Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Building Buildings in Google Docs

Everyone who knows me knows how excited I get about collaboration - and how especially excited I was when Google Docs' drawing tool was launched as a collaborative editing surface. On a few occasions, I've initiated collaborative scribbling sessions with 3 or 30 people simultaneously, just for the creative kick we all get out of it (an especially active session was triggered by my favorite web-tech blogger, when her quick ping to her followers triggered a flood of creative participants).

When I saw the quality of content a few others had created when we added drawings to the Google Docs Template Gallery, I was inspired to try some myself. So, for a few moments (ahem) per day over the past week, I ventured on a more soloist approach in an attempt to create some useful and realistic-ish drawings of some great city landmark buildings. I initially set out to draw, in rough form, just the Empire State Building. Hmph... that was easy enough - so I just kept going. Transamerica was a bit more challenging, and the Space Needle required some artistic license. My favorite building (second of course to my real favorites), the Chrysler Building, almost made me cry give up - but I persisted and even got that into a form which (when squinting) is acceptable...
So the template drawing is in the gallery (full preview here) - enjoy it, use it, laugh at it, or make fun of my rare obsessive behavior which resulted in these drawings. Maybe next time I'll invite a few dozen of my closest artistic friends to collaboratively create every other landmark building in a tenth of the time ;)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Google Sites - Hiding Site Activity Links

Whenever anyone asks me how they can easily create a web site - guess what I say...
"Get lost freak!" (no, not really, but give me an excuse to use a quote from a kids movie, and I take it)... anyway, I say Google Sites! It really is an easy way to get content up on the web quickly - so while I may be biased, I think Sites is the most accessible tool with the right balance of features and simplicity for the average web user.

There's one thing still about our current version of Sites that I've encountered enough times that I felt I should just post about it and point people here the next 5 times I'm asked:

"How do I get rid of that Recent Site Activity link at the bottom of every page?!"

It's not the intention of most Site authors to give people a link to all the "recent activity" on a site - they just want viewers to see the current version in most cases.

Well, it's not the most obvious thing to find... Here's how to change that:
  1. Sign in to Google Sites and open your site
  2. Click the "More Actions" button on the upper right corner and select "Manage Site" option in the menu.
  3. On the left side under Site Settings, click the "General" Option.
  4. The 8th option down (or so) is called "Access Settings" - which has 2 selectors, labelled:
    • Users who can access site activity:       and
    • Users who can access revision history: 
  5. Set BOTH of those options to "COLLABORATORS ONLY"
  6. Click SAVE CHANGES (at the top or bottom of the page)
Hope that's helpful... ping me here if not (and I promise not to use a silly line from a kids movie to dissuade you).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How to TURN ON the NEW Google Docs editors

You may have heard that Google actually offers a product which lets you create, edit, share and collaborate on spreadsheets, documents, presentations and drawings using only your browser (nothing to download, etc... ) - yeah, yeah, I thought so.
You may have heard that there was a recent update to the product which made the editing experience more realtime, more collaborative and just generally faster and better - yeah, I thought so.
You may have heard that if you are a current user of Google Docs, you need to TURN ON these new editors explicitly - no? You didn't hear that part?  Well - it's only temporary... but you do need to do that!

Enough people (more than 1) have asked me this question, that I thought I should just post a quick How To, so I can point people here once... even though this post will be useless soon, when the new editors are standard for everyone...

So, the story is different for spreadsheet and document editing...

For Spreadsheets - very simple... When you are editing any spreadsheet, just look for the "New Version" link in the upper right side of your browser screen. Once you click that, ALL your spreadsheets will open using the new version of the spreadsheet editor (except for a small number of those which use a couple of lagging features which are not yet supported).   If you decide you need to switch back, do the reverse, and use the "Old Version" link in the upper right.

For Documents - less simple, but easy still.... Click the "Settings" link in the upper right side of your screen. Then, click the "Document Settings" sub-menu. In the dialog which shows up, click the "Editing" tab - and then check the box which says "Create new text documents using the latest version of the document editor. Only New Documents will use the new editor... old documents are currently forced to use the old editor.  Just for now...


One more thing to know - if you are on a Google Apps Domain (meaning at school or work or in an organization which uses Apps), you'll only see that new document editor option if your domain administrator wants you to ;) - so ask them if you don't see it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Amazing feats in collaboration (in nature, not technology)

The Atmosphere conference at Google's Mountain View, CA campus this past Monday was exciting and fun and attended by hundreds of interesting CIOs/CEOs and interesting people - there was even a great set of announcements from our own Google Docs team, which was of course a highlight for me. But, whether or not you believe in cloud computing or have any interest in the technology side, if you have any interest in collaboration, you must watch this video from the conference. This presentation by Janine Benyus, the President of the Biomimicry Institute, was, for me, the most educational, intriguing and awe-inspiring presentation of the whole day (yes, even more than seeing several people edit the same doc or drawing at the same time ;).

It turns out, that as much as we think we're innovating in the area of collaboration, we're actually just catching up and still, perhaps, way behind the collaborative systems present in nature.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is Twitter today's CB Radio? so what...

If you were born after 1975-ish (younger than 35-ish), chances are you won't get this post - but if you were a kid (or a trucker) during the 1960's and 1970's, you might relate. It struck me that the CB radio was basically Twitter - just on a different channel (quite literally) - using audio airwaves rather than the character-based internet. "Citizen Band" (CB) Radios were primarily used by truckers to keep in touch with each other and with a base station - maybe a dispatcher. The CB was their practical tool to communicate. Then, kids and geek hobbyists got a hold of them. I got one as a kid - probably in 1973 - when my dad finally gave in to my persistent begging. My dad certainly made me pay for it - but he risked his life on the ladder to install the antenna... I clearly remember him dropping the antenna once as he almost fell off the ladder. But, even bent, the antenna hooked me up to a world of tweets... voices of other people and truckers with whom I purposelessly interacted (that sound too familiar?).

Then, on a long car ride to Florida, the value of the CB became clear. We took the CB in the car and formed several temporal voice relationships with some truckers on the same route - down i95. On more than one occasion, we were warned of trouble, radar traps, accidents - and the previously useless banter became useful - almost necessary in hindsight.

Some other characteristics of the CB which seem analogous:

  • We had "handles" - names that represented who we wanted to be... sometimes fun, sometimes close to our real personas. The only one I remember was my uncle's: StoneMan. You figure it out.
  • We had our own language, which I think follows police radio language... like 10:4 ("ok") or 10:20 ("location") or "smokey" (policeman). wow... tricky.
  • We had Channels - similar in my mind to #hashtags - but much less traceable.
  • Short Tweets... after all, you could only hold that little button on the side of the mic for so long...
  • CB's were trendy! (tweet tweet!) There was even a hit song by CW McCall called "Convoy"

This loose analogy between Twitter and the CB radio is not very enlightening, unless you want to believe that Twitter will face the same fate. So what was that fate? I'm guessing that hobbyists found more interesting and extendable platforms (not to mention the Internets ;) and truckers still use the CB in it's original form. If it were searchable, linkable, with more traceable social structures and usage patterns and without any locational limitations, maybe CB radios would have kept growing.... or maybe they did keep growing, right out of that stupid box in my room as a kid and into a chat room, then into that phone in my pocket and then into Twitter.

Maybe someone reading this post will take a hint and help those truckers still using CBs by launching a product that has the familiar, voice-based interface of the CB, but with the added the practical advances of Twitter! Traceable, linkable, bit.ly-able, followable CB Radios! ...
Hmmm.  Maybe not.
10:4 good buddy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Amazon and Rice - an unexpectedly good recipe

I know Amazon is not just for books, but even I was surprised at this recent purchase made by my "use the web for practical things", non-geek, wife. I came home to find two seemingly unrelated things... First, there were six boxes of our favorite Rice on the counter - previously though to be extinct in this hemisphere due to the fact that our local grocer stopped stocking it. Nice surprise, but where did they come from? Second, there was a medium-sized Amazon box on the floor (you know, in that spot where husband might eventually remove it, but often takes much longer than necessary to do so). "What'd you get?" I innocently asked. "The Rice". The Rice? The Rice came from Amazon.com? whoa.

I know this doesn't constitute a "whoa" if this was a toy or a camera or even a pair of shoes... but Rice?

Logistics and partnerships have quickly made Amazon purchasing one of the most powerful forces in the product distribution space. Any product - even Rice - has a place in Amazon's warehouses and, optionally, on their website. It's been going on for a while - but now that it impacts my grocery list - I'm way impressed. Who cares if my grocer stops carrying stuff? I bet I can just scan all my groceries at home already and... well... you know...
By the way - you MUST try this rice.

Friday, August 14, 2009

You see photo, I see template

I've always been excited about the templates gallery we have on Docs - but over the past few days, I could probably be more aptly described as *crazy* about templates - presentation templates in particular. It's the "submit your own" thing that pulled me in and got me thinking that practically everything around me "would make a great template". And I really like the way the embedded template summary/thumbnail looks in a blog post or on a site - like this:

It started with the billboard...

That was just a cool way to show simple messages, and it seemed like something others could make use of. I suddenly started seeing other things around me which could also be good backdrops for simple message slide shows - like the side of a barn, a laptop screen, or even a mobile phone! I even went through my own photos and started pulling other things out to make into templates - flowers, shells, frogs - anything with some topical relevance.

Here's instructions on how to make your own (using one of my templates, of course):

I'll try to improve that presentation with screenshots and more detail if people ask... but really - the hardest part is finding and editing the right photos... some might say that I failed at that ;)