Rethinking the Spreadsheet: Google Forms and Live Data

Google recently announced a new feature: forms. By combining spreadsheets with bulk e-mail, the new function (which was revealed on the Google Docs blog) lets a spreadsheet author send out a mail with fields for recipients to fill in. As they do, the spreadsheet gets completed. It’s a real-time survey that pumps data straight into a spreadsheet. It’s also another example of the difference between desktop software and web-based applications.

Google does a great job of re-thinking basic applications when they live online, something traditional software vendors seem to have a hard time doing. In an earlier release, for example, they added functions like =ImportFeed (to pull data in from an RSS feed) and =GoogleFinance (to pull data in from Google’s financial tracking site.)

A few functions like this, and Google turns any spreadsheet-literate user into a web services developer.

By contrast, consider Windows Mobile. If I have a spreadsheet full of phone numbers, I should be able to select a number and dial it. But the Mobile version of Excel is so true to the original, it doesn’t think about data in the context of being a phone. So I have to manually copy the number to the clipboard, create a new contact with that number, and dial it.

We don’t need web-based versions of our desktop software. We need web software that takes advantage of being online.