We’ve been using Google Docs to collaborate on our weekly Elephant Posts, and the more I use it, the more I love it. With real-time collaboration, combined with easy access to the cloud-based documents platform,  Google Docs is an amazing place to work on projects with others in your office, or across the world.
I’ll give you a couple of examples of projects I have worked on using Google Docs, and then I’ll even show you how you can collaborate with me on this week’s Elephant Post.

Real-Time Collaboration
A couple of weeks ago, I was prepping for a presentation for Ken Adams’ contract drafting class at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. I had a loose draft of what we were going to cover, but I really wanted to flesh it out, so I contacted a couple of friends by phone, and I pointed them to the Google Docs page and gave them both editing rights. We spent about 45 minutes over the phone working out the draft and discussing the different aspects that I should cover. After that 45 minutes, we were done. I had a completed outline, and was ready to go. If I had attempted to do this via email… I’d probably still be working on it and sending the current version back and forth for edits. Because I was able to talk with the collaborators, and actually see what they were writing, in real-time, we were all literally on the same page.

Multi-Part Collaboration
One of the crown-jewels of 3 Geeks is the Elephant Posts we do each Thursday. We ask the readers of this blog, along with our friends and peers (who for some reason, may not read our blog) to help answer a question from their own personal perspectives. The first few weeks, I would have them send me an email with their answer, then I would start piecing those emails together on Wednesday nights and Thursday mornings. It was tedious and easy to make mistakes. There were times when a post would go out, and then I would get an email from someone asking why their answer was left out. Toby suggested that Google Docs might be a better way to compile the Elephant Post, and he was right!

We started drafting a Google Docs page with the following week’s question, and then we opened up the document to allow anyone with the link to that page to edit it. It made it so much easier for me to manage, and prepare for posting. Here’s an example of what one of the collaborative pages looks like.

I loved the way everything flowed together, and it made it very easy for anyone to contribute. It also made it easy for me to make sure I didn’t leave anyone out! The only thing that I didn’t feel comfortable with was the lack of security that was involved in the process. Anyone with the link could edit it. As the popularity of the Elephant Posts grew, the more I was afraid that someone would delete the post (either by accident, or maliciously), or someone might edit another person’s contribution without permission. I thought about restricting the access to the Google Docs page by making everyone sign in to Google Docs, but I wanted to keep things simple. Andrea Cannavina came up with the best suggestion that allowed for openness, security, and the simplicity of Google Docs – using the Google Docs forms.

Multi-Part Collaboration – Using Forms
Andrea showed me a template I could use for the form, and the way that Google Docs placed the results of the form into a spreadsheet. This type of collaborative process allows for others to collaborate very easily – I just give them the link to the form. It keeps the results secure – I lock the editing rights to the spreadsheet containing the answers. It also allows me to get complete answers from the contributors – I can require that fields get filled out and nothing gets left off… like their name.

Here’s Your Chance To Play Contribute
Of course, now that I’ve piqued your interest in collaboration using Google Docs, you’ll now want to see for yourself how it works. Well… I’ve got just the thing for you! We’re still looking for contributors for tomorrow’s (12/9/2010) Elephant Post on the question of “What Surprised You The Most About Your Profession?” The instructions are simple, so I expect a number of you to take a couple of minutes and try it out for yourself. You’ll even get the added bonus of seeing your name tomorrow on the post!

Step One: Fill Out The Form – go to this Google Docs Form page and give us your perspective. Short and sweet answers are the best!
Step Two: See the Results – you can see your answer, along with the other contributors’ answers by going to this Google Docs Spreadsheet page. You won’t be able to edit that page (because I’m the editor!!), but you’ll be able to see what others have contributed to the post.

I think once you start doing collaborative work in Google Docs, you’ll come to appreciate how easy it can be to work on collaborative efforts and wonder how you were ever able to do this type of work before using Google Docs.