Google Docs discussion feature demos a wave of future collaboration


Last November, I wrote about the two kinds of products I believe Google releases (or, as software developers call the release of anything new, “ships”). I called them “Lucy Google” products and “Pigpen Google” products and used the post to note that the company, Hammock, had switched, after being convinced it was a “Lucy” instead of a “Pigpen,” to the paid version of Google’s suite of business services called Google Apps for Business.*

One of Google’s more famous “Pigpen” products was something called Google Wave. In reality, it was probably a very elegant, perhaps even a masterpiece of technology, but as a “product” or “platform,” it was so incredibly un-intuitive and complex to even geeky users (meaning, it took more than three minutes to figure out), Google ultimately stopped their internal development of the project and turned it into an open-source project controlled by the Apache Software Foundation who re-named it Apache Wave.

As with many things on the web (and in life), big flops can be comprised of a great-many little successes. (Best example I like to use, but I know of many others: Twitter was a feature on a failed product called Odeo.)

The need for what Google Wave was supposed to do is obvious to anyone (and this means everyone) who has tried to work collaboratively on editing a document by sending it back-and-forth as an e-mail attachment.

It doesn’t take long for any two people who’ve ever tried to agree on the wording of, well, anything, that collaboration should take place inside the document in a threaded, conversational manner — not in an email thread that can easily (always) become out-of-sync with the document versions. Worse, yet, the “tracking” feature of Word assumes collaboration means editing over what someone else has written (even though, if you look hard enough, you can find that “insert comment” feature).

As our company has used Google Docs over the past several months (which we’ve nick-named H-Docs to keep separate from the personal Google Docs accounts most of us have), the notion of “in the doc” collaboration and conversation and notation and citation has blossomed so that this afternoon, when Google announced the roll-out of a new approach to “comments” in Google Apps called “discussions”, I recognized it immediately as “Lucy Google” and not “Pigpen Google” product. This new approach is the way Lucy would have rolled out “little smart things” instead of Google Wave.

We have our company Google Apps account set up to immediately enable new features, so I’ve been able to try it out (it works only with documents created after the feature is enabled on your account). Other than the goofy example used in the video below, this will give you an idea of what collaboration can be with “a little wave” woven in:

*There’s a free version of Google Apps you can use for your business — meaning, with your company domain name instead of — but the paid version is accompanied by humanoid customer service that, in several months of use, we’ve found to be fast and efficient and, well, seemingly handled by real human Googlers who actually fix stuff fast. (I am so pleased with our experience with Google Docs, that I agreed for the company to be one of their “case studies” on the Google Enterprise and Google Small Business Blogs last month.