Google Docs: Number Crunching

by Scott Roche on May 23, 2011 · 4 comments

in Service

I will admit it, I’m not a power spreadsheet user. I was an English geek in high school and college. I was never into numbers or databases. I did learn a thing or two about them after college when I took some computer programming classes in order to find a real job, so I got to learn more about them than I ever thought possible. That might just make me an ideal user for Google Docs’ spreadsheet feature.

This service gives me everything I need Excel for. I can create and share basic flat file databases. For the non-geek, a flat file database is essentially a collection of information you’d put in a card file full of index cards. There’s no relationship between any of the data. It also appears to have any and all of the requisite functions and formulas that harder core math geeks would need.

Where does this shine? Much of the difference comes, as was the case with the document creator, in the ability to share and comment with other users. There are a few more features that jumped out at me. As with the packaged software spreadsheets, you can quickly and easily make over a half dozen different charts and graphs. With just a few more clicks you can take that and embed it on your website, as I’ve done with the chart below:

The feature that I appreciate even more is the ability to take a spreadsheet you create and make a form from it. I see a lot of people use something like SurveyMonkey when they could use this instead. While SurveyMonkey is a good service, the free account limits the number and types of questions you can ask. With the forms tool you have more options and can ask as many questions as you like and all of the answers populate a database under your control. Better than that, with most online survey tools users have to leave your site to take the survey. With this tool your survey can be embedded directly in the post.

I’d say that, unsurprisingly, Google has hit another one out of the park with this service. While it may not be for hardcore number crunchers, and it may well suit their needs too, if you use basic spreadsheet functionality and you want to be able to share that quickly and easily then this is for you. As I said in the review of their documents services, you wouldn’t want to use this for sensitive data and it’s advisable to download your results and back them up as you would any other important information, but I use this before I use Excel or Numbers.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Nuchtchas May 23, 2011 at 10:52 AM

I love google spreadsheets and the forms are great, I use them all the time. I like the fact that you document is online and it can work as a living document that can be accessed from every computer. My most used spreadsheets are my time accounting sheets (Where I track hours spent on each client and how much to charge them) and a form on a website that users can use to ask for access to something. This way even if I am not on my computer I can give them access.

If I wanted to get deep into spreadsheets i have to say I prefer numbers, it’s like Excel on crack, there is so much more that can be done in there.


Doc Coleman May 23, 2011 at 7:50 PM

Thanks for your input!

Google Docs is good for basic spreadsheet functions that need to be portable. The portability is the key factor. And most people really don’t need the kind of in depth number crunching power that Excel and Numbers have. In fact, I have both Excel and Numbers, and I haven’t been able to do a proper review on either because I don’t have a need that would really test the capabilities of either one.

If you’ve had that kind of heavy-duty spreadsheet useage, we could talk about a guest review. 😀



BigJohn May 23, 2011 at 5:40 PM

I’ve been using Google docs for a number of years; I used to keep a league’s scores on a shareable spreadsheet that i published on my league’s blog. No fuss, no muss, minimal work. Of late, I’ve been playing around with Google’s Fusion Tables, which allow you to take Google doc spreadsheet data and overlay it onto Google’s own maps.

I haven’t tried too many power calculations with Google Docs, so for most of my more complex spreadsheets I stick with Excel. But I’m all for the concept of the free Google docs and all they have to offer. That spreadsheet-to-form thing sounds really interesting. I have to try to see if I can use that!


Doc Coleman May 23, 2011 at 7:58 PM

The Fusion Tables sound pretty interesting, BigJohn. Does the overlaid data show up in the maps for the world to see, or on a special, separate document?



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