32 Comments

Summary:

Google Docs, which can be slow and hard to use, is an essential product in need of improvement. At GigaOM, we see problems as opportunity for innovation, so we invite you, readers, to weigh in on how would you fix or change Google’s extremely-handy-but-could-be-so-much-better productivity tools.

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If you prefer to work in a “paperless” office the way we do at GigaOM, you’re probably a Google Docs user. Same goes if you’re a remote worker and you need to collaborate with colleagues or customers via the web. And if you’ve used Google’s cloud-based take of Microsoft Office, like many of us, you probably love and curse it at the same time.

You’ve probably had the service randomly go offline at a really inconvenient time, seen general sluggishness or noticed the clunky and not-very-pretty interface. A quick unscientific internal poll brought these issues to our attention:

  • Mishandles formatting when importing documents or data
  • Complex spreadsheets load very slowly
  • Google’s navigation bar, title and menu bar in Spreadsheets overwhelm the viewing pane, taking up a third of the page in some browsers
  • No offline editing
  • Doesn’t handle Powerpoint imports well
  • Underpowered features in Spreadsheets: formulas, functions woefully limited compared to Excel
  • Unreliable sharing feature

Google is a search and advertising company at heart. So it’s not a huge surprise that the company doesn’t intuitively know how to build productivity software and online collaboration tools. But the convenience and integration into other widely used Google products is unavoidable — so it’s not a service that’s going away any time soon.

This is why we want to see it improve. At GigaOM, we see issues like these as opportunities for innovation, so we invite you, readers, to weigh in: If you use the service, what problems have you encountered? And most importantly, how would you improve Google’s extremely-handy-but-could-be-so-much-better productivity tools?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

To learn more about the future of online collaboration tools, join us next month at our Network conference in San Francisco.

  1. Can you explain what you mean by “had the service randomly go offline”? Are you talking about outages, or about phantom document problems?

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  2. I’d like the ability to insert cut cells. It’s tough to reorganize docs without that feature.

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  3. April Ricafort Friday, November 11, 2011

    My wish list:
    1. upload directly to the current folder
    2. alternatives to quickly managing folder permissions (quicker way to transfer file ownerships when someone is rolling off the team)
    3. scheduled backups
    4. for spreadsheets: a way to toggle grouping of rows and columns

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  4. There is offline editing. Check out the Chrome App store.
    GDocs is clearly behind Microsoft Office, but most people don’t need all the features of Office.
    There are some quirks in functioning, and some are frustrating, but I tried to load a MS Excel sheet on Microsoft’s Skydrive and it went berserk. I did not expect that. I thought their online Excel version was simpler but bug free. Well, it’s not.

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  5. Stéphane Gallay Friday, November 11, 2011

    Editable style sheets in Documents.

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  6. All of the listed problems are serious detractors from Google Docs usefulness, but for me, the #1 problem is how unreliable the sharing feature is. Supposedly, I should be able to share a folder or a document with anyone. Sometimes I can, sometimes, I can’t, and there just doesn’t seem to be a common factor in either situation. Google account or no, Macs or Windows. None of it seems to matter. Sometimes you can share, sometimes you can’t.

    But what is equally irritating is the lack of support from Google. Of course, there is little support for anything Google, except for forums where everyday Janes and Joes try their best to help out the fellows, but there is seldom a word from an actual Google employee, and when there is, it’s in the form of “We’ll get back to you,” and then a month later, they make major changes to the system, and you problem may disappear, only to be replaced with something else.

    Those are my two major problems with Google Docs.

    However, I think it excels in the area of online forms. I can create a form, post it to the web, and get a very nice spreadsheet of all of the results. While it does have its problems and limitations, they are minor. I think that particular feature is one of their best.

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  7. Why care about making Google Docs such less, when you have http://www.docs.com from Facebook and Microsoft, as well as MS Office Web Apps on SkyDrive for free, Office 356, etc, etc?

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  8. I have had problems with interruptions in service when using google docs. Fortunately I always store backups locally. That sort of defeats the purpose of shared docs in the first place. Google is improving, thankfully

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  9. It is kind of amazing that a company famous for iterating on products is doing so little on docs.

    If they made the data exchange really good with say…. Open Office? Then they could have an offline client right away.

    Another request would be to make document navigation better. If you document is more than a couple of pages, moving around it is really clunky.

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  10. 1) whole row color selection by conditions
    2) more flexible sharing options
    3) doc sharing without registering
    4) product: online “ms-access”
    5) no limit when importing data from other datasheets
    6) product: project manager (tasks+gantt)

    and much mucho more

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  11. How about reliable sync of Office docs. Corrupted files seem more common than good sharing experiences.

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  12. I will always use a desktop application, over web based, to create and edit documents. Therefore, I believe Docs should focus on integrating with the desktop and less on web based editing. Why doesn’t Docs go after companies like Dropbox or Box.net for comparable functionality?

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  13. If you want the google docs experience in your desktop MS Office, then try http://www.oneDrum.com. Simple install, p2p file sharing and then when you open a shared Excel, PowerPoint or Word, oneDrum connects to it and sends your changes in realttime to other editors, highlights where users are working etc… Simpler and more powerful than Office 365.

    (Disclaimer: I work for the company, in case the enthusiastic tone hadn’t made that clear)

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  14. Another case of where the hype doesn’t meet the reality. My daughter’s school makes them use it for assignments. Office365 is miles better.

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  15. Further to Jasper’s comment, please read (regular GigaOm contributor) Georgina Laidlaw’s review of oneDrum at http://www.sitepoint.com/finally-an-office-based-alternative-to-google-docs/

    (My disclaimer: I work for oneDrum’s PR company.)

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  16. For me the difficulty is trying to understand how serious they are about any of their technologies beyond search. I am working with the app scripting stuff and its pretty unclear if it is really under development and/or actually being supported. Compared to the alternatives it seems like things happen when they get around to it. Most of their technologies seem to have a half-life of a year or less. I am constantly asking myself if its really worth investing my time when its likely to be “retired” at any moment.

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  17. Spreadsheets needs multi-criteria sorting, and it should also let you copy the cell you’re in without hitting escape to get rid of whatever else it thinks it should have on the clipboard instead.

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  18. I tried several ways to get a company ppt format into a Google presentation and ended up starting from scratch and manually pasting the graphics in.

    What about a simple list/flatfile like the early FileMaker. Most folks abuse spreadsheets to make lists and end up with clunky and ugly output. My standard has long been, if you have more fields or data than calculations, then a spreadsheet is the wrong tool. If more than half your cells are calculations, then a spreadsheet is appropriate. Most folks just want to list a bunch of things, sort them, sub select them and maybe do a few summary calculations. Which is what the original Filemaker “excelled” at. But computer experts feel the need for any Database app to have every hook and tool known to geek. Which is why most folks end up making their lists in Excel. Google has the tools to remake FileMaker and have the results pop out on various pages to be shared in different ways without a degree in computer science to set it up. There’s my wish.

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  19. I found the fastest way to improve Google Docs is to install a the free Syncdocs app from http://syncdocs.com

    While it doesn’t fix all the problems it helps with:
    1. offline editing
    2. scheduled backups
    3. collaboration with MS Office and Open Office

    To keep full document fidelity with Microsoft Office, its best never to leave the Microsoft ecosystem and use Onedrum, http://onedrum.com

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  20. I’ve been using Google Docs for 3-4 years at least. It used to really suck when I started using it both in terms of features and performance. Unlike what some people over here have posted it has improved a lot. For light users who do not need all the features that MS Office provides, it’s an excellent choice. I’ve tried using MS skydrive.live.com and in terms of performance, it is where Google Docs was 4 years ago. I really like the new look and feel for Google Docs. Most casual users should stop paying for MS Office.

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  21. I have tried for several years to “move” all of my writing to Google Docs, but I am still unable to do so. For lightweight word processing Google Docs is adequate and that is all. I have no desire to use all of the features of Word or even Libre/OpenOffice, but there are features needed, which by their absence demonstrate a failure to understand how a very number of people use word processors in corporate enviroments. An example: when I am putting together a technical document, I spent a significant amount of time on the document structure, its beginning, middle and end and the section/para numbering. When that is correct, then the production of the content develops easily and smoothly, because the thought process logically matches the document structure. If I get it wrong, which happens, I need to be able to move whole sections around and I NEED automatic section/para numbering. I also need to be able to view only the document outline when I am doing this, i.e. collapse the content. If you work at/in/for a large corporate outlining and reliable numbering of sections are not nice to have’s they are mandatory. The organisation I currently work for, has 100,000 employees, all Word users, for all of whom, section/para numbering is a way of life when writing documents. 90% of professional & private working life is reading or writing documents. Google Docs is perhaps fit for purpose for about 15% of the documents I write. Mostly my private writing and for letters, short unstructured documents and so on. Along with document numbering other key features that either do not exist or are inadequate include the ability to generate reliable tables of content, tables of diagrams/figures, nest/include other documents (with their own styles), and the ability to set up within the document different sections with their own variations in style, for example when I want to to landscape a page to accommodate a diagram, or when I want to add appendices to a document and reset the numbering from that point.

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  22. if the length of text is longer than the cell length, it doesnt display the whole text, in other words the text doesnt overlap the next cell.

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  23. Not exactly Google Docs, but I really wish they’d get off their backsides and implement things like multiple selection and cut and paste into their calendars. It’s one of the main reasons why I still remain committed to Microsoft Outlook. They have a long long way to go before their online apps are anywhere near as functional and convenient as Office.

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  24. Please see http://www.mahesh.com/2011/10/21/sharing-feature-why-cant-google-docs-gwt-learn-from-google-adsense

    I would like them to have a far better sharing interface (like Google Analytics)

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  25. Michael Miello Sunday, November 13, 2011

    I’d like to have an insert shapes options with per-defined shapes. This would help me use Google Docs to draw and explain processes without having to look elsewhere for support

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  26. James McDonald Sunday, November 13, 2011

    Some of the most irritating things about Google spreadsheets:

    1. Cannot copy more that 1000 cells at a time
    2. Cannot do conditional formatting in a cell based on the results or data contained in another cell.
    3. Losing formatting and formulas when copying or importing from an Excel doc.

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  27. Antoine Plantier Sunday, November 13, 2011

    I stopped using the online version avec the gdocs apps. Also, the google cloud connect makes it too hard for business purpose (way too much sync issues, hours lost redoing same changes…)

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  28. I need LaTeX integration

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  29. Thanks for all the input, everyone. Will take your suggestions here and use them for a forthcoming post.

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  30. i would also like to see Google improve their reader app.

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  31. Brandon Phelps Monday, December 12, 2011

    Wishlist:

    good page numbers
    paginated table of contents
    list styles beyond basic bullet points and numbering
    easy copy and paste between docs and spreadsheet
    embedding of docs into other docs,
    easy way to reference a part of a spreadsheet in a site (ie copy and paste a live reference)
    Share without registering

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  32. Google docs never prints correctly even with all of the documented fixes.

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