Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Real-time is the key to communal applications

Within 2 minutes of someone having a Google Spreadsheet invite at our office, we had put it into use as a key tool in our day-to-day activities.

I've been forced to come to the realisation that spreadsheeets are really much more powerful than I'd ever given them credit for. For a long, long time, I've lamented why people would create spreadsheet-style applications when they could build a simple database and get infinitely more power.

However, what a spreadsheet delivers is ultimate simplicity than serves a wealth of purposes. A few of the guys in my organisation, do everything on spreadsheets and as much as I've tried to disuade that in the past, I now tend to view spreadsheets as a bit of an application prototyping environment.

After all, most database-style tools now allow you to easily import data you may have created with a spreadsheet.

However, the problem with a spreadsheet is if you  have multiple people editing the same spreadsheet it can get very messy and thats exactly where the real time update ability on Google Spreadsheet comes to the fore.

As I speak, I've got three guys all working on a company spreadsheet. Any change anyone makes can be seen by all of them as it is made. We've got no issues about version changes, read-only access, data not being saved, it's just pure simplicity. And that's what a spreadsheet is all about.

Real-time updating of communal information is key. Any online application that doesn't have this capability is doomed to fail, in my humble opinion. I've tried to get people using online services like Writely, ZohoSheet, etc and they've all fallen down in this regard and people have given up on them because of this.

So while Google has copped some flack in some quarters of late, with people lamenting it's just another me-too product, I must disagree. It and GMail are the only web-based apps I've seen people take too almost immediately. 

I think it will prove to be disruptive. (BTW, EditGrid appears to be another online spreadsheet with real-time updating capabilities). 

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6 Responses

  1. basu715 says:

    While real time may be the key to popular communal apps, it, isn’t really such a big deal for individual who are using a web based service as a replacement for desktop software.

  2. Phil Sim says:

    I think increasingly as people are able to work together more easily, it will be seen as the norm to work in this more collobarative fashion. I know most of the work that I do, is in some way collaborative…

  3. Caitlin says:

    Consumers won’t use this because a) they don’t care about spreadsheets and b) they want to be able to access their documents when they’re offline.

    Businesses will be tempted to use this because of the collaborative functionality. Microsoft Excel drives the modern enterprise far more than even Windows does but at the moment documents must be emailed, leading to versioning nightmares. (Or if they’re on a network, only one person can make changes at one time). Google spreadsheets doesn’t have the functionality of Excel (no Macros for example) but the sharing component probably makes up for it.

    The real problem, and this is a killer reason why IMHO business won’t use Google spreadsheets is data security. No IT manager in their right mind is going to hand this stuff over to Google, to be stored on external servers, especially when the US Government is trying to get Google to hand over its data. I doubt that corporate governance laws (eg. Sarbones Oxley) would even allow some companies to do this given they often contain algorithms and proprietary data.

    If you could have a spreadsheet tool with the same collaborative functionality that ran across a network and was stored on a corporate server it would be different.

  4. [...] Squash » Blog Archive » Real-time is the key to communal applications Phil Sim: “Real-time updating of communal information is key. Any online application that doesn’t have this capability is doomed to fail, in my humble opinion.” (tags: google spreadsheets saas instant-updates collaboration) [...]

  5. scott brooks says:

    I beleive it has to be Asynchronous. Where as people don’t have to set thier schedules to meet and review what ever has to be reviewed.

    That is just my ideas.

    cheers

    scott

  6. “Or if they’re on a network, only one person can make changes at one time.” This can be remedied partly by a [Shared] excel file on a shared network drive, but it has its share of horrible problems too.

  7. Lautreamont says:

    ““Or if they’re on a network, only one person can make changes at one time.” This can be remedied partly by a [Shared] excel file on a shared network drive, but it has its share of horrible problems too.”

    IMHO there is no need to do that. You can work against a database, use forms to update data & access it from a spreadsheet. I think it makes much more sense this way.

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