15 years of Google Docs, and where the next 15 might take us


15 years in the past, in case you had been writing a doc, chances are high you had been doing it in Microsoft Word. Part of the company’s wildly profitable Office suite, Word was the de-facto choice for drafting textual content, whether or not you had been an creator, an office employee, a scholar, a instructor… you get the level.

But on October 11th, 2006, Google officially launched Google Docs and Spreadsheets in beta. As with the whole lot Google, Docs and Sheets had been cloud-based functions that additionally allow you to collaborate with others in actual time. It’s straightforward to overlook now, however this was utterly totally different from how most individuals labored on paperwork at the time.

I used to be in a distinct career 15 years in the past, one which required me to work on heaps of spreadsheets and Powerpoint shows that had been accessed in a shared community drive. Submitting them to others for edits and notes was a fraught course of. Making certain you had the most present model of the doc often concerned six-digit numbers representing the final date it was modified, initials to notice who had checked it out, and messy notes added to the finish till you landed on one thing insanely convoluted like “April_Report_051504_NI_final_final_reallyfinal.doc.”

15 years later, I’m penning this story in a Google Doc shared with my editors; they will make as many adjustments as they wish to the completed components of the draft as I hold typing away right here and nothing will get lost. Collaborative work is so much higher than it was, and Google Docs is a giant half of that – but it surely wasn’t at all times clean crusing to get right here.

Google Docs started as a “hacked together experiment,” its creator Sam Schillace mentioned in an interview with The Verge in 2013. Eight years earlier, he created a device known as Writely, a web-based textual content enhancing platform. Google purchased the company in March of 2006. According to Schillace, 90 % of the company was utilizing Writely solely a month later. “When we went to Google, Writely was internally adopted very quickly,” he mentioned. Barely seven months after that, Google formally launched Docs and Sheets at the Office 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. As with most Google merchandise at the time, it was launched in beta without spending a dime.

TechCrunch / Google

Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t fairly as much as par with what Microsoft was providing with Office. The textual content editor was, comparatively talking, quite simple. But extra importantly, Google Docs solely labored whenever you had an energetic web connection. While good broadband was pretty widespread in workplaces and universities, it was far much less straightforward to search out whenever you ventured out into the world. If you wished to get some work whereas touring, say on an airplane, Google Docs was a non-starter.

It didn’t take Google lengthy to appreciate it wanted to provide you with a option to sync paperwork to a computer for offline entry. In May of 2007, at its first “worldwide developer day,” the company introduced Google Gears. Gears was an open-source project and browser extension for Mac, Windows and Linux that will assist net apps work with no web connection. While the project was meant for any developer to make use of, utilizing it for Google Docs made excellent sense.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most secure device. In late 2009, Google stopped growth on Gears in favor of utilizing the capabilities afforded by HTML 5. But although Google continued supporting functions that used Gears, a know-how transition in all probability didn’t do the company any favors in getting Docs and its broader app suite adopted in companies and training establishments.

Around this time, Google was experimenting with a spread of methods to push collaboration and communication ahead — Docs was only one of the success tales. There had been failures although, the most high-profile of which was Google Wave — an bold mixture of instantaneous messaging, electronic mail, paperwork, multimedia and extra. It was hyped by the tech press, a lot that Google Wave invitations had been being offered on eBay. But curiosity dropped off shortly, largely as a result of it felt like even much less of a completed product than most of Google’s “beta” launches.

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Google didn’t do an amazing job explaining precisely what drawback this new device was designed to unravel, and the company pulled the plug in 2010, after solely a year. But many of the issues Google experimented with in Wave ended up dwelling on in different places. Indeed, proper round the time Google ended growth on Wave, the company added chat to Google Docs, letting individuals who had the similar file open talk about what they had been engaged on proper alongside the content material itself.

Google Docs clearly developed previous its early struggles, although. Google put a considerably stunning quantity of give attention to the product over the final decade-plus, incrementally iterating and bettering it at a gradual tempo. That’s the hallmark of merchandise Google appears to actually imagine in. It’s the similar means the company handled Android, Chrome (each the browser and OS), Drive, Photos, and, of course, Search and Gmail.

As web entry has turn out to be extra and extra widespread, the undeniable fact that Docs (like most of Google’s merchandise) works finest on-line was much less of a hindrance. Not having to fret about saving a doc took some time to get used to, but it surely’s one thing that we take without any consideration now — in case your browser crashes, no matter you had been engaged on ought to nonetheless be there ready for you in the cloud.

Perhaps the greatest endorsement of Google’s cloud-first technique got here in 2010, when Microsoft took its first steps in the direction of bringing Office functions on-line. For a very long time, although, Google’s suite of apps had been better-suited to the cloud. For instance, you couldn’t have a number of folks engaged on the similar Office doc till late 2013, one thing that was constructed into Google Docs from day one. Apple additionally adopted Google’s lead, bringing its iWork apps on-line in 2013 and ultimately enabling simultaneous collaboration as effectively.

While Office stays dominant in the workplace, it’s honest to say that Google gave Microsoft its first actual competitors in lots of years. Google has some big prospects, like Salesforce, Whirlpool, Twitter and Spotify. And Google’s apps, mixed with cheap Chromebooks and its training platform, have made the company a power in the Ok-12 area in addition to in increased training.

As for the next 15 years, it’s all however assured that collaborative and distant working will proceed to be vastly essential. That was clear earlier than COVID-19, and the final 18 months have principally blown up the notion that everybody must go to an office. For a good suggestion of where collaborative work goes, think about Microsoft’s open-source Fluid framework. First introduced in May of 2019, Fluid is supposed to take away the obstacles between totally different file codecs and make it straightforward to drag in content material from all kinds of sources. Microsoft described it as a option to share atomized parts of information throughout a number of recordsdata — so in case you’re updating a spreadsheet in a single doc, you’ll be able to hyperlink to that content material in one other file and it’ll routinely replicate these adjustments.

Dropbox hasn’t provide you with its personal “atomized components” of paperwork, however its Paper app works in a similar way. They’re collaborative like Google Docs, however they help a variety of content material plug-ins, so you’ll be able to embed YouTube movies, Google Calendar components, Figma paperwork, to-do lists, Trello lists, and even complete Google Docs.

Microsoft has been deliberate about creating Fluid, taking small steps since its preliminary launch. Earlier this year, the company introduced that some Fluid parts would work in its communications platform Teams. I believe that content material shifting exterior of strict platforms like Google Docs or Microsoft Office into all the different locations that we do work goes to be one other essential step ahead.

That’s already occurred to a point. For years now, Dropbox has supported creating, sharing, and enhancing Microsoft Office paperwork proper inside its personal app and web site, and it later added related help for Google Docs as effectively. And apps like Slack have a number of integrations for issues like Google Drive and Trello, although it’s not clear how extensively used or important they’re to a Slack workflow. (I principally simply drop hyperlinks to Google Docs I want edited.)

Somewhat sarcastically, as the obstacles between content material and file sorts fall away and extra folks do work in digital areas like Teams and Slack, Google’s imaginative and prescient for Wave appears to be somewhat prescient. The notion of an area for a project or group that encompasses all of its essential components, be they written paperwork, spreadsheets, photographs, movies or another variety of content material appears to be where we’re headed. But regardless of the undeniable fact that Google (and the relaxation of the business) are shifting again in the direction of fashions that remind us of what Wave tried, there’s nonetheless a lacking piece in Google’s technique.

That piece is messaging, one thing Google has struggled with, effectively, for about so long as Google has existed. As exhaustively detailed by Ars Technica, Google has by no means been in a position to keep on with a coherent messaging plan for shoppers or companies. At some level, Google Chat (née Hangouts) might have been a strong Slack competitor, in addition to the net that connects all the content material folks work on, however the company missed the boat as Slack solidified its dominance over the previous 5 years. Even although Google Workspace has an enormous person base, it hasn’t made inroads in the messaging aspect — which is what pulls a contemporary workplace collectively.

That mentioned, Google’s Smart Canvas (introduced at I/O this year) could possibly be its personal model of Fluid, a option to unify disparate varieties of content material and communication multi functional place. From what we’ve seen up to now, Smart Canvas has varied “building blocks” that you could pull all right into a single canvas — like a Meet name alongside a Google Doc for taking notes and a to-do checklist to assign gadgets to group members. It’s solely rolling out on a restricted foundation to paying Google Workspace prospects, but it surely’s positively value watching to see the way it evolves.

No one can actually say what different cultural workplace shifts, like these introduced on by COVID-19, will occur in the next 15 years. And these shifts are in all probability what’s going to drive the most vital adjustments in merchandise meant for work.

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