AMA: A Peek Into The Future Of Google Docs

Earlier today, a handful of members of the Google Docs team announced that they were doing something fairly unusual for employees at a large company: they’re giving members of the popular link-sharing site Reddit a chance to ask them anything (you can find the thread right here).

The team has now responded to plenty of questions, offering some insight into where Google’s free online productivity suite is headed over the coming months. Sure, they’re being a little vague with some of their answers, but they still hint at plenty of nifty upcoming features. Here are some of the highlights so far:

Regarding an offline version of Google Docs:

“You’re going to see offline start to roll out later this summer. We used to have offline with Google Gears, but it became pretty clear that plugins weren’t the right approach. We’ve been reimplementing offline using HTML5 standards like AppCache, File API, and IndexDB.

We’re some of the first webapps that are really putting those standards to the test, so it’s taken a while to iron out the kinks.”

Well, we will launch in whatever incremental pieces make sense. But the long term direction is if you access a Doc URL while offline, it should open the local copy of the doc and let you edit. When you go online all your edits get synced in the background. You should also be able to see a list of your docs while offline. We’ll need to work through all the tricky problems with how to merge conflicting edits. It’s fun stuff.

Regarding how data stored in Google Docs is kept safe:

Document data is stored in a storage system built on top of Bigtable. Storage is distributed across many machines and geographic locations, and all access to the underlying storage is tightly controlled and audited in compliance with SAS70. For more details, I’ll refer you to this set of FAQs.

Cloud print will be coming to more devices (right now it’s only on mobile and Chromebooks).

The most topic so far appears to be ‘mobile;. The general theme of the answers is that there’s a lot of work being done in this area to make the experience better. Among them: it sounds like the Android Google Docs app will be getting a native editor (right now it kicks you off to a web editor, which is clunky). It sounds like offline editing will also be possible using the native app.

Another smaller (but important) feature: the team plans to improve the flow of naming new documents. Right now it’s pretty easy to wind up with dozens of files called ‘Untitled document’ — the team is currently figuring out the best way to solve this.