Google expands social collaboration features in Docs

Expanding on moves first made last April to make Google Docs more collaborative, Google on Wednesday further expanded on social aspects of the online document service. Comments are now "seamless," the company says, and easier to manage through new e-mail functionality.

Previously users had to check the document itself to view new comments, which the company admitted was not the best solution. Google has changed this so that a new comment would be directly e-mailed to the document owner. Replying to the comment would be as easy as replying to the email. Also, new participants can be added through the use of an @mention.

Typing the users e-mail after the "@" symbol would send the text of the comment to that user linking them into the document. Each comment would also now be timestamped, with a profile pic of the commenter if he or she has a Google profile.

After the comment is resolved, users can remove it from the active document without deleting it from the discussion stream, Google said. Archived comments would be later accessible by clicking the "discussions" button at the top of the document. In any case, comments would still appear to the side of the document -- not changing from the last major update to Docs last April.

"We've been using this next-generation commenting system inside Google for several months and have seen it make the feedback cycle shorter and get more people involved," software engineer Nick Cooper wrote in a blog post explaining the changes.

Due to the sheer number of changes, Cooper said that Google had decided to make the new commenting system available only in newly created documents. He did not specify when or if the company planned to convert documents using the old system.

Google is by no measure the first to offer this type of collaboration on documents: companies like Yammer, Socialtext and others have been offering similar functionality for quite some time.

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