As evident by Allo’s death earlier this week and the upcoming consumer deprecation of Plus, Google has tried and failed to be relevant in social. However, it now appears that the company might have accidentally stumbled into a presence with Google Docs.
The Atlantic today detailed how Google Docs is one “hot” way for today’s teens to talk. These young users are not even primarily using the built-in live chat (which most teachers aren’t aware of), but rather leveraging the real-time collaborative nature that allows for multiple people to simultaneously add text to a document.
Some kids create a Doc for the day, share it with friends, and then delete once finished. By the end, documents are a long stream of sentences and paragraphs, while users will distinguish themselves by choosing different fonts.
Teens told me they use Google Docs to chat just about any time they need to put their phone away but know their friends will be on computers.
Meanwhile, a key part of the G Suite app’s appeal is the appearance of productivity. Tied with the rise of Chromebooks and allowed laptop usage, kids will use a shared Google Docs — sometimes cloning one from a teacher to provide a further air of work — to communicate while in class or when studying.
What’s particularly notable about this trend is how kids are leveraging every part of Google Docs to their benefit.
They’ll clone a teacher’s shared Google document, then chat in the comments, so it appears to the causal viewer that they’re just making notes on the lesson plan. If a teacher approaches to take a closer look, they can click the “Resolve” button and the entire thread will disappear.
With that “Resolve” feature, Google Docs and every other G Suite app, like Sheets and Slides, is vaguely ephemeral, and reflective of Snapchat or Instagram Stories.
The full Atlantic piece is a fascinating read, and while there is an obvious joke about Google having another messaging app, there are several insights to glean:
In contrast to a messaging app, Google Docs is a complex application with a slew of menus, toolbars, and hidden features. However, kids who inherently grew up surrounded by technology understand it. Simplicity in any product is obviously good and beneficial to all, but it will be interesting to see how tech development matures as its users become increasingly savvy and literate.
One comment from the article was how kids turned to Docs when they had to be on a computer. In terms of cross-platform services, Google’s messaging apps have historically suffered from this. While Google as a company transitioned rather well into the mobile era, their social strategy became quite fixated on phones to the detriment of desktop form factors.
Google Allo did not have a desktop client for several months, while Duo only gained one last month. Messages for web is a product, but one tied to a very cumbersome QR code authentication. RCS will continue to suffer the problem as it is inherently meant for one device, rather than residing in the cloud. Google should create a better cross-platform solution going forward especially when Facebook Messenger and iMessage possess inherently more modern architectures.