Google is advancing the trend of social conversations in business documents. On Wednesday, the search giant announced it is updating the comments feature in Google Docs to integrate with e-mail and better support for collaborative discussions.
The new feature, which will apply only to newly created documents, offers structured discussions, a unified discussion stream, time stamps, profile pictures, @mentions, e-mail notifications, and discussion resolution.
'Shorter' Feedback Cycle
Commenting already existed in Docs, but the improvements turn it into more of a collaborative tool. Each comment now has a time stamp and a profile picture, and, if the comment stream gets too big, comments can be resolved instead of deleted. This means they are removed from the visible document and can be viewed or reopened later by clicking the discussions button at the top of a document.
With @mentions, a new person can be added to the discussion by writing @ in front of a person's e-mail address. The e-mail sent to that person includes the text in the comment box, as well as a link to open the document. The e-mail recipient can then go to the document and comment, or simply reply to the e-mail. If an e-mail reply is sent, it shows up immediately in the comment box.
If you're getting too many e-mails from discussions about a document, the notifications can be turned off, either in a given comment thread or for the entire document.
In announcing the new commenting on the Google Docs blog, software engineer Nick Cooper wrote that Google has been testing the features inside Google for several months and has "seen it make the feedback cycle shorter and get more people involved."
The new commenting features will be added to Google Docs in the next few days, beginning with personal Google accounts and users who are signed up for the Rapid Release track.
Making Apps Conversational
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, compared Google's addition of social commenting in business documents to .com's launch of its Facebook-like application, Chatter. He said Google "didn't have to invent an application," but simply needed to enable its existing applications to be more conversational.
Google's biggest attempt at collaboration was Wave, which has since been abandoned. After Wave, Shimmin said, it's interesting to see how Google is implementing group interaction for business applications, which is a rapidly growing area.
Earlier this month, as just one of many examples, SAP AG showed a new package to compete with Salesforce.com, particularly Chatter, called SAP Sales OnDemand. The approach, the company said, is that salespeople can interact with each other through SAP Sales OnDemand, which it described as the first in a line of new "people-centric" solutions it will be releasing.
Also this month, Salesforce.com announced Service Cloud 3, which it positioned as "customer service for the social era."