We have reached the half-way point for the 30 Days With...Google Docs project. On Day 14, I discussed the Discussions feature introduced in Google Docs earlier this year, and today I spent some time seeing how it works in the real world.
For the sake of those who skipped yesterday and can't spare the five minutes it would take to go read Day 14 first, let's recap. Google rolled out a new feature for Google Docs called Discussions which turns document comments into a message thread that appears to make collaboration a much more dynamic and efficient process. You can add individuals to the document Discussion by simply @-ing them--typing the "@" symbol, followed by their email address.
Having watched the video and read the blog post, I thought I was ready to jump right in and start collaborating. For the sake of simplicity, I decided to just collaborate with myself by @-ing one of my other email addresses. So, I highlighted some text and typed a comment: "@email@example.com What do you think of the wording of this sentence?"
Then I waited. And waited. And waited. I never got any email notifying me of my invite to this discussion. Obviously, I had done something wrong.
It turns out that before you can "@" someone to invite them into the Discussion, the document has to be shared with them. Don't get me wrong, that makes perfect sense. But, I think Google should tweak the process to recognize that fact and mention it--some sort of pop-up message saying "Hey--that person you just tried to add to this Discussion will never get your message because the document isn't shared with them". Or, tweak the process so that if someone is added to the Discussion it automatically initiates sharing the document with them as well. Just a thought.
So, I shared the document with myself, and tried once again @-ing my alternate identity into the Discussion. Voila! Houston, we have lift off. Within seconds, I received an email with the text of the comment and a link to take me straight to the document being discussed. As the Discussion carries on back and forth, email notifications are sent to keep those involved in the Discussion in the loop.
My favorite feature of the Discussion, though, is the ability to mark it as resolved. Why? Well, I like comments for collaborating and discussing, but once the issue is taken care of I don't want the comment cluttering up the document. But, as a point of reference of what was discussed or what changes were made, I'd like to still have access to the comment. Resolving a Google Docs discussion does just that--takes the comment off the live document and archives it for posterity.
There is one small caveat to the glory of the Google Docs Discussion feature--you need a Google account to participate in the Discussion. I realize they're free, and that it is not a huge deal--hell, I have three or four Google accounts. But, I don't always check them.
Tracking revisions and annotating comments in a Microsoft Word document is not as collaborative or elegant as the Google Docs Discussions, but at least I can email that Word doc to anyone, and they can review and respond without having to log into Google first. It's a minor issue, but one that could be a problem when trying to collaborate with organizations or individuals that don't have Google accounts.