We're five members of the Google Docs team - ask us anything!
We're five members of the Google Docs team:
- Scott Johnston (happyinwater), product manager
- Jeff Harris (jeffsharris), product manager
- Ronald Ho (ronaldho), product manager
- DJ Lee (ergobibliophile), engineer
- Teresa Wu (teresawu), community manager
Wondering what’s next for our mobile app -- or what we’re having for lunch? We’ll be around between 12 to 6 pm ET to answer your questions. FYI - our team is mostly based in NYC, except Ronald, who’s in Mountain View today. Ask us anything!
Here's us this morning - from L to R - Jeff, DJ, Scott, and Teresa, with Ronald on VC: http://imgur.com/ZORgQ
Note: If you have a feature suggestion, vote it up on our Product Ideas page.
UPDATE: Thanks for stopping by! It's been fun (and funny). Unfortunately, real work awaits. We'll check back in for hot questions tonight/tomorrow.
Oh my gosh, I've been wanting these features FOREVER: 1. MLA/APA style formatting template that WORKS. (esp the works cited formatting). 2. Page numbers with title and/or name before the number 3. Page numbers starting on page 2 4. Adjustable footer/header size 5. Resumable Numbered Lists 6. Format-able Table of Contents feature
Bottom Line: There are tons of students out there that need to format papers in a specific ways (not complex) -- cater to them and they will ditch WORD.
Feedback duly noted. Thanks!
Just pinging back on this one because it's so popular. Very very noted that citations aren't good enough in Docs.
We don't have anything to talk about just yet. But the goal of Docs is to make authoring as easy as possible, so this is an area where we're certainly looking to improve.
Firstly, on behalf of millions of people who can't afford and don't want to pirate MS Office, thank you.
Secondly, what’s next for your mobile app?
You're welcome! The idea of making content creation universally accessible keeps me coming to work every day.
And yes, we see mobile as a pretty important space for us, and yes the current editing is not ideal. :( We certainly will be improving this soon, so look forward to that!
I'd love a Google Docs IDE of some kind to write code in collaboratively. Is this considered impossible at this point?
Definitely is a great idea, I would have certainly loved this in my CS classes back in the day.
When will we finally have offline, and why did it take so long? It's OK, we won't judge you, we just want to know!
You're going to see offline start to roll out later this summer. We used to have offline with Google Gears, but it became pretty clear that plugins weren't the right approach. We've been reimplementing offline using HTML5 standards like AppCache, File API, and IndexDB.
We're some of the first webapps that are really putting those standards to the test, so it's taken a while to iron out the kinks.
very interesting, thanks.
Can you give more details about how it'll work?
Well, we will launch in whatever incremental pieces make sense. But the long term direction is if you access a Doc URL while offline, it should open the local copy of the doc and let you edit. When you go online all your edits get synced in the background. You should also be able to see a list of your docs while offline.
We'll need to work through all the tricky problems with how to merge conflicting edits. It's fun stuff.
I just wanted to let you all know how much Google Docs has helped improve the lives of hundreds of redditors, literally.
I've been using a calendar, a spreadsheet, and apps scripts to help me manage a subreddit for helping people quit smoking.
Currently I have a script that pulls all of the calendar entries into a spreadsheet, each entry being a username added on the date they quit smoking. The spreadsheet then calculates the number of days since each user quit, then an additional script runs to create a subreddit CSS stylesheet which assigns an icon next to each user signifying the number of weeks or months that since they quit.
The only problem I've had is with the script exceeding the 5 minute timeout, and the occasional "Service error: DocsList" which is probably my fault for crummy script design.
The combination of calendar, spreadsheet, and scripting capabilities has simplified an otherwise tedious chore of updating about 500 user icons on a daily basis.
High fives to all of you!
PS: since this is an IAmA, I'll ask a question.
Will the preview feature for text files ever return?
I used to be able to preview a .txt file up until sometime around the beginning of the year. Not a very important feature for me, but it did help skip the step of downloading a local copy and opening it up in a text editor.
That is awesome. Want to write about it on our blog?
Also, .txt preview will be coming back, though I don't have an ETA on it.
Wow, that would be really cool so I'd be delighted to. The scripts aren't the most gracefully written pieces of code, but they get the job done and have really simplified things for us.
That's great about the text preview as well. Thanks!
Messaged you my email address.
How are my documents secured on your servers? Should I feel safe putting anything sensitive on Google Docs? What about encryption?
Also, four managers and one engineer? Sounds about right. ;-)
Document data is stored in a storage system built on top of Bigtable. Storage is distributed across many machines and geographic locations, and all access to the underlying storage is tightly controlled and audited in compliance with SAS70.
For more details, I’ll refer you to this set of FAQs.
The ratio of the people in this AMA does not at all reflect the ratio of our whole team. We have lots more engineers than managers, we just wanted the rest of the devs to stay undistracted and keep working :) (That implies that I’m the least productive engineer, the one they could most afford to lose for half a day.)
all access to the underlying storage is tightly controlled and audited in compliance with SAS70.
I can second this. Google is pretty hardened from the outside and equally hardened on the inside. If you are a Neuromancer fan think black ice all the way.. I used to work on the docs team in MTV and was around when some of this was implemented.
Hi everyone in Docs N.Y. .. :-)
Hi Kai! sorry you're not with us anymore.
My company has about 50 people and we're trying to use Google Docs for everything. Organizing, sharing, searching, discovery, etc. is a big challenge for us - do you guys have any changes/improvements in that area coming up? Specifically, I'd like to be able to share a doc (or collection) with a group without notification and have that doc (or collection) show up for everyone in the group (or at least show up in searches).
Totally agree, this doesn't work the way we would like right now. It is on our list to improve. It is great to hear the feedback.
Just want to say thanks so much, on behalf of students with group projects everywhere. Learning about Google docs made life so much easier.
Do you guys work in the main google headquarters?
What are your favourite perks from working for google? (free snacks?)
What were some notable challenges when designing a concept such as google docs?
Thanks again, have a good one.
Four of us work out of the New York office, where most of the Docs team is based. Ronald works out of headquarters in Mountain View. One of our favorite perks: Google matches contributions of up to $12,000 per year to non-profit organizations. (Free lunch, of course, is also awesome.) I'll leave notable challenges to our PMs!
I'd say the two biggest technology challenges are 1) Speed. Making complicated webapps fast is still pretty tough. 2) Scale. We need to handle many many machines, machines that can break at any time, machines that can be accessed from anywhere. Making all that seamlessly work for millions of people was and is a huge effort.
Hi folks, thanks for taking the time. I'm a professional blogger, so I have gripes.
What's the deal with the Android app? It kicks you into a web browser whenever you go to edit a document. Are you planning to make a smoother, native version? If so, what about an offline mode where I can edit docs and sync the changes?
I currently have 100+ documents that are the default 'Untitled document' . Have you considered changing the default title to the first few words of text? Are you planning to offer a better way to quickly scan through documents (using snippits or something?) Right now the thumbnails aren't very helpful.
You're going to see lots and lots of improvements to the mobile experience, including a bunch of things that you mentioned. Stay tuned...
For the "Untitled document" problem ... it's definitely something we're thinking about. The nuance is that we want to provide a consistent experience across our editors, and it's much harder to autotitle something like a drawing or a spreadsheet. But I've got a 12 "Untitled document"s in my doclist now, so we haven't found the right balance.
At a minimum, we should be prompting when you try to close a doc without a title (and autofilling the start of your doc in that prompt).
Is there any plans regarding the implementation of a Latex like equation editor of some sort? Would make me a happy camper in my engineering group report work!
There is some LaTeX functionality in Google Docs: http://googledocs.blogspot.com/2010/11/new-this-week-in-docs-auto-corrections.html
I'd kill for better formatting/editing on my Android tablet. Can we get that?
The mobile experience is very important to us and the current implementation is just start. Look for great things in mobile soon.
Any plans for a database like Access/Filemaker?
In google spreadsheets one of my favorite functions is the Query function. It enables me to do SQL-like queries on datasets. Oh and also our new pivot tables make doing pivots and group-bys extremely easy.
What sorts of things are you looking for from Access and Filemaker?
I can't speak for kleinbl00, but having the ability to set up a database template that looks like a basic form fill for an end user, but is actually a table-driven, dynamic database on the back end, with spreadsheet output capability...that would be so useful. the person setting up the database would be able to make all of the decisions about field types and table-based connections, and so it could be smart for structure.
Think about a catalog, for example, where items can be added over time, prices changed, a new field added in as the project scope expands, and then at any point along the way, any user with access to the front end could generate customized spreadsheets that only show what they want from the DB, the way they want it.
We have a forms feature, where you can make a form, and the responses feed into a spreadsheet. It's definitely not a database though, and we know it can be limiting in some cases, such as when you want to strictly define the type of each answer.
One problem with that feature, though, is that the spreadsheet is locked in once you start; you can change the order of the questions on the form but not the order of them on the spreadsheet (or the presence of one after you delete it/change its name). That makes forms much less accessible for newbies.
Yeah, the link between a spreadsheet and form can have some drawbacks. We have some plans for a revamped version of forms in the future.
What do you guys think will be the next technological breakthrough in next ten years?
I know this has nothing to do with Docs or the web, but I think this is one of the coolest things I've seen lately: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/10/what-were-driving-at.html
They're out in Mountain View I think, where they actually have space to drive cars. If I ever get invited into their top-secret underground lair/garage I will be sure to ask :)
What exactly does Google get out of the content that I store on Docs? Are you parsing it for marketing/advertising use? Are you parsing it on behalf of the DHS or other government agencies? Should my daughter feel safe putting her novel up there? If you answer these questions, are you answering them honestly? ;-)
Google does not parse Google Docs content automatically, except for two purposes: * indexing documents for search (of course, only people who can see the document itself can see it in search results) * scanning for spammy or abusive content
There is a lot more info in these security/privacy FAQs.
Google employees will access your account data only when an administrator from your domain grants Google employees explicit permission to do so for troubleshooting purposes. During the course of troubleshooting an issue or other investigation, the Google Support team may ask for the creation of a test administrator account, solely to be used to resolve the particular issue at hand.
Seems to be referring to Google Apps for domains. What about "vanilla", invididual users? Same policy?
Yes, the same general rules apply for accounts that are not part of a Google Apps domain; Google employees will only access your account data when explicitly granted permission to do so for troubleshooting purposes.
Re: benefit to Google for offering this service: this is already a subscription service for organizations (more info here). Personally, I feel that it's really cool that Google offers this service for free to consumers.
And noted that [Google Apps for Education[(http://www.google.com/a/help/intl/en/edu/index.html) is free for schools. This is such a huge deal and I'm personally really proud Google offers this to schools and districts for free.
So what are you guys having for lunch?
Here you go: http://imgur.com/qVabh
Looks tasty! Is this a Google-provided meal?
yup, we grabbed lunch in our cafeteria right before we sat down :)
What's were the most difficult difficult challenges you've faced that you didn't expect, after you began development?
Also, do you expect Google docs to ever be as feature-rich as other common desktop implementations of productivity suites, while remaining only web based?
And lastly, did your marketing department put you up to this?
Lots of surprising challenges. A couple that seemed easy, but weren't:
1) Handling zooming on Webkit. Webkit doesn't maintain enough precision to properly measure things if people are zoomed. This bug has more details ... but making things like cursor positioning work while zoomed was super difficult. Thankfully, the core problem is being fixed in Webkit.
2) Handling multiple connections. Browsers impose a limit of 6 open connections to a domain at once. So in our first implementation, we could only have 6 docs that got realtime updates at a given time. Working around that, and letting you have arbitrarily many docs open was really really tough.
For features. We hope that we'll never have as many features as some of the desktop editors because simplicity is important. But that said, there are still lots of awesome features from the desktop that we should and will implement.
In terms of why we're doing this. We just saw that a few other Google teams had done it and it seemed really fun. No marketing pressure on this one.
When building Google Spreadsheets, we had a lot of challenges building performant large spreadsheet tables on top of the DOM.
We experimented with many approaches, and we ended up with a solution where we render an HTML <table> just for the viewport (where you're scrolled to), and buffer more rows and columns onto the table in all four directions.
To do this, we need to fake the scrollbar a bit so your spreadsheet appears to be as big as it should be. We also need to render rows off-screen to measure (and then cache) the row heights, so that we can make sure the table rows in the viewport are rendered at the right height even though not all the columns are actually rendered in the viewport.
Sorry for the delay, had to check w/ marketing if it was okay to answer this question. ;)
Certainly the most difficult challenge since we started Google Docs has been dealing with the many different browsers. With most browsers moving toward supporting the latest HTML5 standards, hopefully this will be much easier soon. One key feature is definitely Offline support.
Re: feature richness, most definitely. We want to enable rich and beautiful content creation across the web and at the same time make innovative features like real-time collaboration and the new discussions in documents we rolled out recently. Look forward to a lot of improvements and new features coming out very soon.
As product managers and engineers, we think it’s important to talk to and listen to our users because it helps us build a better product. And of course the reddit community was great to engage with when our Chrome team did an AMA. You can find almost all of us on Twitter (i’m at @ronaldho), in the Google Docs help forums and responding to comments on our blog.
Any chance of supporting Cloud Print on all systems? I find myself using my chromebook for the purpose of sending documents to Cloud Print.
Yup, makes sense to have it integrated everywhere, it's a pretty awesome service. In Docs we currently have CloudPrint integrated in Chromebooks and also on mobile devices (for printing documents and spreadsheets).
Hi guys, one feature that would be very helpful to me is seeing Adwords and Analytics reports integrate with Docs. Any chance of that happening?
Tell us more about what you would like to see here?
When will Google Docs support custom styles?
Totally agree... this is probably my #1 missing feature in documents right now. It's being worked on.
I second the offline request. Also, I love the idea of Google Docs on my Android tablet, but the mobile app is terribly frustrating. Can we expect a fully functional mobile app soon?
Yes, the current implementation is definitely not ideal and we plan on improving this soon. Working with mobile browsers presents lots of challenges and this is something we're going to improve/work-around/make better etc.
Are you planning on adding Teresa as a feature? She's cute.
Anyway, I somehow hadn't heard of this until now, but it looks like I might use it.
Teresa is not supported yet on all HTML5 browsers but certainly seems like a reasonable ask to the w3c.
I can't do proper MLA with Google Docs, so for my essays, I have to still resort to Word. Is there better header support coming?
Yes... in progress!
Are any of you regular redditors, visiting beyond doing this IAmA? I see that Teresawu is a 1-year user...
Yes, but I like the anonymity I have on my personal account ;) (mostly a lurker, 4-year user)
Just a lurker here, too.
Pancakes or Waffles?
Definitely Waffles. We've used that name internally in Google Spreadsheets, since it's a food that looks like a grid. See our CSS file.
Waffles, no question about it. (spreadsheets product manager here... i like things in a nice, neat, compartmentalized layout ;) )
Too legit to quit.
(Do I qualify for the "reference to Hammer on Reddit" badge?)
First: thanks for doing this. :) Because of Docs, I haven't touched a native word processor in at least a year.
My question: what are the chances of seeing interoperability between Google Docs and Dropbox? I know I speak for many users who would love to be able to open documents from (and save them to) their Dropbox accounts. (Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but having local mirrors of all my cloud data is important to me, and Docs' existing download options are lacking.) Has there been any discussion of this, even hypothetically, at Google?
I don't think this has been discussed here, but I'm pretty sure that third-party developers could use the Google Docs APIs and Dropbox APIs to build this sort of functionality.
I haven't tried any of these services, but there is stuff out there that you can find (see comments here, and see this article).
You guys have done a lot of good with google docs! When do we get Google Paint? I like the collaborative nature of google docs, but I wanna paint too. PAINT!
There is Google Drawings: http://www.google.com/google-d-s/drawings/
I have a gripe about Create new->Document. If you use this very simple front and center button, it creates an untagged document you have to place correctly later. I used docs for quite awhile before realizing I could right click on a tag and create from there.
Could something be added to the basic Create New to help streamline tagging properly, or possibly to the header of the document once it is created? I used to cuss about moving docs out of the root every time I made one.
For sure. The plan is to let you set folders from the header of the document itself
What is the most creative or interesting use of Google docs you have seen?
This presentation was pretty sweet.
I just want to say thank youx500.
I write nearly all of my notes from school on google docs, and I absolutely LOVE the feature where multiple people can edit/view it at a time. Me and a couple of friends have the same document open at the same time in class and we take turns writing down notes that we think are important from the lecture, so that in the end we have a very detailed, and well written summation of the lecture.
Thanks for the support! Wish I'd had all the functionality Docs has today when I was in college - note-taking would have been much more enjoyable.
What are the features you're most excited about launching in the next 6 months?
Well I'd hate to ruin all our surprises ... but here are a few things I'm excited about: * Offline support * Better presentations: you're going to see some really nice upgrades to the preso editor * Discussions: Rich commenting is going to get way better in all our editors later this year
What prompted the decision to move the Google Docs interface from a Notepad display to a MS Word display? I've found a way to continue to create documents in the Notepad display but it seemed like this was going to be phased out.
I've included a picture in case you're confused by my question.
Great question. As part of the rewrite of the Docs editor we added page layout features like tab stops, positioned images, and pagination. Those features are super important for importing from desktop apps and they're also important for printing. But the features are about positioning something relative to a page, so they don't make as much sense in a fullwidth mode, which is why we haven't supported that mode in the new editor yet.
That said ... lots of documents are never printed, so we do need to do a better job of making Docs that are just designed for the screen.
I do most of my work in MS Word, but I use Google Docs for sharing and editing when I'm not home.
Are you planning to raise compatibility, or implement some kind of syncing? When I download a document from Docs I first have to spend some time editing it so it would look the way I'd like.
Is that a Word or GDocs problem?
We're constantly working on improvements to preserve formatting when converting between document types. Have you tried using Google Cloud Connect to sync your Office docs up to Google Docs?
Is there going to be a push to make Google Sheets more useful for the power user? I find myself sometimes hitting road blocks with more complex formulas or wanting to intergrate some of the functionality of Fusion Tables.
Yup we're definitely focused on making Google spreadsheets friendly to the power user. We just launched pivot tables and autofilter recently and saw a lot of excitement about those two features. We've certainly got more coming! (disclaimer: I did an ibanking internship in a previous life, so i'm a spreadsheet power user myself.)
What specific Fusion Tables features are you looking for? Massive data sets right? Anything else?
A couple of years ago we had the ability to embed YouTube videos in Google Docs... then it disappeared. Any plans to bring it back? (+ video in general).
Google Docs is my favorite "brainstorming" app, but the lack of video embeds handicaps its ability to be the ultimate white board.
[edit: i was referring to word processing app. i know the google folks get what i meant, but for future reader clarification :-)]
Embedding is pretty important part of docs, you can embed youtube videos in our presentation editor and in Google Sites. Look for more coming up!
What would be the Google equivalent of the much-missed Clippy?
Hmmmm. We don't have (or have plans for) a Clippy.
But Google Places has Professor Emoji...
Vim or Emacs?
I love Google Docs and all of Google's other services. My questions for your team is how does it fit in with making Google money? I've always wondered this with many of Googles awesome free products. What is the "monetization" strategy if you will for Google Docs?
Google Docs is part of Google Apps which is a rapidly growing part of our business.
What are your plans on accessibility for people using screen readers?
Note to other redditors: Accessibility is a major limitation of the entire Google Apps for Education suite, putting public institutions at risk of being sued.
Yes - accessibility is one of the major initiatives we're working on right now. It's particularly challenging for Docs because all our apps are designed around doing what the browser normally does in our own JS. The cursor in Docs is just a blinking DIV, which means the screenreader doesn't know to communicate that cursor location to the user.
... all that said, "Being universally accessible" is right in Google's mission statement. We've got a bunch of people working on accessibility now, and we're going to have much much better screenreader support by back-to-school next fall.
How do you see the long-term evolution of "web publishing" - given you can publish a googledoc as a webpage, do you think we'll get to the stage of things like blogger and googledocs merging?
Our goal in Docs and Sites is to make it as easy as possible to publish content to online, whether restricted to a small group or visible to the entire world. We expect users to include or publish content from Docs to many different locations so tighter blogger integration definitely makes sense as part of our long term vision.
Thank you for all of your work, I love Google Docs.
Is there a way to archive different documents, similar to Gmail? I use Docs for many things, including creating invoices and quotes, as well as personal to-do lists. Having every single document in a long list gets pretty cumbersome, even if they do have different color codes/collections. It wouldn't remove them from "All items", just "Home".
Yep, you can actually use the Actions menu (hover over the white space to the right of a document title in your docs list) and click "Don't show in home." Multi-select docs by using checkboxes, Ctrl+Select, or Shift+select.
Do you guys really eat your own dog food? I'm a fan of Goog Docs myself and use it exclusively, but have trouble at times and eventually switch back to Word to do one small thing.
Yep - the entire company runs on Docs. Some people still use Office for certain features (e.g. some of our finance team still uses Excel) ... but it’s already a total replacement for most people.
I have to ask- what’s the one small thing? ;)
Are you planning to support documents made by newer versions of powerpoint? Anything I make in Powerpoint 2010 comes out horribly in docs at the moment.
Also It'd be nice to see support for Honeycomb refined. At the moment the Docs app feels like a phone app that's just been made bigger.
Yep - better presentation imports and tablets are big focuses for the next year. You're totally right that they aren't great yet. You should see some big progress later this summer
How much of a problem are Microsoft's patents on excel, word and powerpoint when implementing new features for Google Docs?
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