Will Richardson introduced me to the idea of using Google Docs with SMEs rather than sending zillions of Word docs as attachments through email. He was right–it really is much simpler for collaboration. Everyone always has the current version of the document, and there’s no need to keep separate archives of all the past versions.
Google Docs is easier for sharing with other members of my team when needed. Because we don’t have an actual editor, we try to review each other’s work. I prefer to have someone else read the content before I put it into the web pages; it’s just easier to edit text before I’m in Dreamweaver. Sharing with someone else is just a matter of sending another invite.
Google Docs has worked very well for drafts of writing with SMEs. Generally, we use different colors to show comments. If a SME has a question about something, it usually ends up as colored text directly in the document, and I reply in a different color. That works OK as long as we both are consistent about who uses what color. The unsigned comments can get a little confusing if we aren’t consistent.
Disadvantages & Issues
Formatting can be a challenge, especially if documents are moved back and forth between Word & Google Docs. Multilevel bulleted lists (which we use extensively for outlines) are also erratic. I find myself frequently going into the html to edit directly when I can’t control the WYSIWYG formatting. Very few of my SMEs can do that though. Usually it’s OK, as precise formatting isn’t important for a draft, but it’s still irritating sometimes.
Most SMEs haven’t used Google Docs before, so some training can be necessary. A few people have totally resisted learning this, and sometimes it just isn’t worth pushing. If a SME is struggling in other areas and learning new technology stresses them out, I’d rather just use the familiar Word attachments than force them to use Google Docs. It’s a case of picking your battles, and this isn’t important enough to me to make it a battle if the SME really resists.
When Google Docs came up in a networking group discussion lately, someone pointed out that security may be a concern. If you’re working in a super sensitive business where regular password protection isn’t enough, Google Docs may not be a good choice. It is possible to do a secure connection to Google Docs though (use https://docs.google.com/ instead of http://). You’d have to train your SMEs to use a secure connection as well, but if that’s important to you it’s probably possible to do the training. Personally, regular password protection is enough for what I do.
Has anyone else used Google Docs (or another online office application) with their SMEs? How has it worked for you for collaborating? Any tips on making it more productive?