After dipping my toes in the water a few times, I just recently took the plunge to use Google Docs
for a full article collaboration process. It seemed like an obvious tool to try – when I’m working on an article, I often send it to five to ten or more people for their review and comments. Getting back ten Word documents with ten different sets of comments to merge (often including several from friendly souls who have copyedited the entire article) is just a nightmare.
So I decided to try Google Docs. I actually wrote a draft of the article in Word (just familiar, I guess), and then pasted it into Google Docs. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the formatting transferred – everything, including some fussy headers and highlighting, looked just as it did in Word.
I then invited all the contributors to edit the document through Google’s functionality – it sends an email with a link. This process became a pain. As far as we could figure out, Google will only allow you to be logged in once for any Google application, so if a contributor was logged into their Google Calendar or Start or anything with one email address, and then tried to access the document through a link I’d sent to another address, Google got really unhappy. So there was confusion with that, and in the end we had to add in additional email addresses for about half the contributors. [update 9/13: Aha! As JR points out below in the comments, there's a "Invitations may be used by anyone" option on the 'Share' tab in Google docs - and if you check it, it shouldn't matter if someone's logged in with a different email address than the one you invited. So that's next on my list to try.]
Editing itself went really smoothly. It was useful to be able to see who took a look at the document, and it allowed me to act on the comments in a much more iterative way than I would otherwise. When you’ve got ten Word docs to consolidate, you do all the updates in one (annoying) shot, but the Google Docs method allowed us all to see each other’s updates, respond to them, and prevent other people from having to make the same comments.
Google Docs has a nice ability to add a comment into the text (similar to Word’s comment functionality). It also allowed me to see what changes each person had made, but I found this feature a little wonky. It was nice to be able to compare changes between two specific timeframes rather than just all changes or nothing (like in Word), but it seemed to flag a lot of things that weren’t actually changed. So there would be whole fields of highlight, supposedly marking an update, but when you carefully compared, there would be no changes. Annoying. Also, you can’t (as far as I could tell) view what had changed and edit the document at the same time, which was a functionality I missed.
All in all, though, a very successful trial, and I’ll definitely use it again.