Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A [small] idea to [further] improve Google Docs for Collaboration

Re-posting from this crazy idea added today.

Birthday post coming soon...

I love Google Docs. I use it for a lot of things --- to store recipes my mom sent to me when I was in grad school, taking instantly-ready meeting minutes collaboratively, as well as discuss paper-writing plans with my colleagues, among others.

When Google released Wave, I loved it; but sadly people like me were in a minority and the project was killed. However, I am very happy to note that Google has kept on pulling the much-liked features of Wave into Docs, including instantaneous collaborative editing (April 2010) and, most recently, advanced discussion/commenting features (March 2011).

However, there is still one extra feature which I wish they could add, and this one would not even take much coding -- just some basic JavaScript. Here is the idea:

I often use Google docs in a conference call. It is a great way to conduct meetings, with attendees posting their questions directly in the doc, and updating it with answers as they are agreed upon in the meeting. The same thing goes for action items. And this way, the minutes are ready at the end of the call, thus saving a TON of time.

However, what I miss is the "follow $user's cursor" feature, using which I can make my screen auto-scroll to the portion of the document that my colleague is currently seeing on his browser. This would help immensely when people on a conference call are trying to read/discuss a document together, and thus need to be on the same page, literally :). [ To those who have played Quake III or other multiplayer FPS games, this concept should not be new :). ]

Implementing this should not be a problem either. The Docs page already sends cursor positions periodically to its servers, we just need to add screen boundaries to this information in some manner. On the receiver's side, it will simply involve some JavaScript to scroll the screen to the appropriate position.

So, what say?


  1. that means goog will need to create 2 versions

    1) for collaborative working - i wanna work on page 7 while you wanna work on abstract section, so we dont need to be on the same page

    2) Presentation mode - we need to be on the same page.. but i am guessing being on the same page and editing will have a lot less users.. maybe thats why goog hasnt made it yet?

  2. Khanna: What I mean is not a "presentation mode" enforced from the "presentor" side. The individual contributors would be free to click a "switch to mode which follows X" checkbox in their views. [very much like in Quake 3 :P ]

  3. aah! understood now..makes sense!

  4. Good idea.
    I also use g-docs a lot in collaboration with my team and I would also like to have one more feature:

    Problem: There are times when one doc is shared across many people, but sections of that doc have to be hidden/shown from/to a subset. For example, if in a report section-1 and section-2 needs to be shared with only A and B and section-3 and section-4 needs to be shared with only B and C. The only way now is to create two separate g-docs (one for section-1 and section-2 and another for section-3 and section-4) and then share them separately with A&B and B&C respectively. And after the collaboration is done, join the two separate g-docs to create the report.

    Wishlist: I would like to have a way for the creator of the g-doc to specify sections of the document to be shared with different people.

    -Himanshu Bhalla

  5. Bhalla: I love the idea, but implementation might be difficult since GDocs does not have an internal semantic notion of a "section" -- the headers are just that - HTML markup for the "head" tags :-(.

    Perhaps you could "embed" docs into a page, and then give access to separate people?

  6. Thanks Pathak. I am not sure how the GDocs implementation works.
    Perhaps its not possible with a "word" kind of doc, but what about spreadsheets? Can sections be divided based on rows and columns?

  7. this is a good idea. I have not used collaboration on Gdocs yet but reading it i could very well relate to it.

  8. Hangouts have google docs integration now.

  9. Thanks @Oxymoron. Does it allow you to follow a collaborator's cursor?

  10. Any news on this topic? I don't see the feature in Google Docs/Google Drive yet. Is there a workaround? Maybe a Chrome extension? Hangouts allows for screen sharing but I want to be able to do this without bothering to start a hangout.