Google unveiled a new shared commenting system in its online word processing service Google Docs on Wednesday, best described as Google Wave for mere mortals.
The new chat system builds on Google Docs feature that allows multiple people to edit a single document, even simultaneously. The new chat replaces the rudimentary one by offering threads that can be closed, the functionality to invite new collaborators simply by putting their e-mail address in a message (e.g. @email@example.com will you check out this revision?), and getting e-mail notifications when someone replies to a thread or to your comment.
Google Wave launched in beta in September 2009 and offered instantaneous real-time chat and group editing. But it proved too complicated for many and wasn’t widely adopted. Google retired the project and open sourced much of the code in August 2010.
The new feature, dubbed Discussions, is being rolled out over the next couple of days to all personal Gmail users and Google App users who have signed up to get advanced features faster.
Discussions is intended to speed up group editing of a document, which Google says it did while they were testing the feature internally.
“We’ve been using this next-generation commenting system inside Google for several months and have seen it make the feedback cycle shorter and get more people involved,” wrote Nick Cooper, a Google engineer, in a blog post announcing the new feature. “The combination of added structure and intuitive email integration have really given life to the discussions that surround our documents….”
Google Docs is part of Google’s efforts to move more and more computing off the desktop and into the cloud, as a way to siphon off some of the revenue Microsoft gets from its popular Office software. The effort drove Microsoft to add “cloud services” to its latest Office software. But Microsoft’s revenues seem not to have been hurt by Google’s online office-productivity services, and the $50 per person annual fee for companies that use Google Apps has added little to the search giant’s bottom line.