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Heads Up! Major Problem With the New Google Doc's Editor

posted Aug 21, 2010, 11:49 PM by John David Felt   [ updated Aug 22, 2011, 7:36 PM ]

Heads Up! Major Problem With the New Google Doc's Editor

A little while ago Google gave it's word processor an upgrade. I was pretty pleased with the upgrade, document conversion was much improved and this had always been an issue for me.

There were some other big changes there was a new drawing tool and the code base had been cleaned up along with some interface changes among other things. The document conversion improvement sold me and I adjusted my preferences to create new documents in the new version. Google had set up use of the new features as an opt in which seemed odd to me at the time. Now I understand why.

Just this evening I realized that while the document converter was much improved other features of the program LOST functionality. Most shockingly the feature that was "deproved" the most was the revision history and tracks changes functions.

This shocks me because Google Doc's collaboration features were the wedge which Google could use to introduce Google Docs to businesses.

Anyone who has gone through the hell of group "collaboration" using MS Word's Track Changes features knows what I am talking about. Track Changes in Word works fine when you are the only person editing the document. The problems occur when you need to work with others (which is often). Multiple version of the document get e-mailed back and forth to all parties and no one knows who has the "good" version of the document sitting in their inbox.

Google promised a better way and for a while they delivered. Multiple collaborators could work in real time on the same document all the while following along with the changes made by themselves or other collaborators in a easy natural manner that just worked.

More and more my advice to my users was to use Google Docs for any major collaborative project and when they did they loved it. Google Docs had a niche in the organization. No one was ditching MS Word but the value of Google Docs for group collaboration could not be denied.

This evening I was helping out one of our attorneys and our litigation director with an issue and I saw a way to use Google Docs as a workaround to a problem they were having. It was during this process that I realized how incomplete the new document editors features were. Google had complete ruined Google Docs usefulness as a collaboration tool.

You can no longer follow along in real time to changes. The changes no longer show in a clear way, and worst of all the ability to compare two version of the document is gone. That's right gone as in what was once a feature is now a memory. The new versions revision history is unusable for serious work.

The good news to this is that if you are aware of the situation you can pick and choose between the appropriate versions depending on the situation.

If you jumped the gun however, and set Google Docs to use the new version of the editor when creating documents or worse set up end users who were expecting to collaborate as they had n the past you now have some real problems and some confused and annoyed colleagues.

This is why I felt the need to post this the minute I discovered it.

Why Google did this is beyond me as they have taken away the products two competitive strengths: 1) Simplicity and ease of use; by implementing the upgrade in such a manner Google is guaranteed to confuse users about how to use the product. 2) By releasing the new editor without the collaboration features that were the strength of the product they have given no reason to try the product. Dumb.

Take a look at the following screen grabs comparing the collaboration features of the two versions to see if you don't agree.

You used to be able to scroll through multiple revisions and select two to compare as in the screen shot below (click on the image to make it larger).

In the next screen shot you can see how easy it was to identify who made what changes in the old version of the editor. You can clearly see how each users changes are highlighted in different colors.

In the new version you can't compare two different versions of the document. Period. See the image below.

You only can step backwards through your changes and once you select an older version of the document to examine look at what you get.

In the old version of the editor you would clearly see who made what changes to this document (and I made sure to capture a section and version that should have edits by both collaborators). As you can see from the capture it is not apparent that anyone made any edits to this portion of the document.

I assume Google is working to bring the old features back but I have no idea how consumer level users or users with little or no IT support will be able to keep track of the above without some pain and confusion. For now just be aware that if you want the old collaboration features the document must be created with the old version of the editor.