Google Docs Gets More Social With Discussions


Google is adding an element of social networking to its Google Docs cloud play, enabling real-time discussions directly from documents.

The addition of discussions to Google Docs is a change of the comments capabilities, in which reader comments and replies were in the sidebar of a document. Wednesday's Google Docs update saw the addition of a new discussion capability that integrates with e-mail for real-time conversations.

The new discussion capabilities in Google Docs come as Google continues to update its Google Apps and Google Docs offerings as the search giant continues to battle Microsoft in the cloud. Last month, Google launched Google Cloud Connector for Microsoft Office, a plug-in that lets users of Microsoft Office 2003, 2007 and 2010 productivity suite collaborate on documents in the cloud.

With the new update to Google Docs Google has improved the discussion flow by adding ownership and edit rights to individual comments. And each comment now has a timestamp and profile picture. And Google Docs won't force users to delete comments. Instead, they can resolve comments to remove them from the visible document and view them later by clicking the discussions button at the top of any document.

Google has also integrated comments with users' e-mail inboxes for rapid and response communications. Users are added to discussions via an @mention. According to Google, typing @eddy@altostrat.com in a discussion will send a notification e-mail to Eddy with the text of the comment and Eddy will receive that in his inbox.

From there, Eddy can click through and open the document itself to respond, or reply to the e-mail. Replies will show up in the document as soon as an e-mail is sent.

Users can turn off e-mail notifications for a document and mute updates.

"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," Google Software Engineer Nick Cooper wrote in a blog post showcasing Google Docs discussions. "The combination of added structure and intuitive e-mail integration have really given life to the discussions that surround our documents, and we're excited for this new feature to do the same for you."

Google said it is rolling out discussions to Google Docs users over the next few days. Users with personal Google Accounts and Google Apps customers that opt receive immediate releases and updates via the new Rapid Release track will receive the update. Currently, improved comments can only be used in new documents, Cooper said.

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