Collaborative Online Document Editing: Is It Really Useful?
Google Docs, Quip, and other systems now offer collaborative document editing, as does Microsoft Office through Microsoft Sharepoint. Are these services actually useful, or do they just get in the way of getting actual work done?
The Problem With Live Collaborative Document Editing
Businesses have been doing collaborative document editing since ancient times. Work is simply divided up between different authors, each author writes his or her piece, and the pieces are assembled by an editor who smooths out differences in tone and style.
Online document editing doesn’t change that system, although many new businesses without experience in offline collaborative editing may not think to clearly partition work, leading authors to inadvertently write some duplicate content or fail to write some other content. But with good project management, online document editing should work at least as smoothly as older offline document editing.
The problem which comes up is distraction: as multiple authors work on a document at the same time in an online system, the desire to watch other the other writers at work can be at times overwhelming. For many people, writing requires solitude and concentration, which is one thing live online collaborative document editing does not provide.
You Always Make More Typos When People Watch You
Have you ever had your boss stand behind you while you tried to type something on your computer. Somehow, magically, your 20-years of touch-typing skill disappears and your fingers turn to all thumbs. As you make typo after typo, you get embarrassed, and the situation gets even worse.
Live document editing lets anyone else on your shared document watch you work. It’s the equivalent of having not just your boss stand over your shoulder, but also your entire workgroup. And, worse, writing isn’t the same as typing. Everyone knows the first draft of a document is usually bad, but what your online audience is seeing is pre-first draft. They’re watching as you pause for 30 seconds to think of a synonym, or as you delete the previous sentence because it didn’t work, or as you misspell some common word with some silly rule you never memorized (“there’s ‘a rat’ in separate”).
Writing is hard enough when nobody can see your mistakes; it’s nearly impossible when you’re worried about other people watching you.
The Solution To Online Document Editing Problems
Some collaborative editing apps have the ability to turn off live editing, although (disturbingly) some don’t have this option and call it’s absence a feature. But there’s also a really simple way to get back to the old style of collaborative document editing: simply create your document offline in Microsoft Office or as a personal document in your online productivity suite and then, after you finish writing and editing your part, copy and paste it into the shared online document.
As long as you can convince your boss that you’re working even though he can’t see you typing, writing documents “offline” protects your privacy and probably boost your productivity, and it also saves you from teasing from your co-workers because you don’t know how to spell seperate—I mean separate.