Eat the Document

With all the press releases masquerading as news, Techmeme has felt more like Craiglist for articles in the past few months, or is it years. But recently we finally got some real news, when Google of all people released Gdrive. We knew of course that it was coming, but not how it would actually feel when it got here. I haven’t signed up yet, but already it’s a big deal for me.

I haven’t signed up because the iOS versions are not done, or ready, or whatever imminent means. When they are shipped, I’m there. Gdrive is the kind of disruption that lurks beneath the surface, behind the marketing campaign, irrespective of even Google’s position in the market. It is like Gmail was when it started, a harbinger with real muscle that marks the beginning of something bigger than a single vendor.

First of all, it kills Google Docs by inserting those features as menu items in Gdrive. This is a real dagger in Microsoft’s heart, the first direct evidence of a post-document model. Naturally the anklebiters will say documents are not dead, etc. But they are. Where are documents on the iPad? You can get to them through some circituitous route through iTunes or whatever, but really there is no file system exposed to us except at the export level, via email or iCloud or Bluetooth maybe. I kid because Apple is, or has been, serious about this no-USB thing.

The only place this has been a problem for me is when I write this column for Techcrunch and come to the add a picture part of the post creation process. If I come in through the WordPress site via the so-called HTML hole (the Web), the only way I can add a graphic to the library is via the file system. You know, file open oh yeah there is no file open. Luckily I’ve discovered a workaround, namely using the WordPress iPad app to add a photo from the Camera Roll. I have no control over placement or the custom settings Techcrunch uses, but I can go back in through the Web and move things around.

Now look at what Gdrive did to Google Docs. It basically said: there is no such thing as a word processor, or a spreadsheet, or a presentation program. There are only these triggers here that look like file names, locations in virtual space aka the cloud. When I “write” it goes to the cloud, when I “edit” it comes back from the cloud, when I “share” it is replicated out in multiple similar relationships to the cloud. You could say it’s a document that’s being worked with, or you could say the idea or the image or the communication or the consensus exists as an object composed of data and metadata about how the object works.

In other words, the list of things I don’t care about just got longer. I don’t care about the file name, because it is now wrapped in a container that includes the services I can access in addition to the information itself. I don’t care about the metadata, not the names of the people who have access to it or the sharing model that controls that, because it’s dynamic and subject to change as the universe continues to expand or contract or whatever. And I don’t care about the abstraction of the document, the parent object, because all I want to know is what this is about, not how it got here or where it’s going next.

The abstraction I do care about is the push notification. Not coincidently, this is an Android feature that Apple has adopted, one in which I am training myself to trust that if I tap on a notification, it will be smart about what services I want to consume it with. A tweet opens to a post, consuming the citation and identifying the social authority to the advantage of my filter process, whether that’s automated or “manual” or self-learning or socially aware. Not only do I not know the filename or the website of the citation or even whether it’s a post or a video or an application trigger, that lack of knowledge is an asset rather than a limitation. I’ve got an app for all of that, or soon will.

So when Gdrive takes that same approach and renders the features of Google Office irrelevant, they render Office irrelevant too. This is a lesson I’ve learned from my children, who use texting and Skype for communications and the abstraction of Facebook for email. Email for them is a lot like Word docs are for me; I’ll use them if necessary but prefer not to know what the format is or especially what the document type is or ultimately that it is a document at all. When my youngest comes to dinner, she doesn’t hang up because it’s not a call. She’s got a Mindcraft connection piggybacked on Skype and she just tells them she’s going to have dinner. BRB.

Imagine what happens when Gmail gets sucked into the Gdrive vortex. Google has had some problems with this called Buzz and Zap or whatever that Australian thing was (Wave), but Gmail was this thing that was being integrated with other things like social and realtime. Instead, what gets absorbed into Gdrive is the value proposition of Gmail: the idea that you don’t throw anything away, you just find it when or if you need it again. You don’t look for the document, you look for the clues to that idea, that connection, that breadcrumb that leads to the trail of breadcrumbs.

I’m writing this on Word on a Mac, and my wife wants to know whether I want to come with her to drop our youngest off at a dance. Right now I have to email this to myself so I can open this up on my iPad if I want to continue. Gdrive should let me store this directly to the cloud, thereby bypassing the need to know any of those details. If I store my Word documents on Gdrive, they should open up on the Mac in Word. Or maybe in Pages on the iPad. Or in WordPress in the post.

Right now there are interchange issues, and business issues where Apple wants me to stay in iCloud and Google in Gdrive and Microsoft in whatever Mesh is now called. But I don’t care about any of that, and apps will appear that erase those distinctions, at least from my awareness. I will pay for the value of not knowing. Lots of us will.