Why Google is acquiring DocVerse or the Microsoft – Google web office battle heats up

Interesting news today – Google, which has been on a buying spree recently is acuiqring a startup in the Office document space called DocVerse. The startup was founded by Microsoft veterans, and lets people collaborate on the web, from within Office documents itself.

The reason is not hard to understand – Google is going headlong into competition with Microsoft Office, and having an effective way to share documents from within Office itself will hit Microsoft hard.

Right now, many companies (including the SlideShare team) use both Google docs and Microsoft Office. We use Microsoft Office for the richer documents that don’t need to be worked on by many people. And we use Google docs for documents that have multiple owners and need to be edited all the time. Having a way to share documents in Google apps, while from within office itself, might get a lot more people using Google docs simultaneously, making a final switch easier.

In the meantime, Google will keep making docs richer and faster, obviating the need for Microsoft Office.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft responds to this. They keep making noises in the web sharing of office documents, but I don’t think any of those initiatives have really gained traction. They have however, not made any acquisitions in the space, which is interesting.

If memory serves me right, this is the fourth startup in the Office space that Google is acquiring. The others JotSpot, Zenter, (there was one more startup which had plugin for PowerPoint – whose name I forget).

Will be interesting to watch the next moves in this epic battle.

Using Google Apps for your startup

We recently started using Google Apps at SlideShare. Reasons were many. I wanted the convenience of Gmail for our mail. Google Docs makes a lot of sense for informal spreadsheets and documents to keep track of things we are working on.

How the switch went
I registered for Google docs one weekend. It took me some time to configure email so that I could start downloading it into Thunderbird. I had to search around on the web to get the settings exactly right. Next I setup accounts for my cofounders. It was pretty easy to setup administrator accounts and to create email nicknames so that we could receive email to other addresses into our email boxes.

Over the years I have acquired many email addresses, and I set up all my work related ones to come into the one Google apps account. That required me to verify my other email addresses through Google Apps (once again, it was a pretty smooth process).

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Google calendar adds public events but does not get social!

Google calendar is one the few recent Google products that I love and use on a regular basis. It gets so many things right for an online calendar right – it lets you coordinate with colleagues, schedule events, check your calendar, anytime anywhere. The interface is efficient, letting one add and edit events easily. I have thought many times how Google calendar could weave a social events system like Upcoming system around it. After all, they have the basic ingredient for a great social system – a strong personal motivation for people to contribute. I tell Google calendar about my events since it helps me keep my life organized. It already knows about many of the events I am planning to go to. It knows about the people I invite to those events or who invite me to theirs. The social hooks already exist. It would be so easy to create a larger social arena around the information in my calendar that I am willing to make public.

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Why I have not been using GoogleWifi

Google modem vendor
GoogleWifi modem vendor (we used
to be in same office building)
Its hard to be in Mountain View and not to constantly feel the presence of Google. Everytime I go out to dinner, we can count at least 3-4 people wearing Google shirts. Google does usability testing at my favorite cafe (Dana Street Roasting House). Many of my friends work for Google. And now, everytime I look at avalable wireless networks, I see “GoogleWifi”. I have not actually used it myself – its not because I did not try. I tried – from several places in Mountain View. Even reached the wifi registration page a few times. But the connection is not strong enough. Not even from the coffee shop (Dana Stree cafe). Also, I have been using Live555 (a free wireless provider) for a while at Dana Street, so feel a certain loyalty towards them.

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Interesting talk by Google research scientist “Improving search by divining intent”

Terry Winograd runs an excellent seminar focused on HCI (at Stanford). I just saw from the mailing list announcement that this Friday (March 10th), the speaker is from Google. Dan Russell who used to be at IBM, is now a research scientist focused on the area of “search quality and user experience” at Google. He will talk about divining searcher intention. In recent months, Yahoo has made a series of high profile hirings of HCI researchers (Marc Davis comes to mind). I had not realized Google was making similar hirings. (I might be wrong here – please correct me if I am).

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Why Google wants to get closer to you (and why it bothers me more than Yahoo or Amazon’s personalization efforts)

Notice how much personalization Google has been putting out recently:
Personalized Search, the new release of the Toolbar has personalization, Google News now has recommended stories

Its clear why Google is doing this. Personalization is the next stage in the evolution of many products. It helps develop a closer relationship with users and get to know more about them. And most importantly, it provides a clear reason for Google to collect data and link it one individual. People do not want their web searches to be logged – partly because it does not provide any value for them. But we are fine with Amazon knowing a lot about us because there is a direct benefit in Amazon having our history. Google now wants the same type of relationship with you – its dear user. There are many business reasons for Google to pursue personalization.

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The blooming of information architecture at Google: A close look at facets, tags & categories in GoogleBase

nove05_googlebase3.gif
I just spent some time with GoogleBase and was amazed at just how deeply Google has embraced standard information architecture concepts and trends. We have categories, facets, tags. I kid you not. Google of the simple search box with a go button has come a long way indeed.

A few top level categories

12 top-level categories (e.g., course schedules, Events & Activities) show up when you post a piece of content. Interestingly they do not get exposed directly in the search interface, but get used indirectly. Google uses your initial query to place you in a particular category, and show the relevant facets. For example, the facets presented when you search for a vehicle name are different than when you search for a recipe. This is a good approach, but it does mean that Google needs to guess the right category to present the appropriate set of facets. Google Product Manager explains that “Google Base suggests attributes and item types based on popularity, which you can use to define and attach your own labels and attributes to each data item.” So there is some magic going on behind the scene to decide what sets of facets to show.

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