Thursday, July 12, 2012

Google Docs how I love Thee

One of the biggest challenges I have with my writing is dealing with what happens between the end of Draft 1 and the declaration of Draft Last. For all Drafts known as Draft N where N is the set of all counting numbers greater than 1 I struggle to keep track of which N I'm looking at.

Is this the draft that I sent to Maggie for consideration? Is this the one with the revisions that Mrs. Osterman suggested? Did I already update this draft with the comments from my editor? Which draft has the new sex scene?

And where it gets worst is when you've got an email that has a list of concerns, denoted by page, that you then have to go through and item by item figure out where to put them.

Now, dear readers, let me be clear: I ~LOVE~ my Beta Readers. I don't care what formats you use to give me feed back. I will always and forever consider you the only way I have a prayer of getting anywhere as a writer.

So, that said, let us turn to singing the praises of a system I like to call: Google Documents.

Let's start with the catch:

When you work in Google Docs, Google has your files. All of them. Everything you wrote, how you wrote it, where you were when you wrote it, what time your wrote it. I'm willing to bet that if they could they'd turn on your laptop's webcam and take a shot of your room where you're writing. I've read in a few places some concerns with the Google privacy policy in that it allows them to "use" your uploaded files. That of course leads us to ask a simple question: What does Google care?

The answer is almost as simple as the question. They want to know as much as they can about you the user so that they have the best chance of putting the advertisement you're most likely to click right there for you to see. "The Algorithym" looks through all of your files, all of your word choices, all of your apparent interests, and comes up with what it thinks is the best match of product to consumer, and then serves that ad up to you.

Now, for everyone with a tinfoil hat on: They are not out to steal your manuscript. They don't care that you have, on their servers, the next Harry Potter, the next Twilight, or the next 50 Shades of "Dear God Does she Know a Single Thing about The Lifestyle?". What they care about is selling you ads. Can you imagine what would happen if it were ever found out that through this privacy policy Google did indeed steal the next great international best seller and then tried to make bank on it?

I'm wagering that an egg timer isn't calibrated well enough to measure how long Google would last before the FCC, the SEC, the DOJ, the CIA, the WGA, the FBI, and a few other SOB's shut them down into individual cubicles for sale on eBay.

So if you're okay with them targeting some ads at you while you work let's get on to what rocks about it.

First, it's in the cloud. Anywhere you can get to the internet you can get to your files. That means you'll never be at the coffee shop and unable to impress that girl behind the counter with that great story your wrote. Just whip out the tablet PC, hop on the wifi and hand it to her to read. Away on vacation? Hop down to the hotel lobby, fire up a connection and BANG you're working again.

And for me? No more worrying about versions. The version in the cloud is THE version. It is headed to become THE final draft. I can still download a PDF or Doc file to take with me but that's only if I know I'll be offline. If I'm going to have the internet then I'm working on the only draft.

There are, of course other options out there for online file hosting and accessing. But anther tool I like about Google Docs is their built in collaboration and communication tools. While I write, I can, in real time, see who else is looking at a file with me. I get a chat bar on the side to engage them in GChat, and I also get their comments popping up in real time while we look at the file. If my collaborator has edit privileged on the file I can see where their cursor is, and watch them type into the document in real time, while they, regardless, can watch me make changes with them. It's like having three keyboards all working at the same file.

And a final fun thing is that all comments have a "resolve" button. Once you've read a comment, you've made the change and you're all happy with it, you can resolve the issue and record of the concern vanishes. You've cleared the trouble ticket and moved on. There's something profoundly satisfying in reading a concern from a Beta reader, thinking on it, making a change and then clicking on the Resolve button to see the issue vanish.

It's still limited somewhat in what it can do compared to word. I know that for work I really do prefer Word for the layout (hello, columns?) and other tools in making nice readable and easily edited worksheets. But given how easy it is to share and collaborate, I'm very excited to use it this fall to create materials and overall the equation editor (gotta love being a math teacher) is pretty complete.

At the price, it is the single best way I've found to manage my writing.

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