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.

Dropbox

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).

Wikis

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.

Reflections

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.

Advertisements

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.

Online: Tom Roper on David Nicholas’s address to the Cilip AGM

I was too slow to grab a ticket for the Cilip AGM but luckily Tom Roper has blogged his views on the talk of the evening, David Nicholas (an old lecturer of mine at City university before he defected) on the Google generation.

As Tom summarises:

Librarians don’t bang our drum enough: as information and its retrieval becomes more and more complex, we can help, if we can show how we can help people and organisations achieve the outcomes they want… We cannot count on loyalty anymore.

I’ve definitely noticed the effect Google has had on search practices at work. A few years ago, the first thing a trainee was taught was Boolean searching; we realised a few weeks ago, to our embarrassment, that our current trainee (who has been with us since September) didn’t know the term.

Journalists used to whacking words into Google and receiving an immediate answer are much less patient when deep searching is needed, and much less receptive to learning advanced search techniques. They’re also much more likely to favour non-authoritative sources that offer quick answers than taking the time to find reliable sources (Wikipedia is increasingly cited as a source in its own right).

I don’t think David Nicholas is entirely right (Tom makes a good point that a lot of content is disappearing behind paywalls, making it harder not easier to locate) but librarians do need to develop new strategies to enable the Google generation to find the information they need in an over-saturated web, rather than attempting to train users in old, and sometimes out-of-date, searching styles.