Google Docs has recently released two major additions that continue to make it one of the most powerful collaboration tools on the web. If you haven’t tried Google Docs yet, do yourself a favor and spend an hour exploring it. If you already use it, take a moment to check out these two new big features:
Borrowing from the functionality of Google Wave, new Google Docs now have the option of a discussion page where authors can have an asynchronous conversation about the document they are editing. The feature effectively adds the Discussion Page feature offered by many wiki tools, which lets you separate the planning of your document from its production.
Check out this video about the new discussion feature:
Collaboration via Microsoft Office (Google Cloud Connect)
This is a big addition for those more comfortable with the look and features of the standard Microsoft Office suite. Google Cloud Connect is an add-on for Microsoft Office (Currently only available for Windows) that allows you edit GoogleDocs through the Microsoft Office interface. This effectively gives you the benefits of sharing and storing your files in the cloud, but use the tools and the interface in Microsoft Office with which you may be more comfortable.
In his TeachOIT post “Twitter: What’s the Point?“, Tony explained a few ways Twitter has been useful to him both socially and professionally. I’d like to add a further way that Twitter has improved my academic life. As a graduate student, finding the motivation to do academic writing can be…elusive at times. Many doctoral candidates find membership in academic writing groups to be one way to overcome this obstacle. But whereas such groups sometimes can be too formal or rigidly scheduled, building an academic writing community through Twitter offers a flexible network of writing buddies. If I make an impromptu plan to go to a local café for two hours of academic writing, I can instantly let my Twitter writing buddies know where I’ll be. If they want to join me, they can simply show up. If they’re otherwise occupied, they can ignore my post.
Twitter has served me well in this capacity. You might try it yourself or recommend it to graduate students you advise or teach. A variation might even be fruitful for undergraduate class projects.
To see the nuts and bolts of creating a writing network, see the next page…
During last week’s “Overview of Emerging Technology” a good portion of the audience indicated an interest in hearing about Twitter, the popular micro-blogging service that is receiving lots of press coverage. The general question people asked is “what’s the point?” I’ve been using Twitter for a little over a year so I demoed how Twitter looks and mumbled through an ad-hoc explanation of why it is useful to me. The short version of what I had to say was: “If there are no people you care about who use Twitter, chances are you won’t care about Twitter; but if there are people you care about who use Twitter, maybe you will care.”