Lessons learned on Google Docs

Recently, I’ve been part of a group that’s using Google docs to discuss a particular topic. While we’ve got a draft document as our deliverable, we’re still at the stage of figuring out what the outline of the document should be and drilling down in to a few fundamental questions. Essentially, we’re using Google docs as an “asynchronous chat room”. Here are a few lessons learned:

  1. Make sure everyone knows how to use the “insert comment” feature. That automatically signs, time-stamps and color codes comments. [Some folks were using the highlighter tool to color-code their comments.]
  2. Encourage folks to use a separate section of the document for “discussions” and to indent comments to show how the thread is evolving — e.g.

    Mary makes a comment on section xx

    Jane comments on Mary’s comment

    Alice replies with another comment on this same topic

    Sally starts a new thread

    Try to get people to keep separate topics separate. You can then do some quick cut and paste and/or indenting to show the “conversations”.

  3. Use the print icon to print the document with comments. At least in Firefox, print from the browser or Preview/print shows just the document, not the comments.
  4. Once you get to editing the document itself, you can also use comments and go back and “accept/reject” them, or make the edits in the document and uses the revision history to track the who and when.

If you’re doing this in a Facebook context, look at the Zoho application (like Google docs, but integrated with Facebook) or the Box application (uses Box.net) to share files of types that Facebook doesn’t allow you to upload directly. It might be easier to have the “discussions” on Facebook and leave the “document” as “just a document”.