For collaboration Google Docs often beats email


Here’s a useful new Google Docs feature – discussions and comments, which we’ll be testing in earnest over the next few days.
Some background might be handy here.

Google Docs is one of our favourite collaboration tools. I use Google Docs nearly every day now. It’s perfect for notes and planning as a simple wiki – and good enough as a word processor (no more cumbersome email attachments back and forth for multiple authors). You can publish a document to the web, download and view the history – give it a try. I also use it for my personal to-do list with a direct bookmark in my browser toolbar.

My rule of thumb is: email with colleagues should be for alerts and updates. Now I don’t blame anyone for relying on email for things it wasn’t designed for, it’s usually because they haven’t been shown anything better. But if you’re doing the nitty gritty of work inside email then there’s probably a better, quicker, more sustainable way to do it. Google Docs, particularly the word processor, is one such way. (We at NativeHQ also recommend project blogs, wikis on PBWorks and live notetaking on PiratePad, depending on what you’re trying to do.)

The invisible workload of social media

Recently I’ve noticed how organisations who are starting to use social media are radically underestimating the time investment that such work requires… and often adding this work onto the job description of people who are already pretty busy. This is a bit of a mistake – it’s important to work out exactly what is involved in generating and getting content out successfully into the web community and to your followers.

Talking recently to a photographer, I was struck by how he described his clients’ lack of understanding about what it took to properly publish his work online so that people saw it. Usually basing their own assumptions on their (limited) use of Facebook to share photos, they see it as an easy thing, which doesn’t require much time of special knowledge.

For a modern photographer, taking the photo is just the start of things… then comes processing of RAW files, then into Photoshop for some finishing touches to the post production process. Then resizing the image files and getting the colours right for print or web, depending on their use.

Over to Flickr, there’s uploading and creating (good) titles, descriptions, tags, geo-tags and other meta-data. Then there’s the option of doing a bit of research on Flickr to find appropriate groups to put the photos on. Then beyond Flickr, there are the other online places you might want to embed or publicise the content. Facebook, Twitter, client’s websites, niche networks etc.

Only then can he really consider his job ‘done’… and it takes at least as long as he used to spend in the dark room in the old days of film, when clients could appreciate that it took a good deal of time, art and experience to create a photographic object.

The same is true of text content (edits, re-edits, checking sources, writing for web and search, adding metadata, double checking, publishing,  pushing the content out to other networks etc). And the same with video – shooting, editing, captioning, converting into the right format, uploading (sometimes to multiple sites), embedding, publicising on other networks etc…

Often, a brand is also running a presence on Facebook – which needs its own attention, then there’s responding to incoming communications, monitoring online activity etc. All in all, it can be time consuming if you’re planning to attend to your online activity meaningfully.

So when we’re talking to companies who are looking at working seriously in the real time web environment, we’re pretty eager to hear how they plan to provide enough people time to resource it. Who will be doing the actual work, and how will it fit into their job? I do hear too many saying that they’ll just ‘add it onto’ someone’s existing role – and it’s a bit of a red flag.

The cost of online technology has come crashing down in recent years – but the requirement to provide some real human time paying attention to online activity has increased. Rather than just see this as an opportunity to save money from the technology budget, companies should be re-investing those savings in human time to pay for all the work that is actually involved in running a successful online presence.

It’s great the brands are now able to run their own online media presence, but it takes time and human effort – and that is what generates the value – people. So if your thinking of investing in this space, think in terms of time, rather than money.