Google bolsters discussion features in Docs

Google Docs users can now engage in conversations about specific documents in a more streamlined, accountable manner, including being able to respond by email
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

Google has tweaked its commenting panel in Google Docs to add social media-style features, with the aim of making it easier to discuss and collaborate on pieces of work.

Previously, the cloud-based Google Docs service allowed users to communicate ideas or changes in the comments section of documents. Discussions in Google Docs, introduced on Wednesday, takes this a step further by adding new functions in comments, such as the ability to join in conversations and receive updates on ongoing discussions via email.

Google Docs discussions

Discussions in Google Docs adds new comment functions. Credit: Google

"It [Discussions in Google Docs] significantly shortens the feedback cycle to both increase productivity, as well as increases the effectiveness at which business users are building content," Matthew Glotzbach, product director of Google Enterprise, said at a press briefing.

"It really came from watching the way business users work, along with some of the innovations that we've seen in the consumer space from social commenting and features," he added.

Lessons from Wave

The company's big push into collaboration, Google Wave, was sidelined in August 2010, after failing to become popular despite being welcomed by developers at its launch. At the briefing on Wednesday, the company's executives said Wave had influenced the new features, but were unable to say whether the new discussions features were built on Wave code.

"We learned lessons from Wave and incorporated some of the ideas," Glotzbach said, giving the real-time update capabilities as an example.

The side panel in Google Docs now features a timestamp of when comments were made and a profile picture of the person who made them. Ownership and edit rights of individual comments can also be assigned.

Another addition is the ability to draw people into the discussion by putting an @ symbol before their name — similar to the @ mentions in social-networking services. Doing so sends a copy of the question or comment — along with a link to the document being discussed — via email to the recipient, who can then reply directly using the Discussion feature in the document sidebar or by responding to the email. The response is shown in-line in the document discussion.

Users can opt out of receiving email notifications for individual documents at any time.

Discussions can be marked as 'resolved' to remove them from the document, but Google automatically stores them in case they need to be reinstated later.

For now, the new commenting feature is not backwards-compatible and will only be enabled for newly created documents.

Discussions in Google Docs will begin to roll out for all Google Docs users except enterprise customers on the scheduled update track . This track, introduced by Google on Tuesday, is part of a new system that lets enterprise app administrators choose when to receive new feature updates.

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