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Kids Got Game

Oh Google Docs, How Do I Love/Hate Thee…

No Crusts is a distributed team, anywhere from three to dozens of people depending on the project. But that means we're rarely in the same location and since we're in the design business, we do a lot of documentation. We used send docs back and forth all the time, because we didn't have a shared depository. Then we decided to take our documentation into Google Docs for a more recent project. Here's why I love and hate it.

No Crusts is a distributed team, anywhere from three to dozens of people depending on the project. But that means we’re rarely in the same location. Skype is our best friend when it comes to talking throughout the day.

Since we’re in the design business, we do a lot of documentation. I mean a lot. (If you printed our current project, you’d be sitting on more than 700 pages, and that’s only the most recent versions. Print all the versions that have gone through review over the past few months, and foresters would be out of business.)

We used send docs back and forth all the time, because we didn’t have a shared depository. To properly manage version control on our docs, we needed to change the version number every time we made an edit, even if it was to correct a single letter. If we didn’t do it, we risked large scale problems down the road if a change hadn’t been incorporated. (Would you want to explain to Warner Bros and Sesame Workshop why they need to bring Kevin Clash back into the studio to record a single line, all because Elmo’s script had a tiny typo in it? Nope, me neither.) So we became version control ninjas.

Then we decided to take our documentation into Google Docs for a more recent project. The team involves four different groups, each with their own process, staff, needs, and responsibilities. Now that we’re 50+ documents into the process, with multiple review points by multiple people from multiple organizations on the majority of those documents, I feel like I can adequately review Google Docs as a system for managing a design project.

I love it and I hate it.

I love using Google Docs to collaborate. Anne and I are frequently in the same document, looking at the same sentence (and often on the phone at the same time) discussing and editing each other on the fly. Occasionally we clobber each other’s thoughts, but it’s all in the sport of reaching a well-crafted document. And, as Anne likes to point out, it’s fun to mess with each other. ;-)

I used to love that it could track changes to elegantly but now that love has turned to hate. Sometimes I just want to see the edits someone made. The option to view the revision history is totally sexy at first. I just click a button to see the revisions? And then I can see every time that every person made changes? Then I just have to click to see the changes they made at that time? SWEET!

Until you have 8 people collaborating, which means lots of revision history. And then when those people have a life like mine where they edit for a while, then stop, then come back to it. Then their revision history is logged in 4 hour chunks. That’s not useful. So now we actually download documents and use Word to compare changes between versions.

I love not worrying about saving (as long as my wifi is reliable). Just type and type and *poof* Saved! (Anne pointed out to me a fabulously-timely Slate article about deleting the save button.)

I hate using it for version control. Similar to tracking changes, it’s a total nightmare to find the version you want. Now instead of having stacks of files named v1.0, v1.1, v1.2, I have a massive list of every single person who’s edited and the dates they edited on. If I don’t happen to know the date of the desired version… yeah, it’s not pretty. So now, we save out versions on a regular basis. My hard drive is once-again full of v1.0, v1.1, v1.2.

I love that we can have discussions in the comments field and keep everything together. Ever tried to do a series of comments with multiple users in a Word doc? It’s more colorful than Rainbow Brite barf.

I hate that when I make a new copy of the document, it doesn’t carry over the comments. Just annoying.

I love the cloud. Anywhere, any computer (and some other devices, too). I have everything I need, so long as I have me some wifi juice. Certainly saves my hard drive from fragging itself to death.

I hate organizing all the files. It’s hard enough to manage my own hard drive, but now I essentially have a second hard drive to keep tabs on. Plus, when people share things with me, it doesn’t always show up in the most logical place.

I love and hate giving people access to files. It’s so much easier to give people access to a file than it is to email them a copy every single time it changes. I’ve also even publicly posted documents that summarize my conference talks. But if everyone has access to everything, sooner or later, something important is going to get clobbered. It happened just the other day (and prompted this post). So I manage my love/hate relationship with sharing by learning to love the permissions settings. Not everyone has to be an editor!

In general, Google Docs can easily make me grumpy. (It was far easier to come up with hates than loves for this particular post.) But, I wouldn’t give it up at the moment. The value of collaborating and focusing our sometime disparate team (both geographically and philosophically) is incredibly high. So now we enter into our relationship with Google Docs with our eyes open. Save versions regularly. Carefully curate who has access to what. Collaborate often. And always meet for coffee on a regular basis, even if only to mock the other person’s ability to spell in real-time in Google Docs.

Back to collaborating for me. I’m at Casual Connect in Seattle next week, if you want to chat. As always, find us at kidsGotGame@noCrusts.com or @NoCrusts on Twitter. Blue skies!

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