The advantage of online spreadsheets

Google Docs pulls data from the Web and allows multiple users

AT THE FOSE TRADE SHOW in April, David Girouard, vice president
and general manager of Google Enterprise, wowed the attendees
during his keynote speech by demonstrating a few of the advanced
features of the spreadsheet in Google Docs, Google's online
office suite. Although the vast majority of spreadsheets still
reside safely within an agency's intranet, he showed how
placing spreadsheets online can open a new realm of data
management.


Later, we spoke with Jonathan Rochelle, a Google product manager
for Docs, who explained in more detail some of the Google
Docs' spreadsheet capabilities. Here are a few he pointed
out.


1. PULL LIVE DATA: One advantage to running your
spreadsheet on the Web is that you can draw from live and nearly
live feeds with a number of predefined functions. For instance,
typing '=googlefinance(' AAPL')' into a
cell will return the current stock price for Apple Computer.
Basically, you can load any stock symbol into the function
GoogleFinance, and it will draw the latest trading price, within a
few minutes. Google also offers other attributes, such as asking
for the 52- week high or low, or trading volume. Agencies might not
be interested in stock prices, but with a little coding, users can
bring in other data, including data encoded in HTML tables, the
Extensible Markup Language or Concurrent Versioning System-based
files.


2. PULL SEARCH DATA: In some cases, the spreadsheet can
even pull non-numeric data from the Web, by using ad hoc attributes
called GoogleLookup. For instance, to fill a cell with Abe Lincoln's birthday, enter in
'=googlelookup('Abraham Lincoln' , 'Date of
Birth'). His birthday will appear. Left-clicking on the cell
will provide a list of Web sites where the data was pulled
from.


Rochelle said this feature is somewhat experimental. Google has
no set list of attributes ' it creates them on the fly, based
on commonly used phrases. You have to guess at attributes such as
'Date of Birth.' If it is a common enough phrase, the
Google search apparatus will create it.


Another experimental feature is MagicFill, created by Google
Labs. Like the autofill feature in most spreadsheets,
Google's online spreadsheet, when given a series of numbers
or dates in a column, will make a logical guess at how that series
will continue. For instance, type 1, 2, 3 and it will add 4,5,6 on
its own. MagicFill can also extend a list of nouns in this same
way. Type in 'apples,' 'flour' and
'hamburger' down a single column. While holding down
the control key, highlight these entries and extend the translucent
box that appears down a few more cells. The spreadsheet will fill
in the remaining cells with other grocery items, such as
'salt,' 'butter,' and
'eggs.'


3. COLLABORATE: Another nice aspect of online
spreadsheets is that Google Docs allows as many as to 50 participants to work on a document atonce, Rochelle said. The owner of the spreadsheet simply
sends an invite to other Google Gmail members. Everyone can track
what one another is doing by using colorcodes. They can also chat
through an attached instant message box.


4. CREATE INSTANT SURVEY FORMS: Google Calc can create
surveys directly from the spreadsheet. This feature could eliminate
the need to e-mail a spreadsheet to get input from everyone
involved, Rochelle said. Under the share tab, you can create a form
that can be filled out via e-mail.


5. USE GADGETS TO BRING THE DATA ALIVE: Under the Insert
button, the spreadsheet has an option for gadgets. You will find a
variety of small programs to format and process your data . You can
make charts, pivot tables, filters, diagrams and even place data on
a map. Rochelle took a small list of addresses on a spreadsheet and
was able to create a map with each address on the
spreadsheet pinpointed on a map. The map can then be exported to
the user's iGoogle personal home page for public viewing. For
a list of gadgets, go to GCN.com/1134.



About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

Reader Comments

Tue, Apr 5, 2011 Michael Juarez Seattle WA

Online spreadsheets also have advantages for those of us who need to travel frequently and work remotely. My company was using Excel to calculate commissions for our sales reps but when we opened 2 new locations I needed a tool that worked better with my netbook. We convinced our vendor, OneClick Commissions, to develop an integrated Google Spreadsheet app and they did it--here is the tool http://www.oneclickcommissions.com/gf.html. I think the portability of smaller computing devices and more vendors that are open to integrating with online services will move many people to cloud apps.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above