Google (and Apple) can't seem to make anything successful without Microsoft releasing their own spin on it. Google search led to Bing, the iPod led to Zune, and now Google Docs have led to Microsoft's collaboration with Facebook, Docs.com.
Microsoft announced some time ago that it was working on a Web-friendly version of Office 2010, but the integration with Facebook is the first widespread public test of the new features. Along with the ability to edit and share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations with specific people from within your Facebook friend list, the app posts a notification that you've shared a document on your news feed, and your friends receive a notification that you've shared a document with them as well.
Your friends can edit the document, download it to their desktop, or leave a comment on it using Facebook's existing comment tools. "You can have people sort of swarming around a document," says Jeff Hansen, the general manager of FUSE Labs, a social experience group within Microsoft that spent the last four months integrating these features into Facebook.
While all Facebook users will be able to view and comment on documents right away, only a limited number of people will gain the ability to upload or create documents. Sign up quick, it sounds like a first-come, first-served situation. Microsoft will continue to roll the full set of capabilities out to Facebook users over time, as it tests the service.
The Facebook integration gives Microsoft instant access to a 400-million person strong user base, on par with or bigger than the one already using Google Docs. What's more, the additional ability to comment on the documents adds a social element that Google hasn't quite nailed down. "We're building towards a Web where the default is social," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. And documents make sense, both for Facebook and for Microsoft.
Docs will also use Facebook's new auto-login feature, so you don't have to deal with the Facebook Connect rigamarole, and will come in handy for the many millions of users that treat Facebook as a work or education tool. College students can pass around and share homework. Businesses that use Facebook but not Gmail get instant access to Web-editable documents.
But I'm not so sure that anyone who already uses Google Docs will switch over. It's not clear that Microsoft can match, let alone exceed, the features in Google Docs, like simultaneous editing. On the other hand, the familiar Word interface will no doubt appeal to Facebook patrons who are already familiar with the tools. Report back to us if you're among the lucky Facebook users who gets to create and upload documents.
You can access Office 2010 for Facebook via Docs.com starting today. The new Office 2010 software—including the Web-editing features—will be released for business users starting May 12, and at retail in June.