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Google Apps Ninja Stories #1: Yes, you can mail merge!

A while back, I called mail merge my #1 Google Apps pipe dream. I use mail merge for a lot of things, most of which don't relate to actually mailing anything.

A while back, I called mail merge my #1 Google Apps pipe dream. I use mail merge for a lot of things, most of which don't relate to actually mailing anything. In fact, I can't remember the last time I mailed anything. I live next to a post office, so I guess it's still possible. Regardless, I just end up with lots of data dumped from various sources that I need to present in meaningful ways for people; mail merge is one way to do that.

When I called mail merge in Apps a pipe dream, I also pointed out that a cloud-based mail merge could leverage some very interesting capabilities:

This is the perfect opportunity, then to take the old-school mail merge to the next level, dynamically generating documents and web pages based on changing data stored and collected in Google Spreadsheets.

As it turns out, though, through Google's App Script functionality, you can actually merge data into a document or send mass emails mail-merge-style. You can even integrate cloud data in the merge, e.g., including Google Maps directions based on addresses from your dataset. A Google product manager who handled their recent Docs rewrite pointed out the mail merge capability last week as we were discussing some of the possibilities of App Script, but I should give credit to a reader as well, whose comment I happened to miss on my pipe dream post. It also came up at Google's recent Atmosphere event. You can see a demo in this clip from the conference:

Clearly we haven't quite reached the holy grail of end-user manageable data-driven websites. As I also pointed out in my pipe dream post,

Creating a dynamic, data-driven website isn’t a particularly easy thing to do for the average user. Imagine, though, if it were as easy as dragging and dropping fields from an online spreadsheet into a Google Sites page. Or a Google Doc, for that matter. Or a series of emails based on records in a data store.

However, the demo nails the email part! A closer look at the tutorial Google provides to make this work suggests that the sky's the limit with app script; this is quite powerful as they note in the video. Ideally, this sort of functionality would be integrated into the gui instead of requiring programming to make it work. This is way beyond a start, though, and even just being able to set up mass email tools based on form data for your users could be a real productivity booster. Especially for the sorts of organizations who would tend to use Google Apps (flexible, highly connected, web-centric), some time devoted to developing with App Script would be well used.