We at Hackszine are all about collaboration, and lately our geographically distributed team has been working on web-based and decidedly non-MS Office ways of doing so. We’ve been paying particular attention to the Google suite made up of Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Gmail, and Google Calendar (and rumored to soon include a PowerPoint alternative), which have generally worked well but have caused some significant hitches as well. Once we all get together on the same document, things have moved smoothly, but it usually takes many failed invitations, foiled uploads, and redirects before we get there.
Ever since Google acquired Writely, the “Email to Google Docs” feature has consistently failed for me when sent from my work email address, requiring me to upload everything from the web interface instead of copying Google Docs with a message that I send to our group with a Word attachment, which would really speed things up for us. So, just getting a document started has been a tedious hassle. But the hassle hasn’t ended once the document is online.
This week, Dale Dougherty sent this Google Docs/Calendar request to our group, which I’ve decided to share with our competent Hackszine readers, since I’ve been unable to find a workable solution myself:
I’ve been trying to share a Google Doc with the two Brians. When I use their O’Reilly email, they don’t get the message. So I have to use their Gmail addresses. Should I be able to invite anyone with an email address to view or edit a Google doc? Bre sent me an invitation to his calendar using my O’Reilly address and it didn’t work–it complained that it couldn’t link his calendar to mine. My Google account is set up with my Gmail address. Can someone explain this set of problems–using a non-Gmail email address and your Gmail address interchangeably?
Dale’s message highlights a problem we’ve encountered with all of Google’s services–namely, that when you’re invited to join a document at one email address (that is, when the message actually makes it through spam filters), but the rest of your life is attached to another, you’re out of luck. Since I maintain a Google Calendar (shared with others and including others’ calendars) associated with my Gmail account, I’m not going to maintain an entirely separate calendar (is that even possible, or wouldn’t that still require another Google account?) for collaborations with people who use my @oreilly.com address as their primary means of contact, and there doesn’t appear to be any way to merge online identities within the Google system.
Tim O’Reilly puts a finer point on this issue:
The only hack I’ve been able to figure out is to get people to send me the invitation to both accounts. (I forward all my *****@oreilly.com mail to Gmail, but not the other way around, as that would create a loop, yet I use *****@gmail.com for calendar et al. The alternative would be to make *****@gmail.com my primary email address and forward to *****@oreilly.com.) Seems to me that this is a hidden (maybe even unconscious) power play by Google. There’s a race on to get your sticky identity from one site to become your default identity.
This is a good point. Is Google attempting to keep their system closed, locking us into a single online identity associated with their services? If that’s the case, it wouldn’t be that much better for collaboration than being locked into the MS Office suite, the unfortunate de facto standard for most professional collaboration right now.
So, does anyone have any solutions to this tangled nest of questions? Any specific hacks to help out the Hacks team? In addition to these specific concerns, we’d also love to see any general hacks that help get you use other tools to get things done that would normally require MS Office. This is a hot space on our radar (especially with the launch of Google Apps for Your Domain), both behind the scenes and in terms of what we’d like to cover.
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