Can Google Docs 'Discussions' Transform Office Drudgery Into a Social Network?

Rumors of a new social network from Google fizzled as fast as they rose at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas, over the weekend but did Google, in fact, just introduce a new type of social network...in Google Docs?

Rumors of a new social network from Google fizzled as fast as they rose at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas, over the weekend but did Google, in fact, just introduce a new type of social network…in Google Docs?

In a seemingly impossible feat, Google may just have made most dreaded of office tasks, collaborating on a document with colleagues, as fun, and easy, as ‘poking’ them on Facebook with the new “Discussions” feature added to its Google Docs tool.

The change is designed to make the document-sharing tool more “discussion-like” with social elements borrowed from Facebook and Twitter, according to a post on the Google blog.

Google Docs already lets multiple people in multiple locations edit a document at the same time and add comments to a document, but the discussions feature advances those abilities.

To make editing feel more like social networking, Google added the implementation of e-mail notifications via @mentions. Just like the Twitter or Facebook @mention, users can now add others to a discussion just by @mentioning their e-mail address.

The @mentions make the discussions seem like your checking your colleagues’ Facebook NewsFeed or latest tweet instead of doing work, and you can join the discussion without having to sign into Google Docs.

In another upgrade, comments now also include the commenter’s photo, so you can have picture the colleague butchering your work, and they can be addressed to specific people. A direct comment generates an automatic e-mail to the person, who can open the document with a link in the e-mail. Simply replying to the e-mail will insert the response to the comment in the document itself.

While frustrated office workers have been banging their heads in collective frustration with colleagues, the folks at Googleplex have enjoyed the upgrades for months.

“We’ve been using this next-generation commenting system inside Google for several months and have seen it make the feedback cycle shorter and get more people involved,” Nick Cooper, a Google software engineer, wrote in the blog post.

Perhaps the only complaint, or worry, the new program would bring to the office is accountability. You can now keep track of who made a comment and when with the included timestamps, in addition to the profile pictures and email notifications, designed to streamline the feedback process.

The feature is available now, but only on new documents, and only for Google Apps users who have opted for the Rapid Release track on new features. Everyone else will have to wait in their cubicles another week or so, says Google, until the product is fully launched.

For details on how it all works, including a tutorial video, check the Google Docs blog post.