Google Spreadtentacles

Wednesday, 7 Jun 2006

Jonathan Rochelle, on the Google weblog:

Google Spreadsheets is available as a limited test on Google Labs. Even when it was only partly developed, we used Google Spreadsheets (alpha!) to manage our task lists, our feature lists, our bandwidth estimates, our storage estimates, even our complex team event voting ;). We now know the true meaning of “share.”

Robert Scoble:

[A]s Google gets more people to try its spreadsheets more people will ask for more features. If they don’t get those features the PR will turn back toward Microsoft’s approach (since our Office has a lot more features than Google’s offerings do). There will be pressure on at Google to add features but DHTML (er, Ajax) will simply run out of gas. So, you’ll start seeing middleware coming down. (Runtimes like .NET, Flash, Java, and WPF, are what I’m thinking about – I’d bet that Google is working on a browser-runtime of its own that’ll add a lot of local functionality to Web clients).

James Robertson:

I don’t think most users of this kind of software will want lots of new features. […] Consider most spreadsheets you see. Do most people use any of the non-basic features? Or do most people do a quick set of calculations, and possibly some simple charts? I’d say it’s the latter, by a very wide margin. I think Robert misreads the target audience for this kind of application, and even for the spreadsheet in general. Heck, I’m in Product Management, and I can tell you that I create only very simple spreadsheets – which is what I suspect most people do.

We’ve already seen that game, haven’t we? Most of the non-nerd technically savvy people I know use webmail rather than desktop clients now. Sure, all the webmail offerings are relatively feature-poor and completely blow for people like me who are very particular about their mail filtering and manipulation tools, but few people are like me, whereas many technically savvy people want to check their mail from a lot of places, and so webmail use has gone off the charts. I doubt it will be any different with Google Spreadsheets: having the necessary basic features and your data available everywhere will outweigh any consideration about how featureful the entirety of the offering is.

Heck, I was recently more or less forced to sign up with Google Calendar despite hating the idea, because people I work with use it. Care to guess how many customers Google Spreadsheets will claim with that same viral effect?

And we’ve already seen that game before, too, haven’t we? I’m wondering whether we won’t be at a similar impasse concerning spreadsheets and calendars and all that in a few years as we are now with the IM walled gardens, with everyone having accounts on every service and people whining about that and none of the vendors moving an inch (except through buyouts, cf. AOL buying ICQ). In the very long term, I am even wondering if the people clamoring over Open XML vs ODF won’t find they were barking up the wrong tree.

The announcement on the Google weblog is titled “It’s nice to share.” Well, it’s certainly nice for Google if you share your spreadsheets through it.