CPD23 Thing 13: Google Docs, Wikis and Dropbox

Thing 13 post

Google Docs

I’ve been using Google Docs at work for nearly three years and it’s really revolutionised the way I do my job. That sounds a bit dramatic but the role has changed so much since we adopted it!

Partly that’s down to the Guardian becoming a more digital, interactive product. Partly it’s because I’ve become involved in the Datablog, which is powered by Google spreadsheets of data. But it’s also made existing jobs easier.

Before, when the department was working on a project together, we would compile info in an Excel spreadsheet or Word file. It would sit in someone’s public folder, but we’d enable it for multiple users and as long as you were in the office you could amend it.

Quite often though, the spreadsheet wouldn’t like being updated by two people at once and would crash, or create multiples, and someone would have to go in and fix it.

When the work was complete, we’d have to email the spreadsheet to the editor or journalist who’d requested the work, or move it to their folder, so that they could work on it. If they decided they needed to change the format or needed a different dataset, they’d send it back and we’d start again.

Now, project spreadsheets sit in Google Docs. They’re shared with everyone in the department, who can actually really genuinely update them at the same time without causing problems. We can share them with any writers or editors who need them, too, and everyone can access them from anywhere, even (though we don’t want to encourage working after hours!) from outside the office.

If the end product is a graphic or interactive, it can feed directly off the spreadsheet in Google Docs, so any updating can be done in real time and seen immediately on the page (like this Afghan casualties interactive, or one we did for 9/11 a few weeks ago). The Datablog feeds off Google spreadsheets for most of its content (this Man Booker Prize 2011 one is my latest baby).

The future is spreadsheets. No, really.


Because I already use Google Docs, and because I can’t download software at work, I’m going to skip Dropbox for now (sorry Dropbox).


When I attended CILIP’s Umbrella conference a few months ago the most practical nugget I came away with was to adopt a wiki at work, as a way of sharing knowledge between colleagues (thanks Alan Brine and the wiki the67things).

We’ve tried a few ways of sharing department ‘how to…’s, but never hit on a formula that everyone likes and, more importantly, that everyone uses and contributes to. At the moment we use Google Docs, which works fine as document storage, but is clogged up with all our other docs. I think a wiki is the answer, so this is a great opportunity to try it out.

Unfortunately, to use MediaWiki you have to download the software, which I can’t do, so I had a go with PB Works instead. I set up an account – researchandinformation – and had a wander round to figure out the navigation. It’s not as intuitive as some software these days, but it’s easy to create pages, and hopefully I’ll be able to add it to the arsenal of tools we use in the office.


Google Docs is always going to win out over Dropbox for me, because it is already central to my working life and because you don’t need to download any software to use it.

I’m determined to set up a wiki for use at work but I’ll need to speak to the rest of the department before I go off all gung ho. There’s no point adopting a new resource only for others to ignore it (which has happened previously with Delicious). I’m pretty sure there’s software already available within the company which doesn’t require download (can you tell that annoys me?), but if not PBWorks will suit what we need.

I’ll continue to use existing wikis for career development – I take part in Library Day in the Life and I’m going to add myself to the Library Routes project. For now, this blog serves me well for recording my Chartership path, but I’m using a Google Docs spreadsheet to list CPD activities, and when I come to compiling my portfolio I’m sure I’ll use it more!

Like I said, spreadsheets are the future.


CPD23 Thing 12: Where did the time go?!

I’ve been horribly lax and somehow I’ve got far far behind with CPD23. Back on track now though, I’m not sure if I’ll manage to finish on time but hopefully not too far behind everyone else!

So, Thing 12: Putting the social into social media

I’ve said elsewhere that I’m lucky in that the media sector, and the Guardian in particular, is very active online and encourages the use of social media for work. I’ve been tweeting from our work account @guardianlibrary and blogging for the Datablog and From the archive for a couple of years. Engaging with readers who comment ‘below the line’ is part of writing on the web – starting a conversation, in the latest jargon – even if the comments aren’t always favourable!

I’ve only recently started using social media for professional purposes outside work, partly because of CPD23 but also because I’m chartering. My main source is Twitter, although I’ve been trying to get involved by commenting on other CPD23 blogs too.

I can’t count the number of contacts I’ve made through Twitter who I wouldn’t have encountered in everyday professional life (well I probably could but it would be a bit tedious and, well, you get my point). I’ve started attending conferences and events in the real world too, but the best contacts I’ve made there have been with people I had already encountered online. Even if you first meet someone face to face, social media offer an easy way of keeping in touch.

I don’t think social media can entirely replace face-to-face networking – for me, anyway, there’s something more tangible in actually meeting someone.

The social media world moves at an ever faster pace, too – a break of a few hours from Twitter and you can completely miss a new revelation; take a break of a few weeks (did I mention I slacked off over the summer?) and it’s a daunting task to catch up again. It might be easier to make contacts online but I think it’s harder to maintain your place in that network than in a ‘real world’ one.

There’s also a risk that you don’t break out of the echo chamber of the library world if you keep your online contacts within your professional sphere. We all know libraries are worth saving, for example, but there’s no use just preaching to the converted! But if what you’re after is a community, rather than getting a message to a wider audience, social media can be very useful.

One of the main reasons I started CPD23 was to expand my network of fellow professionals, as my physical network has been shrinking of late. When jobs are being shed and budgets cut, social media offers a nice alternative to brainstorming on your own!

CPD23 Thing 9: Evernote

CPD23 Thing 9 post on Evernote

I like the sound of Evernote – one of the main struggles I have in keeping up with the profession is finding time to read articles, blogposts etc. I’ve tried compiling them in Delicious, and setting up RSS feeds, but I never seem to get round to the reading part.

Even if I do, I usually make notes and forget to write them up. Evernote may offer at least a partial solution (there will never be enough time in the day to read everything!). If I change the way I process articles, scanning over them first rather than just storing links for later, it will enable me to make quick notes on screen that I can refer back to or flesh out, depending on the post in question.

My concern is that it’s yet another platform for me to master and remember to check. The thing I need to remember is that there’s a web tool out there for just about everything you could ever wish to do; my challenge is to check them out, work out whether they’re useful and only adopt the ones that really add value to the way I work.

The major problem is that I can’t download applications at work, and that’s the time I usually come across articles I want to read. I’ll download it at home but I’m not sure I’ll really get the benefit from an application I can’t use any time, anywhere.


CPD23 Thing 8: Google Calendar

Erin’s Thing 8 blogpost

We use Google calendar at work so this was a pretty quick Thing for me! Cloud computing has really opened up the way we work as a department.

We’ve always compiled events diaries but the software previously was clunky and the major benefit, as Erin said, is that Google calendars can be accessed from any computer/smartphone as long as you have an internet connection. We share our diaries with various departments across the organisation.

We use a calendar to help compile the From the Archive series too. It’s an ‘on this day’ type column that runs on the leader page of the Guardian every day. We use the Google calendar, which is only shared within the department, to track who is researching which date (we send them a week in advance) and to post any ideas we have for upcoming dates. It’s really made the process much easier.

To do

Reading the Thing post and responses from other participants (Bethan’s post was particularly useful) has highlighted a few ways I could develop my use of Google calendars. I’m going to start a calendar for my Chartership portfolio, so I can track events easily; and I’m going to look into Twistory.

CPD23 Thing 6: Online networks

Helen’s post on Thing 6

I think I’m quite up on social networking – I’ve been using the web to communicate since uni – but I haven’t applied much of it to my working life before now and as my department raises its online profile I feel a bit like I’m playing catch-up.

Because I work for a company that has a big online presence (hello Guardian website) the need for online networking as a department is limited. I can see the benefits to a public library of having a Facebook page for example, but not a private one like ours, and if we  need to connect online we have a blog and a Twitter account.

I’m working on raising my professional profile and involvement though, and that’s where social networking will hopefully come into its own for me.

As for Google +, I’ve not had a proper look around it and maybe if enough people defect it will become the standard, but I’m a bit unsure of a social platform that is trying to be all things to all people. Will anyone bother to adopt it fully or will they keep using it alongside all the other networks? I’m not sure I’ve got space in my life for yet another site.


My main online network in terms of work is Twitter. I use my personal account to follow other librarians, engage in discussions (not always about cake) and find out about new articles.

We also have a work account which we use to spread the word about blog posts and the From the Archive series, but it tends to be a one-way conversation so our use of it isn’t particularly social! That’s something I can work on.


I’m a member of LinkedIn but I don’t think I get the most out of it. As with the sites we looked at in Thing 4, my approach has been a bit haphazard and I need to develop my network further – I’ve not followed through all the second degree links, and I’m sure there are good professional contacts waiting to be made.

I’m a member of a couple of groups but again I haven’t explored it fully. The most useful one so far has been LIKE (London Information and Knowledge Exchange), who organise talks and networking events for info pros. I went to my first LIKE event last week (see Thing 6) and will definitely be going back.

The profiles in Helen’s post were really useful and I’ll be ‘sexing up’ my profile as soon as I get a moment! I’ll join a few other groups too.


There aren’t many online spaces I can keep purely personal, so I use Facebook as a social space for friends only. Not that I post anything I wouldn’t want professional contacts to see! As a corporate library I don’t think it would benefit my department to be on there either. I definitely agree with the “Facebook is the backyard BBQ” mantra.


I’d heard about LISNPN but I’d assumed it was for newly qualified professionals, not old hands like me, so it’s exciting that I can join too! I’m wary of joining too many networks – I already find it hard to keep track of everything I do online – but I’ll definitely be checking them out.

To do list:

  • Improve my LinkedIn profile
  • Connect to everyone I’ve met professionally on LinkedIn
  • Join a few LinkedIn groups
  • Join LISNPN

CPD23 Thing 5: Reflections on reflecting

River in Bellingham

I originally set this blog up for reflective writing towards my Chartership portfolio, but I let it slide quite quickly. I tend to get so bogged down in day to day tasks and library events, and writing about them, that I don’t get round to reflecting, or applying any lessons I could learn.

I found reflective theory a tad confusing when I first looked into it! There are so many methods, some more philosophical than others, that I wasn’t sure I’d really grasped it. I have a tendency to waffle, too, which isn’t always useful!

So it was reassuring to read this week’s Thing! Beneath the theorising it really comes down to assessing what you’ve done, working out how you can learn from it and then acting on it. I like the Borton example on the CPD23 post, which keeps it simple – What? So what? Now what?

I was also reassured that I don’t need to reflect on absolutely everything I do. I think I’ve failed in the past because I’ve not been selective enough, so from now on I’m going to pick and choose the events that could really influence how I work.

So, how can I reflect on CPD23 so far? Applying the Borton model and Emma’s evaluation process to Thing 3 – personal branding:

  • What?

CPD23 module on branding

  • So what?

What did you learn? – personal brand can be a powerful professional tool if done properly; it’s important to have the same identity across different online platforms; the tone you take online can depend on the role you do and the field you work in (working in media, I can get away with a ‘profersonal’ approach); I need to unify my online brand – I have a split personality!

What worked well? – the Google check showed that my brand is strong; a profersonal approach is suited to my role

What, if anything, went wrong? – this blog didn’t rank highly on Google – my professional brand is linked closely to my job; my photo and name differ across platforms; my blog doesn’t reflect the professional me at all

What would you change? – redesign my blog to reflect its purpose; make my photo consistent across professional platforms (Twitter, blog); think about my brand before I tweet/blog – think about professional audience

What (potential) impact could this have in your workplace? – not really directly applicable to work – my employers control my external profile, branding – but could help to establish a professional profile outside of work; get more involved/recognised in professional sphere

  • Now what?

select a photograph to use on Twitter and blog that a) looks like me and b) is professional

redesign this blog to better represent its purpose – a) relevant header photo and b) nicer layout and background, that can be extended to other platforms as and when (don’t have business cards yet!)

think about the potential audience before I tweet/blog – I’ve a tendency to post off the cuff, but I need to a) make sure the tone is suitably professional and b) be more selective about what I tweet

  • Reflecting on actions

Have I been successful in improving the weaknesses I identified? Yes – I’ve found a photo I’m happy with, and I’m treating Twitter a lot more professionally (in conjunction with Thing 4, which nudged me to organise my online presence). I’ve started to redesign this blog too, with a new theme, colour scheme and header. It’s a work in progress though, I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

Another mammoth CPD23 blogpost! And by writing about reflective practice, I’ve reflected on my reflective practice, and so the circle begins again…

Martin Belam on the editorial pitfalls when digital and print collide

Martin Belam has flagged up one of the dangers of online reporting over on curreybetdotnet.

Yesterday’s Times website headline for the Sean Hoare story, Hacking whistleblower found dead, was unfortunately prepended with the ‘Live’ tag, leading, as Martin says, to the formula “Live: Someone is dead”.

the perfect example of something that wouldn’t be allowed to happen in print, but which hits a magic Venn diagram intersection of technology, editorial and information architecture allowing it to happen digitally.

Martin suggests adding more options for prepends – ‘Breaking’ or ‘Latest’ for example, which would remove the unintentional pun in the headline for such a tragic story.

It’s clear that more consideration needs to be given to traditional page layout when information architects, who are often far removed from the reporting process, are working in the media sphere.