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October 11, 2006

Will businesses ever trust Google Docs?

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Google launched Google Docs & Spreadsheet this morning, an awkwardly named and awkwardly integrated platform that houses both Writely and Spreadsheet. Though the offerings are housed together, there’s no actual integration between the two offerings, which is a slight bummer. They’re just accessible from the same screen.
Also disappointing: where are Calendar and Picasa and Page Creator and Google’s other apps? When do they get housed under one umbrella platform? Or are we still pretending that it’s not Google’s plan to create an office of products?

As with most Google beta launches, there are some odd kinks with the current Docs & Spreadsheet system. For example, Spreadsheet opens up in a new window, whereas Writely does not. Susan doesn’t like that she’s not immediately asked to name and add collaborators to her doc when it’s created. And while that doesn’t necessarily bother me, I do miss the little box that used to sit on the bottom right hand corner that let me edit the name of the doc anytime I wanted.

Overall, I’m not impressed with today’s version of Google Docs & Spreadsheet, but I am interested in where this is all going.

Most would agree that the existence of Google Docs & Spreadsheet is a clear sign that a Google Office is coming. I imagine this initial step will let Google test how users interact with and use the applications in tandem, using the information to strengthen future releases or to see what should be integrated next.
My main question is who with (the inevitable) Google Office will be aimed at? Regular users? Companies already utilizing Google Apps for Your Domain? Or will Google attempt to market its office software toward larger corporations.

I can see the first two groups being excited by Google-hosted software, but will corporations ever feel comfortable letting Google hold on to important documents and files? Could that information ever be called into court like other information Google holds on to? Security concerns are a major issue here.

Last night I had a mild panic attack when Writely mysteriously wouldn’t load (of course, today I realize why), knowing that I had entrusted it with one very important file — the guest list for my wedding, complete with addresses. It was at that moment that I realized Writely is a beta application, and it is therefore probably not wise to let it (or maybe any online application) house information that I value or may need to call upon suddenly. I feared having to recreate my guest list and envisioned the smirk Susan would wear once I told her I had trusted my wedding to a beta app. I don’t know how many of you know this, but Susan is slightly evil.

[I read these things, you know. And I would have been properly horrified that you’d failed to make a backup. Unlike the complete lack of sympathy you had for me when I lost half the newsletter last month when my computer crashed.–Susan]

Notice how she doesn’t argue her being evil…

Sure, at some point (maybe) Writely and all of Google’s online applications will lose their beta status, but will housing important documents online ever be secure or trusted? What happens when confidential documents showing up in Google’s search results? Or if the courts decide to investigate your company by getting a hold of your Writely or Spreadsheet account? Call me paranoid, but what if?

And it’s not so crazy to think that when Writely and Google’s other apps do lose their beta labels that they’ll be replaced with ads. Google’s ultimate goal is to organize the world’s information… with advertising. I bet click-through rates for those ads would be awesome. How will that affect your business?

I think individual users will love a Google Office. Being able to access all of my Google accounts from one screen will streamline a good portion of my very exciting life. I also think it will be great for niche industries, education in particular. However, I think Google’s going to have a hard time marketing this to corporations and I wonder if that’s in their game plan. I’d like to see how they’d go about trying.

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