A few days ago, the Internet was abuzz with speculation that Google would have a splashy launch of a Facebook rival called “Google Circles” at South by Southwest. That didn’t materialize, with Google disputing that such a feature even existed. Michael Arrington at TechCrunch wrote a post called “Social Is Too Important For Google To Screw Up With A Big Launch Circus,” arguing that with Orkut and Buzz having more or less failed, Google wasn’t eager to swing hard and miss a third time. Rather, he wrote, “I’m guessing we’ll see more small releases over time.”
Today’s announcement of new social features in the latest iteration of Google Docs bears out the theory that Google’s encroachment on social media will be careful and incremental–the idea being that in a few years’ time, Mark Zuckerberg will wake up to realize that Google does just about everything his site does, and more.
But for now, baby steps. The new Google Docs is getting favorable reviews from initial testers. Like an IM/email/docs hybrid, it allows you to start chats within the document, asking for input from friends via email; those friends can then hop in the document itself, or simply respond from within their email. Chats are collated in the margins of the document, and once a given issue is resolved, that thread can be closed, so the document doesn’t get cluttered with strata of now-irrelevant conversations. Email notifications can be turned on or off, depending on your preference.
Google put together a funny video about an office prank, showing how Docs can be used. “I’ll start growing the turnips,” writes one prankster. “I’ll get the wetsuits,” chimes in another.
Not all Google users have access to the new docs right away, but it should be rolling out in a full release soon.
Zuckerberg probably isn’t quaking in hit boots just yet. But that, of course, is probably exactly the false sense of security the scheming minds over at Google are hoping for.