The generational divide of Google Docs

I gave a speech last week at a class at the business school at Washington University here in St. Louis. Before the class I ate lunch with a few of the students, who were interns in various start-ups around town. It was a very enlightening afternoon for me (and I assume for them as well). One of the things that I realized was how our generations have split on using collaboration tools such as Google Docs.

Yes, you probably already know that GenY (20-somethings) are big on texting and not voice calls, and are all over Facebook. But the same is true with Google Docs. They understand how to use it, and they use it by default to create new content that they are going to being sharing with colleagues. Most of us old farts are still emailing our Word docs around the countryside. It isn’t because we don’t know how to use Google Docs – we do. But we just are native PC users that date back to the days when it cost lots of hard cash money to connect to the InterWebs. Another part of the issue is that email is burned into our older consciousness in a way that isn’t the case for Gen Y. My 20-something children only use email to communicate with me and my generation, and only when they are forced to. But part is that they grew up using IM and social networks, so they think of their PC apps as just natural communication tools with their peers.

Here is a quick test. Turn off your wireless modem on your laptop, or unplug it from the network. How much of your work can you get done before you feel the twitch to get online? An hour or more, and you are probably closer to my age than your college years. Less than a few minutes? GenY’er.

Google Docs isn’t the only collaboration tool around, and indeed it has been recently beefed up if you haven’t had time to try it out. Last year they acquired Etherpad, which was a far simpler service for doing real-time editing that I wrote about in March 2009. The typical scenario is a group of people is in a conference room, or in two conference rooms across the country, and want to produce a document. You bring up your Web browsers, give everyone a URL, and they start jointly editing the piece. You can also run a chat session as a sidebar to collect comments on particular passages.

Now Google Docs has both real-time editing and chat that works pretty well. If you still like the simplicity of Etherpad, you can go to PiratePad, they continue to run a similar service. (No images, no real fidelity to Microsoft Word, but if you need quick and dirty text, they are the place to go.)

Ironically, Google pulled the plug on another collaborative tool, Wave. That had nothing to do with the generational gap, but an unusable product.


3 thoughts on “The generational divide of Google Docs

  1. I admit to being of the Strom generation, but even so, I cannot see how a group of people all editing the same document at the same time will produce a coherent end product. Yes, documents frequently require input from multiple sources, but it’s way more efficient to have an editor “in charge” to marshal and filter all the input so the end product delivers a fluid, structured communication.

  2. My issue with Google docs is confidentiality. I don’t mind using it for school administration projects (parent club, etc.), but there’s no way I want my confidential business information out of my control.

    P.S. Thanks for all the great, thought-provoking work!

  3. David, thank you for sharing your experience and insight. As a Training & Development Leader and college instructor I am very interested in the topic of social learning. In my opinion, few corporate training teams & post-secondary schools have begun to tap the potential of social media to encourage lifelong learning. I have been searching for more information related to social learning and found some great food for thought in your post.

    Thank you!

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