But when I write to others, it’s mostly in Docs, published 15 years ago, which looks roughly the same as it has been since the late 2000s.

Create a new document with any other digital writing tool and you’ll see infinite canvas; In Docs, you’ll see an image of an 8.5 x 11-inch sheet of paper, because Google assumes that all the documents you create will eventually print. On paper. For me, Docs ’skeuomorphism has long been a sign that Google is lagging behind.

And so I was glad to finally learn that it is changing. Here Dieter:

Ultimately, Google is working to bring all of its Workspace applications together. You can start a Meet video chat directly in Docs or share your document directly in a Meet call with the document button. All integration is beneficial, but it also has the advantage (Google) that it may entice users to use competing products like Zoom or Slack, and instead use Google’s unified package.

There are plenty of other small updates: Google Docs has emoji reactions in addition to traditional comments, a new timeline view in Google Sheets to improve project management, and best of all: a new “pageless” view in Google Docs that removes all assumptions that your document is 8.5 “x 11” on paper. It dynamically resizes the document to the size of your web browser, as a web application should.

The changes are part of the Workspace upgrade package, which I think represents the biggest change in Docs in more than a decade. While moving away from printed pages is perhaps the most symbolic move, the bigger idea is to create more dynamic, interactive documents that are integrated with other Google products.

As Dieter notes, this provides a lot of practical convenience for ordinary users: starting quick video chats from within a document; creating surveys to help colleagues make quick decisions; and quickly distribute tasks to colleagues via @ mentions, which are already standard on most enterprise software. Together, they create what Google calls a “smart fabric” workspace based on individual objects called smart chips.

Smart chips can contain file formats other than Google’s own – you can embed document previews from Microsoft Office documents, for example. Modern enterprise software is built on such useful integrations – Slack competed with management early on, mainly because it allows you to track events across entire third-party products, including Google products, but they’ve been nowhere else in Docs.

For casual users of documents, the whole conversation can end here: Google makes several small useful changes to Docs, making the overall experience 10 or 15 percent better. Glorious! I hope all the products I use get 10-15 percent better every year.

At the same time, Google’s incremental approach to improving Docs also reveals a problem the company faces in trying to improve its most used products. A lot of changes are appealing to designers, developers, and tech enthusiasts like me that they serve, but often cause the average user to revolt. And Google is so big that even well-funded startups with good ideas can’t get a grip. The result is that the safest way for Google and other big companies is almost always to change things very little. The more a user has a product – and Workspace has hundreds of millions of users – the more true it usually is.

Just look at Gmail, which has changed relatively little over the last decade. The company’s noble attempt to build a new email experience from scratch, a separate Inbox product, won praise from critics for its more innovative features. But it didn’t get much grip and finally ended. Gmail continues to thrive largely due to indifference from the startup world, which sees a daunting challenge in trying to build a new email service from scratch. But it says that when Basecamp tried last year with its email service Hello, it was full of new ideas.

Google’s problem with the workplace is even more acute as the company is waging a two-front war. On the other side, you have Microsoft, an original target whose products, once called G Suite, are designed to resist. (This project was a huge success, and ultimately chose Microsoft for cloud-based subscriptions to Office five years later.) A huge portion of Google’s attention still depends on the instant messaging needs of current and former Office users, and can force a kind of slow, linear progress on the product roadmap.

On the other hand, however, you have first – class: beautiful, versatile, fast – iterating products, such as Concept, Codaand Air conditioned. These products lack the simplicity of the lowest common denominator in Google Workspace, which is more than power and flexibility. The learning curve is real – I think I’ve been putting together concepts for six months before I realized how it really fits into my life, which isn’t very popular – but before Google I / O notifications, using Docs has come to feel like going back in time.

But unlike new email applications, productivity tools get a real grip. Coda raised money estimated at $ 600 million last year. The perception raised $ 50 million when the pandemic began, and by April 2020 it was worth $ 2 billion. As of March, the spreadsheet-based Airtable was worth $ 5.77 billion.

Clearly, the ability of these startups to move quickly gathers new users with a quick clip. And because they don’t serve millions of old user communities, they can afford the learning curve. Cod’s CEO Shishir Mehrotra – himself a former Google employee who has run the product on YouTube – told me that Docs could only afford to develop so much.

“I think they’re stuck in what I call Dropbox paper , ”Mehrotra said, referring to the file storage company’s miserable effort to improve digital documents.“ What is, there are a number of things you can do without fundamentally changing the paradigm. And that’s good – I think a lot of people love @ mentions and so on. They are clearly trying to choose attractive features – they highlighted voting and reactions, which are our two most popular features. They are clearly trying to involve individual things. But if you don’t want to change the product radically, you can only go that far. “

Towards the end of the day, I jumped into a meeting with Javier Soltero, who has run Google Workspace since October 2019. Soltero has seen both sides of the technical giant / startup split – he founded the great mobile email app Acompli, sold it to Microsoft, and then successfully converted it to an Outlook mobile app during a productive extension of the Office organization.

Soltero took an exception to my suggestion that the Workplace team hasn’t posted any recently – he showed Intelligent composition features assisted by artificial intelligence for example, in the last couple of years. But he acknowledged that the company had a lot to do with the infrastructure – free and paid customers have used different versions of apps, for example, and Google spends a lot of time porting them to more similar features.

Ultimately, though, Soltero told me what I wanted to hear: that the changes would mean the arrival of a world where Docs would start playing faster.

“I’m excited because today is a really big step towards continued acceleration,” he told me. “It doesn’t mean we get everything right, or that everything is going to be an earthquake, Marvin Marsitype kaboom, but I think we are guided by a number of real things. And I see the organization getting really excited. “

Of course, Coda and its peers are also accelerating. And despite the welcome moves, Google still has a lot to do.

This column was published together Platforming, a daily newsletter on Big Tech and Democracy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Chasing the Dream: A Beginner’s Guide to Playing Mega Millions top The best of download video from url The best of download video from url Top Gun flight experience