Online editing will take a decade, but its time for sharing office docs

With all the hype around Google docs, it’s good to finally see some stats about their market penetration. TechCrunch today reported results of a survey conducted by NPD: A 73% of Americans have never heard of web-based Office suite (e.g., Google Docs), 94% have never tried one, and only 0.5% have actually switched to one. The survey results don’t surprise me. In fact, I would have guessed that even fewer people would have tried / heard of a web-based Office suite.

In a year of running SlideShare, we have realized how particular people are about the end look & feel of their Office documents (especially their presentations). If SlideShare does not render an image or a font, or messes up some graphics/charts, then our users tell us about it!. We get complaints about the particular shade of purple, and the title that does not look quite right. Makes sense, people work hard on their documents and they want the finished product to have a certain look and feel. I have tried several online Office authoring apps and while they are great when I need to collaborate during the creation process, the latency is annoying when you are working on the document yourself, and the application feels hopelessly limited when you are in the final (production phases). I have used Google Docs & Zoho for word and spreadsheet documents with some success, but was not able to make much headway with Google Presently because the look and feel are much more important for presentations (and no, I don’t see Presently as competition – reasons are described below).

This has been our hypotheses to begin with – that the tools and mindset are not quite there for large-scale shift to online authoring of Office documents. But there is no such barrier to sharing of documents online. SlideShare was the first office document sharing site on the web. We started with the premise that people want a quick and easy path to sharing their presentation documents. And so far, it seems like people do want to do that (look at SlideShare stats below).

Here are some principles for sharing of Office documents online that we believe in
Office documents as social media – people want to share their office documents in same way that they want to share their pictures and videos. They want to tag, comment, rate and connect over them.

Tools for authoring are not the best for sharing and vice versa: In the previous generation, documents were created with desktop applications and shared mostly via email. Now, email is being replaced by sharing on the web.

People want to mashup documents with other media:
SlideShare lets you mashup presentations with audio and although we don’t support video mashups ourselves, other services have launched slides-video mashups. Now that we have an API out there, I expect to see more mashups soon.

Don’t get me wrong. In the long-term, I do believe that authoring will move to the web (or perhaps to some hybrid desktop-web tool). But as I heard Om Malik say at FOWA, online Office aps is a generational thing (I forget his exact words, but it was something to this effect). And I completely agree, its going to take a while for people to give up their comfort zone and start adopting online Office aps. In the meantime, good luck to Google docs and Zoho who are taking on this challenge of building some whizbang technology and changing mindset!

In the meantime, its not too early to begin sharing! You can start by looking at this presentation from a talk I gave about Office 2.0 or the social sharing of Office documents!

SlideShare | View | Upload your own

2 thoughts on “Online editing will take a decade, but its time for sharing office docs

  1. Hi Rashmi,

    This is a great post. You must check out the new Web based office suite Live Documents (http://www.live-documents.com/) for a really nifty online productivity suite that is remarkably usable. It even mimics the Microsoft Office 2007 Fluent UI.

    Cheers

    JFK

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