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Google has introduced a new comment stream feature in its online document sharing and editing program, Google Docs, in an effort to promote the service as an online collaboration tool.
The new commenting system amounts to a chat stream for specific parts of the document. Users can highlight specific parts of the document and begin a discussion stream where anyone in the document can comment. There’s also a general discussion stream that collectively shows all comments across the entire document as segmented threads.
Users in the document can bring in people outside of the document by typing “@name” into the discussion stream. Anyone who is contacted that way will receive an email message to join the document and begin collaborating. I’ve tested the service a few times, and it looks like it takes a few minutes for the email to make it through to the other person.
Right now the feature is only available in Google Docs, Google’s online word document editor. There is a commenting system in Google Spreadsheets, but it’s a bit more rudimentary and doesn’t support a discussion stream. Docs and Spreadsheets already feature a Google Talk-type chat room feature that runs along the right side of the browser window. Docs still alerts users when someone else begins viewing and editing the document.
Google has been trying to bust into the online collaboration game for a while now, but its efforts are typically focused on consumers and other non-enterprise markets. The market for collaboration in enterprises is already dominated by the likes of Microsoft and startups like Yammer, an enterprise-style social network, and Box.net, an online storage and file sharing service that has a number of commenting and editing features.
Google’s demo video for the new tool also features it as a way to collaborate on a prank for a fellow co-worker. Google has an entire app store dedicated to enterprises — while Google Docs is still a free service.