I’ve been using Google Documents lately for some of my writing, and the one thing I love about it is that it makes it so easy to do real time collaboration on a document. It doesn’t matter where the other person is pyhsically located. It doesn’t matter what software they have on their computer. The only thing they need is a web browser and an Internet connection and you’re in business. You type something in, and the other person on their computer sees what you’re typing, and can do their editing. It also has basic version control built in so that you can go back and see what edits other people have made over the life of the document. Very handy!
On the negative side, the default font size is a little bit small, and when you cut and past text from other web sites into the document it typically keeps the formatting, and sometimes make a mess of the document. You can change the formatting to try to make the document formatting consistent, but very occasionally the pasted text won’t conform and stays with it’s original formatting no matter what you do. A small thing, but it can be annoying when you’re trying to get a document to look nice.
Up until now the big show stopper for me from an academic perspective has been the lack of foot notes or end notes. When writing something to be published in academic circles, foot notes, or at least end notes, are essential. I like to cite my sources, and with Google Docs it has been impossible to do foot notes, and difficult to do end notes.
The solution came to me the other day. I’ve been using Google Notebook to clip interesting text and images that I want to use in my research (Notebook is a great tool for capturing and organizing research). Why not just hyperlink from my document to the text I clipped in my Google notebook as the citation? The Google Notebook clipping has a link to the original resource I grabbed the information from, so you are taken directly to the quotation, and have access to the original document. I’m sure that in formal academic circles this might not be sufficient (for now at least), but for the informal, practical research that I typically engage in this is perfect.
- Everything gets cited.
- If the original source that I’m citing disappears, people can still see my source in the copy of it I’ve made in Google Notebook.
- I can still collaborate very easily with other people on the document, in real time if I need to.
What I’m really excited about is the next version of Firefox that will have a built in framework for "off line" applications. I’d love to be able to use Google documents (as well as other on-line applications) on my laptop when I’m not able to be connected to a network (like on an airplane)…