Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bad UI Decisions From Google

I use Google Docs.

I admit it, I find it easier to use it for SIMPLE documents than MS Word, and it's easier to have constant and consistent access to said documents across multiple computers than using a thumb drive for storage.

Well, I had a work-flow in how I used Google Docs. Mainly, anything I was currently working on would not be in a Folder. As I finished a document, I would move it to star it and then after I dealt with it (published it to a blog or whatever its point was) I would add it to the correct folders, and remove the star.

It was simple, streamlined and above all, it worked.

In fact I choose Google Docs over Zoho Writer BECAUSE of that whole "Items Not In Folders" view and that I could implement that specific work flow.

I knew at a glance what I was working on, what I had queued for posting/publishing, and when I went through the folders they only contained relevant documents to that folder that I've generated and have done what needed to be done to them.

But then in the middle of June, Google broke that.

They removed the "Items Not In Folders" view.

The view that I went to immediately upon entering Google Docs.

The view that I spent 95% of my time in Google Docs actually using (that's not counting time actually spent writing).

I believe that this was a poor UI and a poor usability decision.

And I am not alone.

There are a number of posts in the Google Docs Help forums asking what has happened to this view. The blog post on the Google Docs Blog have a number of people wondering what has happened to it, and when it would be back.

Enough so that at one point, an actual Google product manager signed into the system and posted the following (one Vijay Bangaru):

Thanks to everyone for letting us know how much you miss "Items not in folders." We definitely are aware that you miss this feature and are actively looking into what we can do. For an imperfect substitute in the meantime, you can try finding items not in folders by going to one of the views ("Shared with me", "All items", etc) and looking for items without a labeled folder indicator. You can make the visual scanning easier by assigning colors to your folders. Thank you for your patience and feedback as we transition to a new doclist.
Yes, he provided a "work-around" but that work around is basically the same thing as taking every piece of e-mail you have in Outlook, having never archived any of it, never moved any of it to an individual folder, and then visually filtering the ones without the little red flag icon set on it.

"Imperfect substitute" does not even BEGIN to describe the inherent failure that that process represents.

The thing is that I find the entire situation odd, as I cannot think of a single "programming" reason why that particular view of data had to go away. The database which stores this information should quite easily be able to generate that view, and in fact I would have it AS a View. It should be a highly simple query to find all the items that are not associated with any TAG (or even not associated with a specific tag).

What is sadder is that there are other options that would meet the needs that I have:
  • If I could have a "Default Folder" option where a newly-created or newly-shared-with-me item is automatically placed (until I remove it) then I could continue my normal work flow.

  • If i was in a Folder, and choose to create a new item, and it was automatically assigned to that folder, then even then I could make things work.
But, I can't, and I can't, and ultimately, using Google Docs has become fundamentally unintuitive for me.

It's been a month, and since they obviously have no desire to either repair the functionality or to provide a truly usable work-around; and that means that the only thing I can think of doing is going back to my thumb drive and MS Word.

Which is sad, because I genuinely liked using Google Docs.


StareClips.com said...

This might help in the meantime:


Perhaps bookmarking this would be useful.

Nickname unavailable said...

How much did you pay for Google Docs? I have similar problems with other apps which I have also not had to pay a penny for, but which I suddenly realize I am quite dependent on. VMWare Player comes to mind. I'm not saying nobody should complain, but there's definitely a loss of leverage when the producer of what you rely on has absolutely no contractual obligation to you other than bad PR. If Google docs tomorrow decided to go to a subscription plan, would you buy in? I know I would. Imagine what would happen if AOL decided to start charging for AIM and others followed suit...say $5 a month. I love free, but I'm beginning to wonder what it's going to cost.

Stephen Wrighton said...

@StarClips.com - that's quite helpful, thanks!

@Nickname - this is true, but at the same time, they expect people to use this, and by modifying the functionality in this manner, I've actually went and reinstalled my copy of WORD on my PC, as it's now easier for me to use that than Google Docs. As for buying in if they went with a subscription plan, for Docs, no (especially as it exists now). For GMAIL or READER, then probably yes. As those tools are actually user friendly and enhance the way I perform their related tasks.

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