UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 204 June 27, 2007

New Google Docs Released

Google has just released an updated version of Google Docs & Spreadsheets. While the update really only truly affects to the document browsing page it adds a substantial amount of usability to the entire application. The visual overhaul is quite a step up and shows that, once again, Google isn’t afraid to roll out disruptive changes in an effort to enhance user experience (as it did with Analytics).

I call this disruptive because, while the interface overhaul offers a far shorter learning curve for new users, it also means old users need to learn what is essentially (if only partially) a new application. I’m willing to bet that the change is dramatic enough to annoy the hell out of a handful of heavy users (once again, as with Analytics). It’s interesting to see Tags (or Labels) refashioned into Folders — this makes sense considering a) you’re dealing with documents and b) it simplifies the transition from desktop to webtop.

Overall, it’s a sign of a maturing Google. Not afraid to do things differently (Gmail) but also willing to change its mind for the benefit of the end-user. The old tag’n‘search interface has been turned into something far more familiar, classic even. Some might say that this looks “less Google” and it will be interesting to see if similar changes are rolled out into more apps in the future in an effort to bring them more in line with people’s expectations. While oft hailed as a UI masterpiece I still hear of many people shying away from Gmail because they “don’t get the interface” so maybe that’s next.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

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Alex is CEO of Sideshow , an award winning creative agency. You can read his blog here.

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Comments

16
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Both approaches have their polerbms and benefits. However, it seems that metadata approach leans on benefits side more than the folder approach. But I am not convinced that the metadata approach is as intuitive as folders even though it’s more flexible. Ofcourse one can learn a new paradigm and train, but I still don’t see it being as intuitive as folders. Folders put users in an appropriate hierarchical context, which makes it easier for us to understand where the user is. The problem with nesting folders is that it’s not easy to see an overview and find the right one. Right now a folder represents only a single possible hierarchy for a document, however a document could belong to two logical branches. That’s where I would like the flexibility of metadata. But right now metadata approach in SharePoint does not present an intuitive way of navigating and defining right hierarchical contexts for a document. I think if we come to a marriage between intuitiveness of folders and flexibility of metadata we will have a much better solution. I like the wordpress tagging feature where I can define a hierarchy and also assign multiple tags to a single post. And the flexibility can come from the ability of metadata to be presented hierarchically as wella0flat.

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I think you’ve nailed it. This overhaul wasn’t intended for the ‘light’ users. It’s aimed squarely at the market they are going after. It’s an interface that MS Office driven enterprise clients might give a second look and feel more comfortable in. But like Eric Schmidt said repeatedly, Google is not interested in going after the office productivity suite market, right? Riiiiight.

15
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An iconic folder system! Is it any wonder?
Yahoo!(?)...

18
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I think it sucks. I hate it.

22
18

I hope they don’t take “labels” off of gmail. That system kicks the traditional folder system’s ass.

13
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In their own words, the folders have replaced the existing tags and files can live in more than one folder. So, then… it’s a tag except with a folder icon? This seems like a step backwards to me. Technically it is working like tags, but the visual metaphor is a folder. So they’re mixing metaphors which I find even less satisfactory than just using true folders in the first place, and definitely less satisfactory than pushing the envelope by sticking with tags. I don’t think the tags were the problem. It was how the tags were actually working in relation to how the UI communicated that to the user. They could have tackled the design problem of communicating how the system works by pushing the envelope, but instead they’re going back to old, worn out metaphors.

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I’ve used Google Docs and Spreadsheets right when it started. I have over 100 documents and meticulously tagged everything in different categories. I kept saying to myself, god, this tagging thing sucks. Why don’t they have folders??? Well, now they do and it’s great. The was no learning curve, because if you’ve used a computer, you’ve used folders. A huge improvement for Google Docs, Thank God! Now if only they did the same with their email…

19
19

I’ve used Google Docs and Spreadsheets right when it started. I have over 100 documents and meticulously tagged everything in different categories. I kept saying to myself, god, this tagging thing sucks. Why don’t they have folders??? Well, now they do and it’s great. The was no learning curve, because if you’ve used a computer, you’ve used folders. A huge improvement for Google Docs, Thank God! Now if only they did the same with their email…

13
26

In their own words, the folders have replaced the existing tags and files can live in more than one folder. So, then… it’s a tag except with a folder icon? This seems like a step backwards to me. Technically it is working like tags, but the visual metaphor is a folder. So they’re mixing metaphors which I find even less satisfactory than just using true folders in the first place, and definitely less satisfactory than pushing the envelope by sticking with tags. I don’t think the tags were the problem. It was how the tags were actually working in relation to how the UI communicated that to the user. They could have tackled the design problem of communicating how the system works by pushing the envelope, but instead they’re going back to old, worn out metaphors.

17
17

I hope they don’t take “labels” off of gmail. That system kicks the traditional folder system’s ass.

21
19

I think it sucks. I hate it.

23
17

An iconic folder system! Is it any wonder?
Yahoo!(?)...

14
15

I think you’ve nailed it. This overhaul wasn’t intended for the ‘light’ users. It’s aimed squarely at the market they are going after. It’s an interface that MS Office driven enterprise clients might give a second look and feel more comfortable in. But like Eric Schmidt said repeatedly, Google is not interested in going after the office productivity suite market, right? Riiiiight.