Mike Riversdale wrote the best article I've read about Google Docs. "Google Docs ... so what - the ONE reason why you should care" doesn't talk only about Google Docs, it's also about Zoho, wikis or any other tool that lets you write, collaborate and share your documents. It outlines the major difference between Google Docs and office suites like Microsoft Office or OpenOffice: Google Docs is built for a connected environment.
Documents (PC-based I'm thinking) are fundamentally about "one person". The document you edit looks lovingly into your eyes proclaiming ever lasting love just for you. If someone else tries to muscle in on this close(d) relationship they will get told to go away, I am with someone else.
Of course the words inside the document want to be loved by all and to love all. They force the document to dump one person and love another in a serial monogamy type of way. The document that was only for you will quite easily tell you to go away as they are now in a one-on-one relationship with someone else...
This issue - words love all / documents love one at a time - is a fundamental issue that many have tried to solve using any number of clever means. We've had software attempting to mediate the differences - every electronic document management (EDMS) system you've battled against lives this category. We've had consultants claiming to solve it via changes in work practices - 'workflow" and the bottlenecks they employ.
The most common way employed by everyone ever is ... copy the document. The words love this - they can love more and more people, more words can join them as they spread around the network - you can put in your words, I can add my words, Stevens from Accounts can remove the words he doesn't want - the words are out there, they love to be free and are loving all.
But once set free they're bloody near impossible to reign back in, for a start where the frig are they - out there in the wilds of the electronic world running free is all well and good until some poor sod has to try and reign them in. (...)
Google Docs doesn't live in the 'document' world. Oh it has similar naming conventions, it uses all the jargon that we're used to and it pretends to be a document ... but it's not because it comes from the 'words' world view. It knows that the words you're gonna edit are, 99.9% of the time, going to want to be loved by many more than you. And being on the Web they know that the world of connected people at your fingertips is massive. Not only is there the list of attractive people in your contacts list but there is everyone with an internet connection!
Google Docs lives to share the words:
* knows that words want to be shared and that's why you've typed them.
* its world view knows/understands its connected environment
* its capabilities are built to use this environment