Google Docs and Google Groups Come Together: It's a Good Thing

groups_logoGoogle (s goog) is trying to get ahead of the game before Microsoft (s msft) gives it a real run for its money with Office Online, coming in 2010. One way it’s doing that is by enhancing the collaborative abilities of Docs, and further integrating all of its services. Which is why Google Groups recently got an upgrade that allows for sharing of documents, calendars and sites.

What this really means is that I finally have a decent reason to use Google Groups. In the past, I think I’ve belonged to a maybe one Group, and it didn’t work out all that well. The members generally forgot it existed, and it acted more or less as a glorified mailing list. Now, though, since I already use Docs and Calendar and often want to share content from both with multiple people, Groups has matured to become a full-featured business tool.

Replacing PM Tools for Small Teams

There are a lot of online project management and collaboration tools available free online that do the same sort of thing Google’s new sharing features do, but most of them are overkill for small team work. Say, for example, that you’re tasked with forming a small team at work with three or four people. The entire purpose of your team is to draft a new statement of purpose for your annual holiday dinner and year-end review.

Using a complex tool like Basecamp to manage this kind of task is unnecessary, and could be distracting for the team. Setting up a quick Google Group for those involved, and then sharing drafts and meeting times via Docs and Calendars with members of said group is a much simpler and more effective solution, especially if everyone already has a Google account, which, at this stage, shouldn’t be too much to ask for.

Simple, Single-Solution Event Planning

If you already have a Google Group set up for your work place or professional network, then there is no easier way to plan and prepare for an event than using the new sharing features.

Your invitee list is built-in, as long as everyone in your work group is invited to your work-related function or unit-wide meeting. Scheduling a time should be easy, thanks to Google Calendar access. Finally, drafting, finalizing and circulating agendas and meeting documents and supplementary material is a snap with Docs.

Maybe best of all, you can solicit post-meeting feedback from all of your event participants without having to email people individually, or prepare a paper-based survey or feedback form.

Freelancer Resource Sharing and Collaborative Solution Sourcing

If you have a like-minded group of colleagues you consistently go to for tips and advice, and who you help out in turn, then you may already have a Google Group in place for that purpose. If you don’t, the addition of resource sharing gives you a reason to start one.

It’s cleaner and less complicated than Twitter, doesn’t have the character restrictions, and allows for file sharing in addition to discussion. It’s a nice, private way of sourcing solutions for hiccups in your projects, away from the prying eyes of clients. Asking questions on public message boards always carries the risk of an embarrassing discovery.

Another good way for independent freelancers to use Google Groups with sharing is as a document template store. Having less to leverage from is one of the major downsides of being a freelance consultant. Sharing blank templates is a great way for a group of independent contractors to gain some IP to leverage from.

Share and Share Alike

Google Groups always used to be a bit like an awesome collector’s edition comic book. Really seemed like a good thing to have, but at best you put it on a shelf and never really look at it again. Now, it stands a chance of becoming a well-thumbed paperback, thanks to Google Apps integration that really should’ve been there from the beginning.

Does tighter integration with other Google products make Groups more attractive to you?