Most of us have used the suite of tools under the Google Docs moniker to do all sorts of collaborative things. Giving us a web-based, multi-user version of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint has been a good thing. I’ve had my ups and downs with the tools since the Writely days, but I think in general they are a very powerful and flexible set of tools. This is so clear when working in committee or as a student working in teams — the idea that you don’t have to shuffle individual documents back and forth is an amazing benefit.
Yesterday during class we demonstrated the Google Docs suite to the students … most of them had seen them and we didn’t see too many jaws drop until I showed a new feature of the spreadsheet app — the ability to create web forms that actually dumps data back into the originating spreadsheet. This new feature was announced by Google just a few days ago and it makes the act of collecting data very straightforward and I would even say stretches into the online survey space. I read this morning over at Daring Fireball that there appears to be a 5,000 row limit, but that is a hell of a lot more data collection than you can do in many free survey tools.
It is so easy to make work … just create your spreadsheet and share it. In the sharing area you can now select an option “to fill out a form.” That’s it … select it, get the URL and send it out. Amazing that if you are in the google spreadsheet as people are filling out the form you see the data come in. I created a little form to test it out … fill it out for me! It also appears as though you can publish the spreadsheet with the data live updating.
One thing I don’t see that would really make this even more handy is a little web clip of code that I could drop my form on my blog or in a place like ANGEL. I checked it on my iPhone and the layout is great and it works … sweet for mobile data gathering applications. Nice little step forward.