Problems with Google Docs

You may be wondering where I've been. I've been working on some essays, most recently on E.M. Forster. That's about done, but now I have two more essays to write by April 1 -- one on the State of Postcolonial Theory, and the second being a revised/extended version of my MLA talk last December.

Shockingly, I've noticed that not blogging is sometimes correlated to getting more writing done. Amongst friends and colleagues, I've often argued that this actually isn't the case, that blogging and writing/publishing can in fact be fully complementary. At least for right now, for me, less blogging seems to mean more scholarly productivity. (I might yet change my mind, especially with the onset of Spring Break next week).

* * *

On my non-teaching days I've been doing research at the Van Pelt library at the University of Pennsylvania. I generally don't carry my laptop (it's both heavy and fragile), and for the most part that's not an issue, since most of one's time at the library is spent finding books and articles, photocopying them, and reading them. However, if you actually want to write at a computer, you have to use their public terminals. Some university library terminals have MS Word, but many times you just get a bare-bones Web browser.

But if you have Google, who needs MS Word anyways, right? Haven't we entered the golden age of "all you need is a browser"? (Wrong. And, No.)

For my session this past Monday, I uploaded my Word Docs to Google Docs to get around the public terminal problem. I then spent a couple of hours working on a paper in Google Docs on a browswer at a public terminal. And here's problem #1: there's no footnotes function in Google Docs! My MS Word footnotes do still appear in the document, but at the end. Instead of footnotes, Google Docs has a "comment" function, where you can insert the equivalent of a footnote. I tried using that to insert a few footnotes that needed inserting.

Upon returning home, I re-converted the files to MS Word, and noticed the second problem: the Google Docs Comments don't translate back to MS Word comments. Moreover, all the footnotes formatting in the original document is now gone. The footnotes are still in the text, but they aren't actually "coded" as footnotes anymore -- they're just text with a number attached.

Needless to say, if you have upwards of 30 footnotes in your article, this can be a huge pain. Until Google improves both its internal functionality and its compatibility with MS Word, I won't be using Google Docs for any serious writing.

Have other readers worked with Google Docs? Likes, dislikes?


Anang said...

I liked Google docs before I had to start writing term papers. Now I just use MS Word 2007. Wayyyy easier to use.

Ryan Anderson said...

Just stumbled across your site while searching around for some thoughts about Spivak...I'm taking a break from her 1999 book (Postcolonial Reason), wasting a little time and letting my mind recuperate.

Anyway, glad I found your site, and I read some of your older posts on postcolonial theory, Spivak, etc. they were helpful and insightful; thanks.

Good to hear I'm not the only one who is suffering through Spivak though. Now, it's not that I think her books/essays are without merit, it's just that getting through some of the more...well...difficult sections of the texts are incredibly taxing. Wow. At times I get completely lost trying to figure out where she is taking her thoughts.

Anyway, glad I found you. Back to plowing through the last 30 or so pages...

Rebecca Moore Howard said...

Google Docs is useful to me for collaborative composition and for storing documents that I'll want to access from a variety of computers. I can't imagine its replacing MSW for me, though. Alas.

Anonymous said...

Admittedly, googledocs are a work in progress. But I have enjoyed using them, especially when doing groupwork. I like the spreadsheets - even though you lose formatting while copy-pasting. But what liberation working simultaneously on financial sector reform for Rwanda with teammates from Afghanistan, Russia, Ecuadoria and Canada with crazy class schedules! It's fun and spooky to see others writing come to life in real time. Or planning for sunday brunch with a spreadsheet of a shopping list - aloo paranthas or paneer paranthas.. yum. Sonu

Anonymous said...

OMG the thing appends mandatory spaces to footnotes
If you erase one footnotes' space, it appends one to all of them

Fiona Cashell said...

The footnoting is the only problem for me. Its silly because they have the function there, its just that their version of this function is terribly flawed!! Also, noticing problems with Google Chrome. Hmmm. Seems to me as though Google gets a little excited about these projects and just throws them out there before they have been properly developed.