Sunday, November 18, 2007

7 suggestions to improve Google Docs

I've been using Google Docs to expand and revise my application for a News Challenge grant from Knight Foundation. Here are some obvious, needed improvements that leap out to me in approximately the first five minutes:

  • Add stylesheets. There are certain combinations of text formatting I'd like to be able to apply repeatedly and consistently. Also, I'd like to be able to revise these styles. (Clearly, CSS should be used to build this feature on the back end. The hard part is the interface.)

  • Open documents in the main window, not in new windows. It is really annoying that clicking on a document spawns a new browser tab or window. Docs should open in the main Google Docs window, replacing the Google Docs home page. It is easy to return from the Doc to the Google Docs home page should you decide to do so.

  • Open a Google Groups group for Google Docs. If people have questions, suggestions or want to report problems, there is no clear central place to do so. If you click around enough in the Help pages you may be able to submit a question, but no one outside of Google can see it, and traditionally one does not expect a quick answer, or any answer at all, when making such an inquiry to Google. Blogger has a Google Group which provides a nice support function, allowing users to help one another, determine when a particular problem is widespread, and vent frustration.

  • Backups. Allow them. There is no way to back up all your Google Docs. Other Google services lack comprehensive backup options, but most provide workarounds: GMail can be mostly backed up using POP access and Contacts export; Google Reader subscriptions can be backed up using OPML export; Blogger blogs can be backed up using the FTP publishing function or using Web spider software. There is no such workaround for Google Docs.

  • Combined GMail-Docs search. It would be really cool if I could search my GMail and Google Docs simultaneously. If I could do this, I could keep my interview notes in Google Docs, which has revision tracking, instead of in the Drafts folder of GMail. I don't do this now because I don't want to have to run multiple searches to check email and voice interviews. If this combined search also searched my Google Reader items, all the better. Ditto with my Blogger posts! If I could customize what it searched, even cooler still. PS, I want to preserve the ability to only search email or only search docs, etc.

  • RSS feeds to monitor shared docs. When someone modifies a Doc I share with them, or shares a new doc with me, it would be cool to get this info via RSS feed. Even cooler to have the option of turning off email notifications (which I'm pretty sure I only get for newly shared docs, not modifications to existing docs). Even cooler to be able to specify the granularity of what goes in the RSS feed (or to pick among feeds of varying granularity). Cooler still to be able to ovveride these settings (or add feeds) for specific docs.

  • Unlame your blog. Right now the Google Docs "team blog", linked from the help pages, contains one entry dating to September, which consists entirely of a link back onto itself. [Update, Nov. 25 2007: The old lame blog,, now redirects to, which looks like it has been regularly updated for some time now. Not sure why they didn't link to this blog in any of their help docs! They must have linked to it from some general Google Blogs directory or something, otherwise I don't know how anyone would have known about it.]

(With apologies to Louis.)

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