Product in Focus — Google Docs
Collaboration, word processing, and my everyday go-to product.
In 2013, I had to print out each chapter of my final year project so that my supervisor could read it and share feedback. Following his feedback, I will go back to edit, retype, and then print my work again so he can review and hopefully approve it.
This was how I wrote and published my entire final year project. Only that this process wasn’t unique to me. It was the same story with several students at that time, some having to reprint a single chapter as much as three times before it was approved.
I would imagine a similar process also applies to many workplaces in 2013. I can imagine several exchanges of emails with strangely named documents (like final_final_semifinal_marketing _draft.doc) until a document is approved.
The thing is, writing documents wasn’t always as simple as it is today. Many people are able to work across multiple devices and with multiple collaborators without losing their work — because they forgot to “save it”.
In October 2022, Google Docs will turn 16. I started using the word processor to collaborate with others at work. The interface has remained very much the same since then, despite several updates through the years.
Google Docs serves its primary purpose very well, which is to enable users to write, collaborate with others, and make their documents accessible across multiple devices so long as they have an internet connection. This implies that I can accept suggestions, see comments, and make corrections to my document even when I’m in Lagos traffic… Lol
I use Google Docs every day not only because I enjoy writing, but it is also undoubtedly my favorite work tool. Having used the application for the last 5 years, I will share below some of my favorite features, brief background, and my recommendations for a better user experience. - Perhaps, you might find one or two things to do differently the next time you open a Google Document.
Owning a Gmail account is a passport to a lot of Google applications. Google Docs is no different. It is available both as a mobile app and a web-based application. Users can access all the complete features for free without needing a “product key” or license.
Prior to the launch of Google Docs in 2006, Microsoft Word was the Defacto word processor, launched some 23 years before Google Docs. It was widely adopted among students, educators, and everyone who needed to create documents.
Microsoft Word is a powerful and successful product that originated from a series of innovations to improve writing productivity (Read about the innovation of word processing here).
Google Docs launched as a cloud-based tool and targeted office workers among the potential user segments. Perhaps because workers are more likely to have internet access than any other of the user segment.
With a familiar interface like Microsoft Word, it was easy for users to conduct their writing activities.
However, the inability to “save their documents” freaked people out at the early stage. — As reported by its creator Sam Schillace in this article.
Like… you mean, I wouldn’t lose this document forever if I don’t save it.
Google Docs has a lot of very helpful features that make work efficient and productive. Listed below are 5 of my favorites.
Collaboration, Live edits, Commenting et al.
The first time I experienced someone editing the same document as I was magical. In my mind, I could not comprehend how such technology existed… and even though I now find it normal, it is very time-, stress-, and effort-saving. The ability to collaborate on shared documents is a great enabler of remote work.
1. User Access
Users can share different access levels with collaborators, or even anyone on the internet. You can transfer ownership, update user access or restrict any type of edits on your document.
2. Revision history
The thing I like about the revision history feature is the ability to track and recover your writing no matter how long you started working on it.
Users can look at a document’s entire revision history to figure out what was changed, by who, and when. This means that you can retrieve paragraphs, pages, or even an entire document from day one.
3. Suggesting, viewing, and editing mode
It is not uncommon for new ideas to pop into your mind when reviewing your own work or that of others, you can use the “suggesting mode” to pen down these ideas so that you can revisit them later. The default mode for writing is the “Edit mode”, however, you can suggest edits by switching to the “suggesting mode”
4. Comments, Tag People in Comments, emoji
If you have to collaborate on several documents with one person, It is way more efficient to have your conversations on your working document than having to discuss over other platforms.
Users can view messaging history, reply and even tag other collaborators on different parts of a word document. The best thing is that you get notified in your email inbox.
5. Add-ons for Grammar check and more
Add-ons empower you to add new functionalities that you might need.
Other features you might want to explore are
- Voice Typing for Easier Thought Processing
- Accessibility across multiple devices.
- Offline Mode for Writing Anywhere
- Voice typing
- Reaction with emoji to any part of your document.
- Basic image edit capabilities
- Integration with several other applications.
As a Google Docs fan, other features I would love to see added are
1. Dark mode
I usually access Google Docs via my Desktop Chrome browser. I use the Chrome dark mode theme and It was surprising when I realized I couldn’t switch Google Docs to dark mode as well. A lot of users spend a large chunk of their time viewing screens across their mobile devices and laptops. A dark mode feature will enable users to preserve their eyes while conducting their numerous on-screen activities.
2. Ability to pin docs
Google Docs is a multifunctional tool.
It is just as useful for business writing as for personal productivity. I would like to be able to pin documents to the “Docs Home” page. This will make it easier to access frequently used documents and save time remembering the titles.
In the early years of word processing applications, people spent a decent amount of money and time learning “how to type without looking at the keyboard”. The existing tool, (Microsoft word) although suffices for creating documents, Google Docs solves a problem users might not have anticipated is possible. The ability to collaborate on a single document seamlessly without the email back and forth, and loss of documents in transition.
Now your turn, do you use Google Docs? Please share your favorite features or any recommendation you would like to see in the comments.