Google Spreadsheet – eh?
7 June 2006 in Google | Comments enabled

Google Spreadsheets Logo

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I just don’t get “it”. But why the heck do I want to use an online spreadsheet application?

I know it has some fancy features like collaboration and integration with an Excel spreadsheet but seriously, how often do you have a internet connected computer without Excel on it? I use spreadsheets a lot just because I like them and I would always have Excel installed. Business people nearly always have a laptop with them when they travel and that would have Excel on it.

I don’t see how Google can make money from this. It seems lately they’ve thrown their money at a few things that don’t seem to have a direct return on investment. They already have a fantastic brand, it’s not like they’re just doing it to build awareness. I must be missing something – or at least for Googles sake I hope I’m missing something.

I’ve always had the belief that the IT industry works in cycles – at the moment we’re in a web cycle, then we’ll decide that connected desktop applications are best, then back to web and so on. Why do I want to go backwards to using a spreadsheet tool that adds a couple of new features but blows away 90% of what has been in desktop spreadsheeting tools for more than a decade? Why do I want lag when working with even a small spreadsheet? What happens when I want to access my spreadsheet and I don’t have an available internet connection? Do I want to store my financial spreadsheets on a Google server? It all smells a little hyped to me.

When I read people saying that it includes “formulas” and “column sorting” I must admit I’m a tad dumbfounded. Welcome to 1992* :)

I’ve purposefully written this piece to hopefully drive some banter about why you think it’s so good/bad? Do you see the revenue stream I’m missing?

- JD

* I’m guessing these features were around before 1992 but I’m not that old so have no real idea. Whenever VisiCalc came out perhaps?

21 comments. Add your own comment.

Johnny-Johnny says 7 June 2006 @ 15:57

I think the common thing with the points you’ve made is that you are basing everything on assumptions…
Maybe they don’t want you to use it…
Maybe it’s more common than you think for comps to be without Excel (working for a M$ partner is hardly representative of the real world). Or maybe people find Excel too daunting and will slowly gravitate to something simpler (and slower).
Maybe we can’t see just yet where the revenue model is, because we’re only seeing the tip of the tip of the iceberg of Google’s plans and ambitions.
Maybe that 90% of features blown away are only used 0.0001% of the time and thus removing them makes you more productive.

It’s not necessarily an overnight game changer – but that’s not Google’s style. They’ll just keep doing what they do (and do well) and then maybe, we’ll hear more from this suite.

JD says 7 June 2006 @ 17:03

I won’t argue any points but will say that overnight game changer is exactly what Google tries to be. You don’t get to be the worlds largest media company in 7 years without being an overnight game changer.

In the words of Bill Gates – Success is a menace, it fools smart people into thinking they can’t fail. Perhaps Google just thinks they can’t lose?

– JD

Allan says 7 June 2006 @ 17:16

I think the Goog spreadsheet is really cool. Have you tried it? I can think of loads of uses for it. Not sure how many computers you use (probably more than me) but I sure could use a centralized area where I can keep my excel work, from expenses to lists of things and also be able to share it easily in view and/or edit modes. It’s the same with writely. Btw, did you check out the notebook from Goog labs? Pretty neat as well. Has an FF extension which works really nicely.

Revenue – I think one day most applications will be web based. This is one step in that direction..

traskjd says 7 June 2006 @ 17:28

“Revenue – I think one day most applications will be web based”

I don’t see how revenue has any relation to it being web based. That sounds like 1999 talk.

I agree that a shared repository is a good idea for some people. I host anything I want to share between my machines which I’m sure most people can’t do. As I mentioned, there are a couple of nice features but I don’t think it’s a compelling enough value proposition for me to change.

Cheers for the comment :)

– JD

Allan says 7 June 2006 @ 17:41

Well, let’s see who’s the brave soul then to go long MSFT and short GOOG in anticipation of a change in cycle ;)

Btw, how many ppl do you know who use Excel features which were introduced after ’1992′?

Tim Haines says 7 June 2006 @ 19:27

Hey JD,

Revenue – Adsense.

Why use it? Well – you have office installed on the computers you use. Pretend you got a new computer without office, and you didn’t have a means of getting office without paying for it. Wouldn’t you go looking for a free alternative before shelling out several hundred dollars for Excel? I don’t know about you, but my spreadsheeting needs are pretty simple.

The thing that might hold it back from corporates, is not quite being able to trust Google to keep their stuff safe in an online repository. But hey, I’ve already made that leap with my email.


traskjd says 7 June 2006 @ 21:47

I love getting a good debate going :) All I’m saying is that I’m wary of how much this will actually catch on. Thanks for the comments guys :)

Allan, one thing I’ve found odd is that from what I’ve seen there is no charting capability. I have only read about the features so far so hopefully I’m wrong.

Tim, Adsense works well because of relevance. How exactly would you build relevance into a sheet of numbers? There may be some text but I would imagine a more targeted advertising system would be required (e.g. if I was a tax accountant perhaps being advertised on there would be good, but existing adsense would fail in my opinion).

It certainly won’t work for a corporate because they aren’t going to want their data flying out the door to some Google server. Admittedly you and I are edge cases (albeit edge cases with differing opinions).

I am fully aware that the internet offers some great opportunity for mobility and freedom but I can’t help but feel being inside the browser isn’t the answer. Being a desktop app isn’t the answer either. I think we’re all missing something and it’s going to be big for whoever works it out first.

I get the feeling some of these type of projects are simply “fun” things that Google are doing to appear to annoy Microsoft. Sure there could be more to it, maybe there is, maybe there isn’t.

If I got a new computer I would probably make my old one a server and migrate my license to the new machine. Office is about the third thing I install on a clean rebuild.

Would have been good to have caught you at the .net user group meeting Tim, it’s much more fun debating these things in person :) You missed a good session.

Just to make sure everyone is aware – I’m not saying it will be a complete failure. I realise each person has a preference and opinion it’s just interesting to see that mine is against what seems to be the majority :)

– JD

Bert says 7 June 2006 @ 21:56

I have to agree with JD here. While it’s great to be seen as an innovative/revolutionary company the larger a company gets, the more revenue it requires to pay employees and shell out dividends to shareholders. Google’s main source of revenue is undoubtedly advertising, but what other sources of large cash flows does the company have? Not many, if any. A significant proportion of company’s value is based on positive cashflow, and unless Google charges for some products or services, the company’s growth will be limited to the gains in internet advertising. They will begin to face pressure from the likes of MSN, its simply a matter of time. Google must diversify its core revenue platforms if it is to fund its cool – but perhaps gimicky – plans and ambitions.

Allan says 8 June 2006 @ 08:48

I don’t think Google is planning on having just a single revenue stream (ads) forever. The Information Worker division of MSFT has the second highest margins right after the (monopolistic) Client divison (read OS). So this is a lucrative business, no single company has a monopoly over and it fits nicely with Goog’s core business of storing, searching and making info available more efficiently.

Not a local app and not in a browser – maybe something like this: ?

traskjd says 8 June 2006 @ 09:13

I think Google is simply doing it to hassle Microsoft. Why bother taking on the second most profitable profit line if you’re not going to profit anywhere near as well? You can’t tell me that they’re going to make anywhere near ~$500 per person using the online spreadhsheet?

It seems even the folks at 37 signals might think Google doesn’t really have a desire to really follow this line of thinking. To completely steal content from their site:

“What if Google was so brilliantly twisted that they’re using Writely and Spreadsheet and Calendar and massive numbers of new hires as flares to distract Microsoft (and others)? Shoot up a flare (Spreadsheet) and scare Microsoft into paying even more attention to new attacks from new directions. The flares serve one purpose: to redirect competitors’ energy away from focusing on search/ads, which are Google’s core competency (and primary revenue source). Hey look over here!!! Is Google the best slight of hand magician around? Is the “Google Office? just a head fake?”


– JD

Tim Haines says 8 June 2006 @ 09:46

Hey JD, how often do you build a spreadsheet without including some column headers or row headers. There’s almost always text except for when you’re using the spreadsheet as an overgrown calculator. Granted, there’s often very little text. But whether your column header is simply “sales”, “wages”, or “green monkeys” I’m pretty sure Google will have a relevant ad for you. After all – how much text do you normally feed a search engine in the first query?

Interesting paste from 37signals. Subscribed.

traskjd says 8 June 2006 @ 10:51

Hi Tim,

That is somewhat my point – there aren’t that many different terms I do put into a spreadsheet. Terms like “profit” “gst” “rate” are going to take up about 80% of peoples spreadsheets. You are right though that they don’t need much text to do good ads though.

I’m quite surprised at just how many people are jumping up and down about how this. It just seems like something you EXPECT a computer to do these days. How is that really that sexy? I’ll be impressed if many people are using it in 6 months time that are using it now. Do you know many people who have uninstalled word because of AjaxWrite yet?

Glad you like the 37signals blog, it can be quite interesting at times :)

– JD

Allan says 8 June 2006 @ 11:11

“Why bother taking on the second most profitable profit line if you’re not going to profit anywhere near as well?” – large pie, lower barrier to entry & less monopoly, less product stickiness (as opposed to OS).

“Do you know many people who have uninstalled word because of AjaxWrite yet?” – Not yet. But, I don’t use any email client anymore outside of work, it’s all gmail. I don’t use bookmarks anymore, all in delicious, I don’t use IE anymore (or hardly), music is in iTunes, pics are on flickr. See the trend here? :)
When was the last time you saw some real innovation out of MSFT that affected your life outside of work? That’s on top of the stock’s dismal performance over the past 6 years, that’s over half a decade! If it breaks below 20 you’re going to see some nice free falling action.

traskjd says 8 June 2006 @ 14:12

I do see a trend for you Allan. I do wonder though how much people will pull their heads back in when one of these companies goes out of business? Do you suddenly want to lose your pictures? bookmarks? email? spreadsheets?

I like the security of having things on my harddrive. Microsoft could go out of business tomorrow and I could still use everything I do right now. It would suck, but I wouldn’t lose my own stuff.

As we discussed earlier – putting *anything* in the web browser is not innovation. Here’s some free innovation:

– PowerPoint in the web browser.
– Publisher in the web browser.
– Access in the web browser.

Adding things like chat to the email client in Gmail were marginally innovative for a web application. There was already integration in outlook with MSN to show if somebody was online and allow you chat with them. Perhaps I have too high of an expectation from innovation that I don’t appreciate the small thing.

Last big peice of innovation? Hmm… perhaps inventing AJAX which actually makes *all* this stuff possible? That seemed kinda innovative.

– JD

Allan says 8 June 2006 @ 14:44

I kind of trust google’s and yahoo’s servers, backups and redundancies a bit more than my own hard disks ;)

traskjd says 8 June 2006 @ 14:55

Are you honestly telling me that you don’t make backups? I mean I know I’m probably an extreme case but I store data that’s important on cds, other machines in my house, my ipod and on my web host etc.

I just see it as a “I control my own data” thing. I don’t want to rely on another company to let me access my data. That’s why I prefer things like smart applications – using the web for extended services and offering a backup solution is fantastic, but 100% dependant on it just doesn’t make sense to me.

I think I need to make a new post or else I’m going to spend too much time posting responses to defend my choice :) I’ll take from your response that you’re satisfied that perhaps there isn’t quite as much innovation here and that perhaps Microsoft isn’t so behind the 8 ball as you thought. I’ve played with the Google Spreadsheet and it’s just not for me. I realise it will be good for some people who find that sort of thing useful and do like that these options exist – it’s just not for me :)

– JD

Keith says 8 June 2006 @ 15:23

at the moment, google spreadsheets suck compared to excel. But, you can do some basic spreadsheeting and it is kind of cool its online and accessible from anywhere.

“what happens when your not connected to the internet”? is getting to be more unlikely compared to “what if i’m not at the computer I created some knowledge at”.

So theres a number of business options for google…

Google is trying to take information and interpret as much meaning from it as possible. To do that it needs as much knowledge expressed in a way that is accessible to it. The spreadsheet is only a small piece of a bigger picture for capturing knowledge. As it finds more and more meaning in things it will be able to cooler and cooler stuff. Currently the only thing it uses that for is targeted advertising. But I can see it getting to the point where it could be an IT platform for businesses. I have googles email hosting, thats free for 25? or so email addresses, if you want gmail for more people you start paying…. What if updating a spreadsheet updates a website, emails people, sms texts people, sucks down some data from something else, etc etc, those add on services could come at a cost.

Another thing they are leveraging is brand loyalty… Microsoft isnt their only competitor. Yahoo are doing some interesting stuff…if you start basing a lot of your IT expereience, email, documents, spreadsheets, etc etc around google, it’s most likely you’ll use their search technology and be exposed to their targeted advertising.

Either way, google spreadsheets is obviously a small peice of the puzzle and it obviously wasn’t made with a huge budget. I think its all about integrating knowledge so that its searchable and can be made more meaningful. Remember, when google started out, they just made technology that was cool, they actually didnt know how to make money out of it for quite some time!

traskjd says 8 June 2006 @ 16:15

Thanks for the valid points Keith.

Ian Landsman, the author of a blog I enjoy reading, has posted his thoughts and they seem inline with mine. You can catch them here:

Evgueni pervago says 8 June 2006 @ 16:53

I’d say that Google Spreadsheets has its niche, especially for occasional Excel user and collaborative list/simple spreadsheet editing. However Excel cash cow is in no way threatened. I’ve made two posts from a (very very) heavy user perspective:

Blog Farm » Blog Archive » Google Spreadsheet - eh? says 12 June 2006 @ 22:38

[...] Original post by traskjd [...]

tazzdevil says 9 August 2006 @ 10:35

I think it is a fantastic idea creating spread sheets online, Microsoft licenses aren’t cheap and if you have a product which would save you that amount with no additional or associated cost then why not.
I don’t have to worry about storage (sure excel spreadsheets are not very big in size), can access it from anywhere there is an internet connection, don’t have to worry about backing up the information, soon I will not have to worry about MS Windows crashing while working on something vital. So I say go Google.
I can’t wait to see the Google version of word and other MS office similar products.
Initially when gmail was launched there was negative feedback, but it became the number product according to PC world and Firefox was No 2 on the list, as far as I remember I didn’t see MS Excel on the list or even MS Office for being specific.

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