Online application review

For my online application review I am going to focus on the Google suite of applications.

The biggest strength of Google’s online applications is the ability to easily share and access information with your colleagues, family, and friends. Another strength is the ability to access documents from any location with a computer, web browser, and Internet connection — no other expensive or special software is required.

Google Calendar

Let me give you a simple example of the power of Google Calendar. My wife and I have a complex life where each of us has a variety of activities, meetings, and tasks that need to take place. We share a car — so we have to coordinate effectively. Before we used Google Calendar, to schedule a doctors appointment:

  1. My wife would call the doctors office to find the available times for an appointment
  2. She would then hang up and call me
  3. Assuming she got a hold of me and not my voice mail, she would tell me what dates were available, and we would see if we could make it work
  4. She would then call the doctors office back, and either confirm or ask for alternatives
  5. Repeat a few more phone calls back and forth
  6. Finally, the appointment was confirmed

As you can see, there were a lot of steps. Today life is much simpler, thanks to Google Calendar. I keep my entire schedule online including: work related meetings, meals, exercise, study, gatherings with friends and family, annual leave, sick leave, doctors appointments, and more. Each and every category is color coded for visual ease, when any event is created it has a default 10 minute warning/alarm specified. These are all features you would expect from an ordinary calendaring tool — but Google Calendar is not ordinary.

I can provide access to anyone I specify with varying levels of “rights” to each and every calendar I maintain. So, for Nicole, she can view and write to any and all of the calendars. So how does appointment scheduling work now?

  1. Nicole launches a web browser and loads Google Calendar
  2. She calls the doctors office
  3. She finds out what times are available, and schedules the soonest available onto my calendar

Presto! We just cut the confusion and time in more than half! And because I have Google Calendar open all day at work, I can immediately see when a new appointment has been posted.

Thank you Google Calendar! You made our life much easier, and now we don’t kill each other in the process of scheduling a simple appointment. But, wait there is more! I can also publish subscription feeds for each and every calendar. So, on my desktop and other devices that support the industry standard iCal format — I can now subscribe to Google Calendar. Having my appointments and everything in one place is bliss.

Overall, as you can see, I love Google Calendar. I do get a little frustrated with my other productivity tools (i.e. GroupWise) that are not yet smart enough to sync with the iCal format (though rumor on the GW developer blog is that the next version will support it). Google has done a great job integrating their apps across their product line — but they don’t always play as nice as I would like with everything else. But, they are always rolling out new features to an already strong tool.

Google Documents

Google docs is just as flexible at sharing information as Google Calendar. I was not impressed with earlier versions of the Google Documents suite — but since they purchased Writely.com (which provided online Microsoft Word style word processing) and further developed their excel and powerpoint applications — it is much better.

In the past six months I and many of my colleagues have led the way for adoption of Google Documents on campus. The best thing about Google documents is collaborative document authoring. Let me give you an example…

My colleagues and me are part of a sub-committee to look at ways to improve the portal for newly admitted students — ultimately presenting recommendations for what types of information would be on an ‘admitted student’ tab. It is a somewhat complex project that requires a lot of coordination.

Our team created a document using the Google Documents spreadsheet program to handle project management. There is a sheet in the document for goals, tasks, questions, recommendations, project member contact information, outcomes, and more. Each of us has access to modify the document. Using this shared tool, we have one place online where we can see what phase of the project we are in, what tasks are being worked on (when they were started, who is working on it, and what notes have been written thus far), and what conclusions we have reached. We can also see who is working on the document in real time, chat via an IM tool built into the spreadsheet program (this is one weakness — the IM tool is not present in every Google doc app — part of the risk of integrating purchased companies software ip). Without Google Documents, we would be in e-mail document sharing, MS Word track changes hell. Large scale collaboration such as we desire would not be possible without Google Documents.

The only weaknesses I have found are related to the product being so young:

  • limited file upload size (though this may only affect power users who have documents larger than 10mb)
  • invitation dialogs (to invite collaborators) are different between the word processing, spreadsheet, presentation applications — not all of the apps have been integrated into the suite fully.
  • some of the more complex formatting tasks that are easy to do with a locally installed application like MS Word are difficult or not able to be done
  • users must have a GMail account

Despite its flaws I am still in love with Google Documents, and all of their other online tools and applications.

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