Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Painful Lessons Learned from Using Google Docs

By Dennis D. McDonald

In Lessons Learned from Using Google Docs I described my recent use of Google Docs to support collaborative development of a consulting services proposal. The experience I described then was very positive. Google Docs is free and very easy to use, the user interface is functional, and the ability to collaborate on a common document from multiple locations is a terrific feature.

Last week, though, I had a negative experience with Google Docs that has caused me to re-think my position. How typical my experience is I don’t know. That I don’t know how typical that experience is gives me pause about using the service in the future.

I spent part of last Thursday and Friday working on a series of word processing documents as part of a marketing project. This involved the creation and uploading of a half dozen or so word processing documents and spreadsheets. That worked fine. As before, I was pleased at how easy the Google Docs system is to use, including how easy it is to import Microsoft Office and .pdf documents created on other platforms.

In addition to basic document creation and editing I wanted to experiment with the Google Docs “Forms” feature where an online questionnaire can be published and where respondents can answer questions online and feed a secure spreadsheet of data that can then be viewed online. I worked on a series of sample questions referring using my own blog as a test case and posted a link to the questions on the front page of my blog.

Over the weekend I checked in on Google Docs online to see how things were doing. The questionnaire was still available online from the link displayed on the front page of my blog, but the target spreadsheet —- and all the documents I had created over the past few days — were gone from my Google Docs directory.. I searched online for news of anyone else experiencing this and found what appear to be isolated examples of document disappearances, but nothing consistent. I even broadcast a few messages via Twitter asking if others had had similar experiences but go nothing back there, either.

Was my experience totally isolated? Did I do something to cause my documents to be deleted? Was there a connection between my use of the Forms feature and the Google Docs word processor and spreadsheet functions?

I don’t know, and that’s one of the frustrations. Searching Google help files unearths a few comments like mine, but I’m not seeing anything consistent. Is my experience therefore unique? Or is this something that is more common than people are letting on? 

I don’t know, but I am wondering how to approach Google Docs in the future. How about you?

Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald

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